When Taiwanese government officials began publicly requesting that the US repeat the 1982 "Six Assurances" on the record in some manner, the issue was already lost. For starters, how reassured can anyone feel if the so-called "assurances" have to be dragged out from an otherwise unwilling source?
Further, even if Taiwanese leaders got their wish, would they in fact be convinced that the content of the so-called assurances are appropriate for their contemporary circumstances?
The debate over these six assurances is misleading.
In actuality, the most important question here is not whether the US will publicly repeat the six assurances or not.
If the US State Department spokesman were to stride to the podium tomorrow and state the six assurances verbatim, I suspect very little comfort and confidence would be gained in Taipei.
The more important questions relate to why government officials in Taiwan feel so insecure and so in need of public reassurance, and what the US can say and do to help provide genuine reassurance.
Taiwan is feeling insecure for a variety of reasons.
China's military capabilities are developing rapidly, while Taiwan's may be atrophying; Taiwan's divisive internal politics seem to create opportunities for Beijing to exploit divisions and undermine confidence in the future of Taiwan's democratic experiment; Taiwan is increasingly isolated within the Asia-Pacific region; the US is diverted to issues in the Middle East, and at the same time working more closely with China on a range of global and regional issues; and the US attention to Taiwan is episodic, and takes the form of "trouble shooting" rather than sustained engagement.
This is hardly an environment where including the phrase "and the six assurances" at the end of a policy mantra that begins with "Our one China policy, based on the Three Communiques ?" is going to make everything well again.
People engaged in this debate should be reminded of the content of the six assurances of 1982.
While it's true that the language was actually proposed by the Taiwanese side, it is also true that circumstances were very different in 1982.
Would Taiwanese leaders today feel "reassured" if the US pledged that the sovereignty of Taiwan should be "determined by Chinese [on both sides of the Strait]" themselves?
With the People's Liberation Army build-up opposite Taiwan unabated, are there still remaining concerns that the US would set a date to end arms sales to Taiwan? In 1982 Taiwan was happy to hear that the US wouldn't alter the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), but in 1999 Taiwan lobbied very hard for a Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. And cross-strait interaction was at a very nascent stage in 1982.
The real concern for Taiwan in 1982 seemed to be potential pressure from the US to enter into dialogue, whereas now the concern is "too much dialogue" (in the form of business people, political parties, and people-to-people contact) without a proper political framework for this interaction.
While I continue to wonder why the US government seems reluctant to publicly state the six assurances and to endorse its sustained relevance to US policy, I come back to the conclusion that our problems run much deeper, and the required solutions are likely more bold than a restatement of long standing policy.