I thought this week was the right time to talk about the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). After all, it was exactly three decades yesterday since the TRA, that masterpiece of strategic legislation, was enacted.
The scene: the Oval Office, Dec. 16, 1978. One day after US president Jimmy Carter surprised most by announcing the US would dump Taiwan in favor of the Reds.
Secretary of State Cyrus Vance: “Mr. President. Now that we’re going to establish relations with the Chicoms, that sort of leaves our former friends on Taiwan in a bit of a hole, wouldn’t you say?”
Carter: “Who gives a diggety damn. We’ll let Congress take care of it.”
And so, realizing the importance of uninterrupted imports of color TVs, Congress took the State Department’s draft Taiwan Omnibus Act and completely rewrote it. So it came to pass: The cornerstone of the unofficial US-Taiwan relationship, the TRA, was born.
The TRA is quite specific in its aims and objectives, but the same can’t be said for Washington’s longstanding policy of “strategic ambiguity.”
US policy on Taiwan, to borrow from Winston Churchill, is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.” Trying to get definitive language on Taiwan from US officials is like Cathy Pacific trying to get me to tell her: “I love you.”
Down the years, the lexicon pasta that is US cross-strait policy has befuddled even the best of them. Just ask former secretary of state Colin Powell.
Who can forget his faux pas on Oct. 25, 2004? He told Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV: “Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation” and that Taiwan and China should move toward “peaceful reunification.”
Poor old General Powell was forced to “clarify” his comments just two days later, replacing “reunification” with “resolution.”
Such is the wordsmithery one used when trapped in the pit of cross-strait nomenclature.
Readers following the TRA anniversary stories in this very publication will by now be familiar with the name of the non-voting Congressional Delegate for American Samoa. To save ink in these environmentally conscious times, let me simply refer to him as Mr. F.
I didn’t know much about Mr. F until he launched his first counterstrike in the Taipei Times’ direction. But a little research reveals he’s quite an interesting character — not at all your average US politician.
How many congressmen, for instance, can say they appeared as an extra in an Elvis Presley film?
The movie, 1966’s Paradise, Hawaiian Style, was a turkey by most accounts. But it did showcase the beautiful islands of Hawaii, where a young Mr. F was attending Brigham Young University, a Mormon institution.
A source informs me that one reason Mr. F was picked for the film — in which he is apparently one of several dancers — was that his body is heavily tattooed (“In the Samoan Islands men were traditionally tattooed from waist to knees at the age of 16-18 years, in a group puberty ceremony that served to reinforce societal authority,” according to the Penn Museum).
The question is, how did he sneak past the school administrators? Visible tattoos violate the school’s grooming standards.
Anyway, back to business. Why is Mr. F so concerned with Taiwan?
Well, as chairman of the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, we Taiwanese occasionally pop up on his radar.
Mr. F’s self-professed concern for Taiwan can be described as “fishy,” in the best possible sense of the word, of course.
You see, tuna is big business in American Samoa, with around 20 percent of its population employed in two giant canneries. And of course, like any good congressman, Mr. F spends his time trying to ensure his constituents have jobs.
This is where Taiwan comes in. Taiwan is a giant in the tuna industry and “has probably the best tuna boat building capabilities in the world,” to quote the congressman.
This is why he was instrumental in pushing a provision in the US that would allow Taiwan-built and operated purse seine tuna boats to fish in the US’ Exclusive Economic Zones, a move his rivals, who include American Samoa’s governor, oppose, claiming it would benefit Taiwanese businesses. Mr. F argues his motives are solely aimed at keeping the canneries busy.
With Taiwan already established as a tuna giant and China active in the region, Mr. F finds himself walking a fine line between the two.
Maybe this explains his tendency to treat pan-blue-camp propaganda as fact, as he did in his first letter to the Taipei Times on March 31, when he said the people of Taiwan had voted “for a more honest government.”
Does this guy not know anything about the pedigree of the party now in “honest” government?
Mind you, with the differences between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chicoms narrowing by the day, it’s difficult to tell whose propaganda is flying about.
Those who accuse Mr. F of being a China stooge following his attempt to water down a resolution celebrating 30 years of the TRA had better watch out. It doesn’t take much to get him All Shook Up, as evidenced by two letters the Taipei Times printed.
In the second letter he made clear that his No. 1 priority was preventing US troops from being “dragged into” a war between Taiwan and China.
A compelling stance, coming from one who issued a press release on Oct. 10, 2002, entitled “[Mr. F] supports President’s proposed policy on Iraq.”
In the statement he said he decided to support the invasion of Iraq only after gaining reassurances from Colin Powell.
Obviously, this was before the general’s credibility was maimed by his infamous UN presentation on Iraq’s magically mysterious mobile chemical weapons lab caravans.
OK, so we were all hoodwinked by that chemical weapon/nuclear threat baloney, but the record will show that Mr. F supported what turned out to be the US’ most reckless wartime adventure since it was “dragged into” Vietnam.
To give Mr. F credit, though, he did change his tune.
His G.I. Blues may have something to do with the fact that his constituents are most likely to die on the sandy frontlines of Iraq.
As a report in USA Today on March 18 concluded (“A statistical profile of America’s war dead in Iraq”), American Samoa leads all US states and territories in deaths in Iraq with a rate of 138.8 per 1 million population.
Maybe it’s all a case of once bitten, twice shy, or as former US president George W. Bush said: “Fool me once, shame on … you. Fool me, … you … you can’t get fooled again.”
But enough of that. When are people going to realize that Taiwan isn’t the problem here? It’s the bloody Chicoms with a Great Wall-sized chip on their shoulder and a flourishing missile arsenal that endanger peace in the Asia-Pacific region.
And as far as I recall, other than old Second Uncle Neihu and Peanutissimo Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), nobody in Taiwan ever asked the US to sacrifice troops in our name.
Countless polls have shown that only a small percentage of crazies want either unification or independence right here, right now. Most Taiwanese want things to stay as they are for the time being. This is what they voted for. They did not vote for backroom deals between KMT hacks and the Chinese Communist Party. This is why we have Suspicious Minds.
We don’t want to live under another murderous regime. Been there, done that. Why don’t people like Mr. F get this?
Maybe deep down the congressman would be nicer to us if he read up on some Asian history. I am assuming this based on comments he made during a visit to Vietnam in 2007 (Mr. F is a Vietnam vet).
He called Ho Chi Minh a “great leader.”
Uncle Ho, according to Mr. F, “only wanted to get rid of 100 years of French colonialism and establish a better life for his own people.”
Well, we here in Taiwan haven’t quite healed our colonial injuries, but we have fought for and achieved a better life; freedom of speech and of the press; a good standard of living; and the right to kick out a shitty government. We would like to keep it that way.
But becoming a special autonomous zone of China won’t guarantee these things, as the Hong Kong experiment has demonstrated.
This is why we value the TRA and its advocacy of a resolution acceptable to us, and this is why we don’t appreciate fair weather friends meddling with it.
Got something to tell Johnny? Go on, get it off your chest. Write to email@example.com, but be sure to put “Dear Johnny” in the subject line or he’ll mark your bouquets and brickbats as spam.
Beijing’s imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law and a number of other democratic and human rights issues continue to strain relations between the UK and China. The tense situation has significantly decreased the likelihood of British Royal Navy ships being able to continue their practice of docking in Hong Kong’s harbor for resupply — a not altogether unpredictable development. In a Nov. 19 online speech to parliament, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier would next year lead a British and allied task group to the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and East Asia. Johnson
President-elect Biden and his team soon will confront a raging pandemic, a severe economic crisis, demands for progress in addressing racial injustices, intensifying climate-induced crises, and strained relations with allies and partners in many parts of the world. They will be oriented to view China as America’s greatest geostrategic challenge, but not the most immediate threat to the health and prosperity of the American people. Amidst this daunting inheritance, US-Taiwan relations will stand out as a bright spot, an example of progress that should be sustained. There are strong reasons for optimism about the continued development of US-Taiwan relations in the
Universities and colleges are bearing the brunt of Taiwan’s falling birthrate. Many schools have already closed down, while lower-ranking institutions find themselves in a precarious position. The Ministry of Education has said that more than 40 private senior-high schools, universities and colleges are already in a critical situation. When schools are forced to close, the impact is felt not just by students, who can easily transfer to other schools, but even more so by teachers and other staff, for whom it is hard to change track in the middle of their careers. A Cabinet meeting on Nov. 19 approved a draft
I was probably the first professor in Taiwan to teach a university-level food safety class and a postgraduate food toxicology course. During the administration of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), I participated in discussions to allow imports of US beef containing traces of ractopamine, and was part of the decision to permit imports of US pork containing the leanness-enhancing additive. I am not an expert on ractopamine, as I have never done any research on the drug, but I have taught classes about the health dangers of foods containing traces of harmful substances. When US beef imports were about to be allowed,