Having stated through various channels that it opposes Taiwan's plan to hold a referendum on applying for UN membership under the name Taiwan, the US has now declared its official position through the publication of a speech made by US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Thomas Christensen.
When we read this document carefully, we can start to understand what the US is thinking. The US is against the referendum for six reasons.
First, such a referendum could cause Beijing to use military force against Taiwan, and the US wants to avoid provoking Beijing.
Second, the referendum might involve a name change for Taiwan, and President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) has promised not to pursue a change in Taiwan's official name.
Third, the US "[does] not support Taiwan's membership in international organizations that require statehood and therefore would not support such a referendum."
Fourth, this referendum would harm the interests of both Taiwan and the US, because Taiwan's safety is in the US' best interest.
Fifth, the referendum has no benefits for Taiwan's international status. It might harm Taiwan's foreign relations, and "will limit, not expand, Taiwan's international space." Beijing would likely react by limiting Taiwan's space even further, and this might scare away countries that are friendly to Taiwan.
Sixth, "... most countries in the world accept Beijing's characterization of Taiwan, and ... the PRC can call in overwhelming support to marginalize Taiwan."
Christensen's points are a review of what has been US policy for years in the triangular relationship between the US, China and Taiwan.
The US thinks that in this situation, Taiwan should not act rashly, to avoid breaking the triangular framework that has gradually taken shape over time. But this framework is based on the US' strategic ideas about East Asia, and does not take Taiwan's situation and needs into account.
The shrinking of Taiwan's international space has taken shape under this framework, and under it, in the long term Taiwan will have no international space left.
Why did this situation arise? At the beginning of the 1970s, the US sought to normalize its relations with Beijing, in order to be able to extricate itself from the Vietnam war. Before the UN adopted the crucial Resolution 2758 on the matter of who had the right to represent China in the UN, Henry Kissinger went to Beijing to meet Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來), resulting in an electoral setback.
With the normalization of relations, the US wanted to cater to China by using Taiwan as a negotiation chip, and this involved turning it into a special area that is not considered to be a country.
Simply put, in finding a solution for the Taiwan issue, the US has never seriously thought about it from Taiwan's point of view, and only considers the issue as part of its strategy in East Asia.
In the negotiation process with China, US leaders never brought up the issue of dual recognition of China and Taiwan, but accepted Beijing's conditions from the start.
In this respect, the US doesn't take account of former French president Charles de Gaulle in 1964 and Lao premier Souvanna Phouma in 1962, who publicly stated they wanted to recognize both China and Taiwan.
When the San Fransisco Peace Conference was held in 1951, many countries advocated respecting the will of the Taiwanese people. But the US turned a deaf ear to them, and left Taiwan's status undetermined, so it would have even more leverage over it.
This policy helped Taiwan overcome the threat of Chinese invasion, and develop its current democracy and prosperity. However, the US' policy did not solve the Taiwan issue. To this day Taiwan lives with the threat of military action from China. In light of the US' current security strategy in East Asia, this threat will remain, and it is hard to see it receding in the foreseeable future.
The US is using three methods to avert China's military threat against Taiwan. The first is persuading China to restrain itself. The second is selling arms to Taiwan. The third is opposing Taiwan's "provocative behavior."This is a passive approach, playing a game of balance.
Why doesn't the US take the Taiwan issue to the UN to debate it? It could allow the UN to safeguard Taiwan's safety by thoroughly clearing away China's threats to Taiwan.
Christensen said in his speech that the US government was "trying to help preserve and expand the Taiwan people's international space."
How can we put this statement to the test?
The US State Department could consider, or not be opposed to, taking the Taiwan issue to the UN for discussion. It could support Taiwan in setting up a Taiwan liaison office in the UN. It could reconcile its conflicts with Taiwan. Then we would know we can believe Christensen's words.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor at Tamkang University.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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