Even though US Senator Dianne Feinstein went back to California during the congressional recess when Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) was visiting Washington last month, she managed to send Hu a much better welcome present than what the White House had to offer.
"It is important to point out a common misconception - nowhere does the TRA explicitly require the US to go to war with the mainland over Taiwan," said Feinstein, referring to the Taiwan Relations Act, in San Francisco a few hours after US President George W. Bush had met with Hu.
The senator was impeccable in proving her pro-China credentials. Not only did she utter something the VIP visitor would have loved and would have dreamed of coming from his host, but she also chose to air her view at a venue which would have gained a nod from Hu.
The Democrat was delivering a luncheon speech, titled "Taiwan and the Sino-American Relationship: Thoughtful Management, Consistent Attention," at the 15th annual conference of the Committee of 100, a Chinese-American organization devoted to strengthening US-China relations with a logo that states "seeking common ground while respecting differences" (read: pro-China).
It's noteworthy that Feinstein previously has boasted about her close ties with two former Communist leaders: former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and former premier Zhu Rongji (朱鎔基).
Senator Feinstein must be dying to cultivate her relationship with the current helmsman. President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and China's public enemy No. 1, no surprise, was a target in her speech.
Feinstein blasted Chen for taking a provocative and belligerent stance toward China, all for his personal political gain, in hopes that he can be hailed as the savior who stands up to Communist China. And she praised Beijing for declining to take Chen's bait.
She also said the US had no obligation to defend Taiwan if the latter provokes China into a military confrontation.
Hu should be happy to have such a good friend.
The TRA was overwhelmingly passed by the two chambers of Congress and reluctantly signed into law by former US president Jimmy Carter on April 10, 1979.
It was in reality "a treaty imposed by the Congress through legislative action," said Heritage Foundation senior fellow Harvey Feldman, a retired ambassador who was the director of the Office of Republic of China Affairs at the State Department when Carter betrayed Taiwan to recognize Communist China in early 1979.
Outraged by the Carter administration's indifference to Taiwan's fate, Congress took the matter into its hand and passed the TRA to protect and support the long time ally as much as possible in the absence of diplomatic relations. Among the key clauses are:
To make clear that the US decision to establish diplomatic relations with China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means;
To consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the US;
To provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character;
And finally, to maintain the capacity of the US to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people in Taiwan.
Feinstein might be correct, technically, that the TRA does not explicitly state that the US would go to war to defend Taiwan should it be attacked by China.
In case Taiwan is being threatened, the TRA states that "The President and the Congress shall determine, in accordance with constitutional processes, appropriate action by the US in response to any such danger. "
So in theory it's possible that the US could choose not to do anything.
However, it should be pointed out that the Security Treaty with Japan and the NATO treaties say something similar: In the event of an attack in the treaty area, the parties shall consult and take necessary action in accordance with their constitutional procedures. However, the US made it quite plain during the Cold War that a Soviet assault would be met by the US and other forces stationed in Germany, and something similar with US forces in Japan or South Korea.
To suggest that Taiwan shall not receive US help if it provokes China into war is another attempt from the Taiwan Haters Club to belittle the island democracy. I only have one question. When China finally invades Taiwan, do you think China would have any difficulty in coming up with evidence of Taiwan's "provocation" to justify its aggression?
And don't forget, the "Anti-Secession" Law, passed by Beijing in March last year, has clearly stated that "non-peaceful means" shall be employed to "protect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity" once all "possibilities for a peaceful reunification should be completely exhausted."
In other words, whenever Beijing feels that the possibility for Taiwan to surrender is gone, it can send the People's Liberation Army (PLA) over.
The very fact that China has yet to invade Taiwan since the retreat of US troops from the island 26 years ago suggests one thing: the TRA does offer an implicit US promise to defend Taiwan and thus an implicit deterrence to China. Otherwise, the PLA would have crossed the Taiwan Strait long ago.
Feinstein's view, unfortunately, is shared by a number of prominent figures in Washington. John Warner, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, voiced his concern at a hearing in March: "I think that if that conflict were precipitated by just inappropriate and wrongful politics generated by the Taiwanese elected officials, I'm not entirely sure that this nation would come full force to their rescue if they created the problem."
American experiences in Asia don't "encourage us to go further into military action ? particularly if they're brought up by injudicious judgment in politics," the Virginia Republican added.
Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during Bush's first term, also stated that the TRA doesn't oblige the US to defend Taiwan when he visited Taipei in March, the same view he had expressed in 2004 before leaving the administration. When the TRA says the US would "resist" force or coercion which jeopardizes Taiwan, Armitage said, it doesn't necessarily mean military resistance.
And Taipei Mayor and Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Chairman Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) related a message from senior US officials he met during his recent trip to Washington: The Americans would have no obligation to send their men to help the island fight a cross-strait war if the Taiwanese authorities did anything to spark the crisis.
"If the provocation is not started by Taiwan, the US will have the kind of justification and intention to come to our defense, but if it is started by Taiwan, they will not be interested in sending troops to help us," Ma said.
The most fundamental fact, which is conveniently ignored by the Taiwan Haters Club, is that China, a dictatorship, will always remain unhappy about Taiwan, a democracy. The mere existence of Taiwan as a democratic sovereignty, where the only Chinese community in history enjoys liberty and human rights, will always be seen as a provocation by China.
Warning Taiwan not to provoke or else, is indeed asking the Taiwanese to give up all the tremendous achievements of the past two decades.
The current US president, who once pledged to do whatever is necessary to help Taiwan defend itself, should have a better sense of judgment than this.
Liu Kin-ming, former chairman of the Hong Kong Journalists' Association, is a columnist based in Washington.
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