At a seminar at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last week, former American Institute in Taiwan Washington office managing director Barbara Schrage spoke about US-Taiwan relations since the nine-in-one elections in November last year.
She described the outcome of the elections as a political landslide for the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and a major defeat for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). She said that this outcome showed the strength of Taiwan’s democracy and that this would increase the US’ commitment to the nation’s safety and security.
She continued by saying that as Taiwan is a democracy, it would not be appropriate for the US to interfere. However, she then said that the DPP needed to formulate a China policy, adding that “vague formulations” would not suffice.
It is peculiar that she accused the DPP of “vague formulations,” while the present so-called “1992 consensus” is an extremely opaque concept that has many different interpretations. If Schrage were evenhanded and fair-minded, she should also discuss the vagueness of the “1992 consensus.”
It is also rather incomprehensible that Schrage implores the DPP to “reduce the differences between the two sides.” Such a statement fails to take into account the uncompromising position taken by Beijing, which has set acceptance of the so-called “one China” principle as a precondition for any negotiations.
In recent statements at the National People’s Congress, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) negated even the “1992 consensus” by emphasizing only “one China” and rejecting any “different interpretations.”
However, Schrage really crossed the line when, in the question-and-answer session, she commented on the September 2011 visit of DPP Chairperson and then-presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), criticizing her for emphasizing the (democratic) “process” and not a “specific outcome.”
Schrage said that the US administration had wanted to hear her specific plans for managing cross-strait relations, adding: “Frankly speaking, she was disappointing in that area.”
In its own policies toward Taiwan, the US only talks about “process”: It emphasizes that in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, the US insists on a “peaceful process,” and that there is a democratic process, in which decisions on the nation’s future should be made with the consent/assent of the people of Taiwan.
The US has never suggested any specific outcome, saying that it supports neither unification nor independence. It has also said that Taiwan’s current status is undetermined (in accordance with the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty), but emphasizes that its future status needs to be determined peacefully, without outside interference.
So it feels somewhat ironic that Schrage faults Tsai for doing precisely what the US is doing.
Of course, everyone wants to avoid tension with Beijing. As Taiwanese-Americans, we are confident that — when elected in January next year — a DPP government will play a constructive role in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
However, the US must stand clearly on the side of democracy and freedom in Taiwan, and ensure that Taiwanese can make a free choice on their future. There is no room for ambiguity.
Indeed, comments from people like Schrage should focus on convincing Beijing to present a formula that can “narrow its differences with Taiwan.”