Wrong TRA message sent?
Two weeks ago, the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs held a hearing called “Evaluating US Policy on the 35th Anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA).”
Those who know the basic tenets that shape US-Taiwan relations understand that these hearings typically consist of two primary (and for the most part, predictable) themes:
Members of the US Congress proclaiming their unwavering support for Taiwan and its democracy, and when called to testify, staff from Foggy Bottom read out pre-cleared talking points, many of which seemingly have not been updated since the act’s implementation in 1979.
The aforementioned hearing was on its way to repeating this pattern before ranking committee member US Senator Marco Rubio asked US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel: “Does the [US President Barack] Obama Administration remain committed to [former] president [Ronald] Reagan’s so-called ‘six assurances’ to Taiwan? Is that still our position?”
Unlike Russel’s predecessor, Kurt Campbell, who in a 2011 US House of Representatives hearing on Taiwan reiterated repeatedly that “the United States abides by the so-called six assurances,” Russel only confirmed that the assurances were “an element” of Washington’s approach to Taiwan relations.
Russel’s answer was troubling on a number of levels, since even subtle changes in wording from the US Department of State on Washington’s official “unofficial” relationship with Taipei could have far-reaching ramifications.
In a relationship often clouded by US ambiguity, the six assurances have not only helped give Taiwanese government officials a certain level of clarification and certainty; they have also shown other countries that the US can be counted on as a reliable and committed partner within a bilateral relationship framework.
However, perhaps just as important is whether Beijing perceives Russel’s testimony as a subtle, yet clear change in Washington’s Taiwan policy — a potentially inaccurate perception that could lead China to miscalculate on how to approach its relationship with Taiwan, as well as the US.
China experts have long said that Beijing gives documents such as the three US-China joint communiques and agreements of intent such as Cairo Declaration of 1943 a much higher level of importance than many other countries (albeit primarily when such documents suit its official narrative).
While some experts may deem a potential alteration or downgrading of a policy such as the six assurances as being of rather low importance, Beijing undoubtedly sees it the other way.
It is worth repeating that Russel’s testimony last week does not mean that there has been a shift in US policy toward Taiwan, but it could be interpreted that way and therein lies the problem.
Falls Church, Virginia
Phase out nuclear power
A statement issued by Academia Sinica and signed by the institute’s dean, deputy dean and 23 academics has urged the government to hold a referendum on the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District (貢寮).
Several facts mentioned in the statement deserve consideration: The first is that Taiwan houses six of the world’s 12 high-risk nuclear reactors in earthquake-prone areas.
In addition, it ranks second in terms of the population density of the areas around these reactors and becomes No. 1 if population density is measured per unit of habitable land.