When measured on almost any scale of political affairs, the amazing rapprochement between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China must rank as one of the most significant events of the early 21st century.
Since 2008, the two sides have hammered out a series of agreements providing for direct shipping, daily passenger flights and improved postal services and food safety. Chinese businessmen have traveled to Taiwan to negotiate billions of dollars in trade and investment deals, and thousands of Chinese tourists visit the country each month. Furthermore, Beijing has agreed that Taipei may attend meetings of the World Health Assembly (WHA) under the name “Chinese Taipei,” and the two sides appear to have agreed to a “diplomatic truce” whereby they will stop competing for each other’s diplomatic allies. On June 29, representatives met and signed a free trade pact, the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) in Chongqing.
Washington’s policy toward Taipei and Beijing is guided primarily by a series of public and private presidential statements, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and three US-PRC joint communiques. These “cornerstones” of US policy often appear ambiguous, or even contradictory.
However, one fact is clear — Washington warmly supports all moves toward cross-strait reconciliation.
In November last year, US President Barack Obama declared that he was “very pleased with the reduction of tensions and the improvement in cross-straits relations.”
And the new national security policy of the US proclaims that the US “will continue to encourage continued reduction in tension between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan.”
The PRC applauds the US position, but some are calling on Washington to do more. In the coming months, Beijing would like to see Washington take additional steps to facilitate the ongoing rapprochement.
For starters, Beijing often claims that the US stands in the way of a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue. Authorities insist that US weapons create a climate encouraging Taipei’s refusal to enter into meaningful negotiations. To state it succinctly, the PRC wants the US to terminate arms sales to Taiwan.
The PRC has agreed to Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the World Health Assembly. However, officials still believe there should be limits on Taipei’s participation in the global community. They want Washington to understand this fact.
PRC authorities have long called for Washington to do “something useful’ to promote reconciliation between the two sides. Some would applaud a US move to host a peace conference to promote “the reunification of China.”
To be sure, Washington welcomes the growing cross-strait rapprochement. However, the US has no plans to reduce its defense commitment to Taiwan and will move forward with the plan to sell the country US$6.4 billion in arms.
As US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said: “We strongly encourage the cross-strait improvement in relations ... but we will maintain our obligations” under the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).
Moreover, US policy toward Taiwan’s participation in the global community has not changed. Officials have long emphasized that according to the TRA, the law cannot be construed as “a basis for supporting the exclusion or expulsion of Taiwan” from international organizations.