Memorials and discussions have been held lately to mark the 30th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) on Friday. The Chinese government did all it could do to stop the US Congress passing a resolution offering support for the TRA and democracy in Taiwan. China’s United Front strategy did cause some problems, but in the end a resolution was passed that included the word “cornerstone” in describing the importance of the TRA to US-Taiwan relations.
While looking at the TRA, we should not ignore the six assurances to Taiwan that former US president Ronald Reagan made a part of his cross-strait policy. The six assurances state that the US will not be a mediator between Taiwan and China; will not force negotiations; will not set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; will not hold prior consultations with China on arms sales to Taiwan; will not revise the TRA; and will not alter its stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Reagan’s six assurances should be seen as reminders to each US president that neglecting them will be disastrous not only for Taiwan, but also for the US and the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, the US has made too many concessions on China’s hegemonic actions in the post-Reagan era, leading to the current state of relations between Taiwan, China and the US. Concessions to China imply a corresponding weakening of support for Taiwanese democracy. Regardless of what problems there may be in Taiwan’s policy toward the US, Taiwan remains a democracy, and regardless of what China does to curry favor with the US, it remains a dictatorship. Without this basic understanding, all policies will be biased.
Another unfortunate thing is that there are differences in policy between the State Department and the Pentagon, and at times this is as unfortunate as China’s declarations that the economy can be decoupled from political issues. It is impossible to examine China’s policy toward the US and detect any separation of military, economic and political issues.
In terms of the economy, there has been talk of Chinese “bottom fishing” in the US, which refers to acquiring companies and real estate at low prices. These actions would not be acquisitions based on market rules but politically motivated hostile takeovers. At the same time, China has blocked the attempts of companies like Coca-Cola to engage in regular friendly acquisitions in China.
China has also been challenging the position of the US currency and wants a new currency to replace the dollar as the primary international currency.
In terms of military affairs, Chinese vessels harassed the US surveillance ship USNS Impeccable in international waters in the South China Sea. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already declared that the US is distorting the facts on the incident, a response bound to appeal to nationalistic youth.
In political terms, Chinese leaders were quick to make use of US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s visit to China to convince the public that the US is begging China for help. China is also trying to get US President Barack Obama to visit Beijing as soon as possible to further cement the image of the US kowtowing to China. If Obama waits until the US economy is back on its feet, Beijing will not be able to “squeeze” as much out of the US.
Because China has more to ask of the US than the US has to ask of China, China uses a more passive policy toward the US. However, as soon as a fundamental change in the balance of power between the US and China occurs, China will adopt a more aggressive policy. China is using the economic crisis to attempt to establish a new international order that is headed by itself. Beijing is not trying to bring itself in line with the international community; it wants the world to bring itself in line with China.