Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Time for the US to make new rules

By Nat Bellocchi白樂崎

In my last article, I wrote about an idea to enhance better communications by having periodic meetings on cross-strait relations.

There were also two other thoughts that are a part of this "meeting" idea -- the overdue need to change the US' internal rules of conducting that relationship, and a question of how the US should manage a more intrusive effort to work with Taiwan on sensitive cross-strait issues. This article addresses the rules on conducting the "unofficial" relationship with Taiwan. Changing them would be an important step in the increasing necessity to have an established cross-strait dialogue between the US and Taiwan.

The rules were developed by the US when it changed its diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. They were made up quickly and completely unilaterally, but based for the most part on what the US thought Beijing could accept.

Initially, the rules covered a very broad spectrum of behavior: Who can meet with whom where; the limits on using the Republic of China (ROC) flag; letterheads, license plates, parties that could be attended by American officials; not using the words ROC; etc. Gradually, sheer common sense from time to time raised its head and a decision to change or do away with a particular rule was made to the advantage of both the US and Taiwan.

The constraints under the rules cause inefficiency and at a high cost for the US, not to speak of indignity for Taiwan. The TRA and the Shanghai Communique, followed by the six assurances showed that the "Taiwan issue" was to be more than a short term problem. More important, the rules were sustainable only as long as Taiwan's authoritarian political system ruled.

When it was clear that the political system in Taiwan could not continue in its authoritarian and Mainlander-dominated form, Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) took steps to lift martial law and allow a greater participation by the Taiwanese in governance. The direction former Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) was to take was demonstrated in the handling of the student protest and national affairs conference in 1990, and that direction toward a pluralistic democracy grows even stronger under President Chen Shui-bien (陳水扁).

Throughout the 1990s, America was pleased with the direction democratization was taking in Taiwan, but the rules that had been formed by the US unilaterally were clearly beginning to show the need for adjustment. At the same time, China's growing international presence and Taiwan's important and globalized economic achievements was making these constraining rules even less sustainable.

Only one formal effort was made to adjust some rules, in 1994, with the so-called Taiwan Policy Review. The "policy" element was immediately established as meaning the rules of conduct only. Then that was further reduced to a few changes that pleased few, and was overwhelmed by the much greater number of rules that would not be changed.

This need for change was especially apparent during the tense 1995 to 1996 PRC missile exercises, where the dangers of narrow and ineffective military relations with Taiwan became so evident that a dialogue between the two militaries was imperative. This was done largely by the US Department of Defense with far less public airing than usually accompanies such changes. This continues even now as the need arises. One can see how well the military relationship has become more realistic with a minimum of public profile, though sometimes even that is jeopardized by publicity.

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