Sun, Aug 19, 2012 - Page 8 News List

John Tkacik On Taiwan: US’ commitment to Taiwan is firm

By John Tkacik

Haig recalled in his memoir, Caveat: “This statement puzzled me. The timing suggested that the President felt that, in carrying out his instructions, I had somehow got out in front of him on our China policy.”

Haig’s Chinese hosts were miffed and, as Haig boarded his aircraft, a Chinese vice minister drew him aside and “earnestly” asked “who makes American foreign policy? Why are there always such surprises?”

From then on, Haig apparently felt obliged to show Beijing that he, not the president, made policy. In October 1981, after Reagan’s cordial but non-eventful meeting with then-Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) in Cancun, Mexico, then-Chinese foreign minister Huang Hua (黃華) delivered a separate ultimatum to Haig: The US must specify a period during which it intended to sell arms to Taiwan; undertake not to exceed the levels of the former US president Jimmy Carter years; and commit that sales would decrease year over year, and then cease. Or else.

At once, Haig mobilized the State Department to formulate an agreement to meet China’s demands in a decision memorandum for the president that would get the ball rolling.

At the time, Jim Lilley oversaw China policy for the Reagan National Security Council (NSC).

In an oral history 16 years later, Lilley explained that when he came on board at the Reagan White House in February 1981: “I was more concerned that the State Department had fallen into the hands of people who were too much ‘pro-PRC [People’s Republic of China],’ we saw our job [at the NSC] as holding the fort against an encroachment of the ‘pro-PRC’ group and, somehow, to carry out what Reagan wanted.”

As Haig’s paper on Huang’s October ultimatum was in hasty draft, Lilley recalled: “A good friend of mine, an FSO [Foreign Service Officer] at the State Department, called me up and said: ‘This memorandum is coming to the President, it’s bad news. See what you can do.’”

Lilley raced to get a copy of the document before it slid into Reagan’s inbox, but was too late. Haig had taken the memo directly to the president, bypassing the NSC. It said that the cessation of arms sales to Taiwan by a “date certain” was a “commitment made to the Chinese communists” by the Carter administration.

Lilley made a thorough search of the archives, but he “couldn’t find any record of such a commitment. We talked to former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and we talked to anybody else who might have knowledge of this matter. Finally Carter himself was contacted, and he said: ‘I never made such a commitment. I can tell you that I wouldn’t have made it.’”

This was fortunate. Four months after the Dec.15, 1979, “normalization” with Beijing, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which mandated continued arms sales to Taiwan. Moreover, the TRA mandated the continuation of the US-Taiwan mutual defense treaty for a year beyond “normalization” and mandated the continuation in force of all US treaties with Taiwan — something no other nation recognizing Beijing had done or would do.

After Reagan fired Haig in 1982, Lilley remembered that, as the new director of the AIT: “I was brought back to Washington for consultations” and “was pushed very hard to see whether Taiwan would agree to a ‘cessation’ of arms sales.”

Upon returning to Taipei, he wrote a message to the Department of State saying “this is the wrong thing to do, both in terms of the security of Taiwan and the Taiwan Relations Act” and “we couldn’t do this.”

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