Thu, Dec 21, 2006 - Page 8 News List

The fictional 'status quo,' Part 2

By June Teufel Dreyer

The US has gone on record as saying that it is in favor of a solution to the complex relationship between Taiwan and China that has the assent of the Taiwanese people, which would represent a change in the "status quo."

One problem is that US policymakers themselves often do not seem to know or remember what US policy is.

As a case in point, in the Shanghai Communique, the US simply acknowledged the People's Republic of China's (PRC) claim that all Chinese people on either side of the Taiwan Strait believe that there is only "one China," of which Taiwan is a part.

In addition to acknowledging -- rather than accepting the PRC's claim -- the phrase contains another bit of verbal evasion: It said nothing about the views of many Taiwanese who don't believe that they are Chinese, but whose existence the US drafters were well aware of.

However, in September 1994, Mike McCurry, who served as State Department spokesperson during the administration of former US president Bill Clinton, was asked if he considered Taiwan a part of China.

He replied: "Absolutely. That's been a consistent feature of our `one China' policy."

There was an uproar. The statement was retracted and replaced with a statement that the US acknowledged the PRC's position that there was only "one China."

A decade and a change in administration later, in October 2004, US President George W. Bush's Secretary of State Colin Powell said that Taiwan did not have sovereignty and spoke of the US desire for reunification.

Again there was an uproar.

Chagrined State Department officials explained that a jet-lagged Powell had "misspoken" and quickly replaced a revised transcript of his remarks on the department's Web site.

In other contexts, Powell misspoke differently: He referred to Taiwan as a state twice in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2001.

Amusingly, even former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, the architect of the "one China" policy, has sometimes slipped.

In a 1995 debate on William Buckley's Firing Line with Jason Hu (胡志強), the then director-general of Taiwan's Government Information Office, Kissinger several times referred to "the Republic of Taiwan" and had to be corrected by an embarrassed Hu.

Some US policymakers also seem confused by another bit of verbal trickery: The US position is that it does not support Taiwan independence. This is very different from saying that the US opposes independence. When verbal trickery tricks one's own officials, it may be time for clarification -- or at least better briefing.

The differences among joint communiques and documents allow a great deal of leeway in interpretation, creating opportunities for acrimonious reactions and dangerous situations.

For example, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently said that the three communiques which the US has signed with China acknowledge China's position that Taiwan is part of China, but added that the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) pledges the US to maintain Taiwan's capability to defend itself against a Chinese military attack.

"I say to the Chinese all the time, those are a package, they cannot be separated," Rice said.

Although these documents do not say the same things, Rice nonetheless admonished that "we must all abide by the package and not try to change the status quo."

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