With the news that the annual Monterey meeting -- high level security talks between the US and Taiwan -- will take place after all, we can once again focus on US-Taiwan communications generally, and particularly the potential impact that Taiwan's opposition parties might have on some important issues.
With all the attention on Hurricane Katrina, Iraq, Iran, the Middle East and North Korea, cross-strait matters do not get much attention -- in the media and in government. It doesn't mean things are not happening, however.
The US system for communicating with Taiwan was developed shortly after the 1979 change of recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People's Republic of China (PRC). The rules of engagement between the US government and Taiwan's government were unilaterally established by the US State Department, with the fundamental objective of avoiding irritating China -- ? and the expectation that Taiwan wouldn't be around very long.
The regulations encompassed minute matters such as who, how and where the US could talk with Taiwan's representatives, as well as countless other rules such as avoiding government logos on correspondence and not using flags, among others. Many countries simply accepted Taiwan's officials as private sector people and went on with their work. The US chose -- unnecessarily -- to make it inefficient and costly.
In the last year of the first Bush administration, an effort was made to update the rules. But it was thwarted by bureaucrats (China would get angry), and eventually was dropped after the 1992 presidential election. It was picked up again some time later by the Clinton administration, but by then policy called for improving relations with China.
Since the Taiwan Policy Review, as it came to be called, had been publicly promised to Congress, it inevitably resulted in relatively minor changes: Using the name Taipei (not Taiwan), allowing sub-Cabinet economic meetings -- including visits by Cabinet-level economic officials under some conditions, and transit permission for Taiwan's senior officials. But far more of the review's statements had to do with assuring China that fundamental issues hadn't been changed.
The 1996 missile crisis -- in a far different process -- brought about more significant changes to communication among security officials. First was communication of aircraft movements to avoid collisions. Then the US side addressed the requirement in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that it remain capable of helping Taiwan if attacked -- something that had slipped away for some years.
Then, there was the increase in short-term personnel designated to work with Taiwan's military on technical problems (with the more sophisticated equipment) or strategic planning know-how, and the present on-duty personnel that can now be assigned to the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) in Taipei.
In the earlier days of unofficial relations, the most important bilateral meeting was the annual USA-ROC Economic Council/ROC-USA Economic Council meeting. On the US side, the problem was always that American businesses didn't know what the ROC was. They did know what Taiwan was (made in Taiwan).
The US government was not too keen on any change in the name of the council, and as the council is a private entity it couldn't do much about it. The Taiwanese chapter, meanwhile, was against it. The council needed members, and they had to know it was Taiwan, not China. So at first, the logo on the council's stationary became USA-ROC (Taiwan) Economic Council. Then, after a year or two, it quietly became the US-Taiwan Business Council. The sky did not fall. The current counterpart is the ROC-USA Economic Business Council.