US Representative Dana Rohrabacher on June 20 submitted to the US House of Representatives a draft resolution calling on the US government to resume normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and abandon Washington’s long-standing “one China” policy.
The draft also says that “the president, the permanent representative of the United States to the United Nations and other relevant United States officials should aggressively support Taiwan’s full participation in the United Nations and any other international organizations of which the United States is a member, and for which statehood is a requirement for membership.”
Similar resolutions have been proposed in the US, but under conditions very different from today’s. US President Donald Trump has adopted a new and different stance toward China, such as calling it a strategic competitor and imitating a trade war, as well as withdrawing from the UN Human Rights Council.
Alex Wong (黃之瀚), deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has said several times that China is altering the “status quo” across the Taiwan Strait, and that any such disruption is of great concern to the US government.
These signs suggest that US-China and US-Taiwan relations are beginning to change in qualitative, rather than merely quantitative, ways.
It might be difficult for people living in nations where executive prerogative prevails to imagine what significance a resolution proposed by a member of the US Congress could have for US policymaking.
The US has three branches of government with separate powers, under which the powers of the president and US Congress are based on the will of the people. Therefore, when members of Congress make proposals, such as this one, their political implications in the flow of events cannot be overlooked, even though the time might not have come for the proposals to be passed into law.
In 1979, then-US president Jimmy Carter announced that the US was terminating diplomatic relations with the Republic of China and establishing ties with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Congress then took the initiative to propose and pass the Taiwan Relations Act. That act established the framework that has guided US-Taiwan relations over the past four decades, allowing Taiwan to take the path to democracy while maintaining its independence.
In policy practice, the act, as a domestic US law, has provided an effective counterbalance to the Three Joint Communiques between the US and China, and it has ensured that the US’ “one China” policy does not get too close to Beijing’s “one China” principle.
The way in which US presidents have implemented the act illustrates the deep consideration that the US government gives to foreign policy. Paired with a policy of strategic ambiguity, it has operated stably over a long period.
The act has from the outset allowed the US’ “one China” policy to actually be implemented as a “one China, one Taiwan” policy.
However, the “one China, one Taiwan” policy has not collided head-on with Beijing’s opposition to Taiwanese independence, “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan.”
The bottom line of the “one China, one Taiwan” policy, as implemented by successive US presidents, is one of recognizing that there is only one China — while Taiwan does not belong to the PRC — and not recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign state.
The idea that Taiwan does not belong to China, but is also not a sovereign state, acts as a barrier between the Washington’s “one China” policy and Beijing’s “one China” principle.
Beijing has won the struggle for the right to represent China, but it is difficult for it to squeeze the rest of what it wants out of the US, even though its words and actions toward Taiwan never cease.
Various actions by the US, such as dispatching an aircraft carrier to ensure that a Taiwanese presidential election could proceed smoothly, and its open confirmation that Taiwan is a model of democracy within Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, has made it clear to Beijing that the operational definition of the “one China” policy is a “one China, one Taiwan” policy.
If China unilaterally changes the cross-strait “status quo,” the US could well change its ambiguous concept of “one Taiwan” to a clear one of recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign state.
Trump’s modus operandi could be described as one of order within chaos — one that is more methodical than it appears.
Trump called President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) “the president of Taiwan” and defined China as a strategic competitor. A US-China trade war is brewing. The US’ National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 and the Taiwan Travel Act, which Trump signed into law on March 16, are favorable to Taiwan, and Taiwan-friendly people have been appointed to key US government positions.
These developments have led to a rapid upgrade in Taiwan-US relations. They appear to be a reaction to China’s increasing pressure to bring Taiwan into its fold through peaceful means or by force.
Taiwan’s importance, because of its vital position in the first island chain and as a democratic stronghold in Asia — where democracy is on the retreat — make it a domino tile that the US will not allow to fall.
Taiwan has unique connections with China, due to historical and cultural reasons, and because before its transition to democracy, it was ruled by a regime that came from China after being defeated in the Chinese Civil War.
For these reasons, over the years since cross-strait interchanges were legalized, China’s efforts to promote unification by political and economic means have made rapid advances. China’s scenario views Taiwan as a breakthrough point in the first island chain.
Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policy of distancing Taiwan from the US and drawing closer to China was particularly damaging in this respect.
The US wants to prevent pro-unification forces on both sides of the Taiwan Strait from using Taiwan’s democracy to change the nation’s de facto independent status, and it wants to safeguard Taiwan as a pillar of democracy as part of its Indo-Pacific strategy.
Seen in this light, the idea of taking the radical step of recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign nation should be taken seriously.
Based solely on the triangular relations between Taiwan, China and the US, the idea of the US establishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan might seem a little far-fetched.
However, seen from the perspective of international politics following a summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on June 12, it could be seen as another example of the US’ flexible approach.
Taiwan and North Korea are both on the list of five nations that the US does not officially recognize. If the situation on the Korean Peninsula proceeds according to Trump’s road map, it is possible that the US and North Korea will normalize their relations.
Should that day come, it would make a mockery of the call for an Indo-Pacific strategy if the US, as a democracy, were to establish diplomatic relations with dictatorial North Korea while ignoring democratic Taiwan.
The region covered by Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy runs from the Korean Peninsula and Japan through the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean. If the international community could be persuaded to recognize Taiwan, it would make this strategic region into a solid arc reaching from north to south that would impede China’s desire to include the Taiwan Strait in its territorial waters and accomplish its great-power dream of grasping the lifeline of the Western Pacific.
The world is forever changing, and Taiwan, on the crest of the wave, must steer the ship wisely and make use of opportunities by using this great international alliance to advance toward the goal of becoming a normal nation.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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