Twenty years ago, in September 1994, then-US president Bill Clinton’s administration announced the results of its Taiwan Policy Review. At the time, it had been 15 years since the ending of relations with Taiwan and the passage of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act. It was generally felt that the transition to democracy in the nation justified an upgrade in relations.
I served as ranking Republican on the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Subcommittee in the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time and took a strong interest in this issue. I applauded the conducting of the policy review, but was disappointed in the results.
The review allowed a name change of the representative office of Taiwan in Washington, but imposed an anachronistic name that still did not give US citizens the idea that the office represented Taiwan.
The review also allowed visits by high-level officials from economic and technical agencies, but still did not allow key policymakers in defense and foreign affairs to meet.
I argued then that while Taiwan and the world were changing dramatically, US policies toward that free and democratic nation were still stuck in the 1970s. I welcomed the adjustments made by the Clinton administration, but said that we expected bolder, more substantive steps. I also said that instead of such a timid approach, the US should lead in creative diplomacy.
Two decades have passed and Taiwan has changed even further: It is now a vibrant democracy that has consolidated its early achievements. However, it faces immense challenges, in particular from across the Taiwan Strait. Beijing has become much more powerful — economically and militarily — and is aiming about 1,600 missiles at Taiwan, while conducting an economic offensive to draw Taiwan closer.
Taiwan must be brought back into the fold of the international community. In part, due to its “one China” policies, Taiwan has become more isolated. It deserves better: Taiwanese have worked hard to build it into a showcase of freedom, tolerance and democracy.
Some people say policymakers need to “maintain the ‘status quo.’” This is a misnomer, as Beijing is changing the “status quo” all the time with its aggressive expansion in the region, as witnessed in the South China and East China seas, where Chinese navy and coast guard ships push the envelope every day.
The recent Occupy Central pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong have cemented world attention on any democratization from China. Beijing now appears to be moving to control the 2017 Hong Kong chief executive election. The removal of crosses from some Christian churches in China is more evidence of a Putinesque intolerance.
To help Taiwanese decide their own future, free from outside interference, others need to support the nation’s democracy and enhance relations with Taiwan across a wide range of issues, from arms sales and inclusion in the Trans-Pacific Partnership to cultural, economic and environmental cooperation and official meetings at the highest levels.
Is it not peculiar to have regular meetings with leaders of a repressive authoritarian government in Beijing, but shun the democratically elected leaders in Taipei?
I therefore wholeheartedly applaud a new Taiwan Policy Review as suggested in a recent letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry by 29 members of the US Congress, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce. Such a review should lead to substantive improvement of Taiwan-US relations.
Frank Murkowski is a former US senator and former governor of Alaska.
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