Mon, Dec 27, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: US' Taiwan policy is in shambles

The last month has been a succinct demonstration that the US policy toward Taiwan is in shambles. We have seen the Department of Defense confirm that starting next year US military attaches will be posted at the American Institute in Taiwan. It is also a matter of perhaps not so common knowledge that relations between the US military establishment and its Taiwanese counterpart are the best they have been for 20 years -- so far so good.

Compare this to the State Department's behavior: "O what a falling off was there," to quote Hamlet. November saw US Secretary of State Colin Powell, that sorry wreck of a once principled man, trying to buy China's help over the North Korean nuclear program by denigrating Taiwan's status, in absolute contradiction of both international law and 30 years of US policy. Then there was the furor over Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage's statements.

Taiwan has whipped itself into a frenzy over the perfectly obvious, while the real viciousness of Armitage's statement has been ignored. Alarmingly, when prompted to name a "landmine" in US-China relations, Armitage named Taiwan. Yet isn't this obvious? China wants Taiwan, the US doesn't want China to have Taiwan. Taiwan is therefore a source of conflict between the two -- and this has nothing to do with anything Taiwan does.

Some find it appalling to learn that the US is not committed under the Taiwan Relations Act to defend Taiwan in the event of an attack. Since the TRA was passed in 1978, one would think that Taiwan's punditry and politicians would have got around to reading it over the last 26 years. But nobody ever bothers, and as a result the TRA has become like the Magna Carta -- notable for what people think it's about, rather than what it actually says.

Armitage's remarks concerning US intervention in case of China's attack being decided by Congress were a sleight of hand. Actually, it is up to the president under the War Powers Act, and Congressional approval only comes two to three months down the line. On the other hand, Congress has always been far more supportive of Taiwan than the White House.

If there was a time Taiwan should have raised its voice over Armitage's remarks, it was over his highly offensive "We all agree that there is but one China, and Taiwan is part of China." Who is this "we?" The US has never agreed that there was only one China. At best it has said that since the two sides of the Strait agreed there was only one China it would not challenge that position. After breaking relations with Taiwan, it "recognized" Beijing as the sole government of China but only "acknowledged" that Beijing claimed Taiwan. Acknowledgement does not mean approval or agreement. It is simply a statement that one understands the other side's position, not that one supports it.

Challenging Armitage on the "we" was the first thing TECRO should have done after the PBS broadcast -- otherwise what do we have diplomats for? Amazingly, this has still gone uncommented on in Taiwan.

Armitage's remarks could only be understood as saying everyone agrees that Taiwan is part of the People's Republic of China. This is of course untrue; also in no way does it reflect US government policy. Here Taiwan should have kicked up a stink, but the amateurishness of its political class is such that it doesn't even realize the difference between speaking the truth and real harm to its interests.

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