On April 12, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office Minister Wang Yi (王毅) had a “surprise” meeting with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns in Washington. The US government, anticipating how sensitive such a meeting might be, arranged for an official working in the area of cross-strait affairs to talk to Taiwanese reporters on April 10.
No sooner had the official sat down than he announced, unprompted, that Wang was to arrive in Washington on April 11, having arranged to meet Burns the next day to discuss cross-strait affairs. The official admitted that Wang’s request for a meeting had taken the US by surprise, because it was not a routine visit.
When the conversation turned to the notion of “one country, two areas” (一國兩區) recently proposed by a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) envoy in China, the official said that the US government was not sure what this formula entailed. He said that this proposal had also taken the US by surprise, and that Washington hoped that the Taiwanese authorities would be able to explain it.
On the subject of President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) proposal for a cross-strait peace agreement, the official said it was unnecessary, since the majority of Taiwanese were in favor of maintaining the “status quo.” The US, he said, did not want to see Taiwan pressurized into making any type of political arrangement that would threaten stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Asked about the issue of US beef imports to Taiwan, the official responded by saying that the US would definitely not link beef imports with other issues, such as arms sales or visa exemptions, and that Ma had brought up the issue with American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Raymond Burghardt on Feb. 1, without any prior discussion with the US.
The background information provided by this official was very revealing. He had apparently foreseen that Wang would want to find out what the US thought of Ma’s recent initiatives and had thought it prudent to make clear beforehand that Ma had not mentioned these topics to the US. Not only was the US surprised by the developments, it was confused as to what the “one country, two areas” formula entailed, and also felt that there was no need to sign a peace agreement.
It looks as though Wang did not get the response he was hoping for in Washington. By saying that the developments came as a surprise, the US made it clear there was no prior mutual understanding between itself and Taiwan on these issues. By saying that it was confused by the “one country, two areas” formula and didn’t think a peace agreement was necessary, it made it clear that it did not support such ideas.
During his meeting with Burns, Wang remained decidedly low-key, explaining on Ma’s behalf that Taiwan was expressing its basic stance on cross-strait relations from a legal point of view. Wang added that China hoped to hear some positive messages during Ma’s inauguration speech for his second term on May 20.
The US is attempting to weather the diplomatic storm by reaffirming its commitment to the “one China” policy, the three US-China joint communiques, and the Taiwan Relations Act. What about Taiwan? Taiwanese Representative to the US Jason Yuan (袁健生) acted as if nothing had happened, talking of a “no surprises” principle in US-Taiwan relations, and saying there were no problems between the two countries.