Sat, Oct 20, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Scrapping the Third Communique

By Joseph Bosco

US President Donald Trump has not hesitated to tear up international commitments made by his predecessors if he determines they are not in the US’ interest. That was the fate of the Paris Agreement, the UN Global Compact on Migration, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the US-Korea trade agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Treaty of Amity with Iran, the opening to Cuba and the long-established recognition of Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital.

As it happens, all those canceled deals were consummated by Democratic presidents. However, Trump would do well to scrap a badly flawed document that was mistakenly signed by a Republican — former US president Ronald Reagan.

That agreement is the US-China joint communique executed by Reagan and then-Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) on Aug. 17, 1982, the third of the Three Joint Communiques.

It followed the Shanghai Communique that then-US president Richard Nixon and then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) signed on Feb. 27, 1972, to open informal relations and the communique of diplomatic recognition executed by then-US president Jimmy Carter and then-Chinese president Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) on Jan. 1, 1979.

Those prior breaks with longstanding US policy, far more momentous than any of today’s controversial Trump reversals, severely disadvantaged Taiwan, and set China and the US on the long-term course to the potential conflict now looming.

The third communique made a bad situation even worse, but for Beijing it was a diplomatic bonanza. It furthered the sense that, after Nixon and Carter’s actions, momentum was moving inexorably in China’s direction and away from Taiwan.

It accomplished what Beijing had been pressing for since the earlier two communiques: imposition of a ceiling on the US’ arms sales to Taiwan and its commitment to gradually eliminate them.

What makes the communique so astonishing is that it occurred less than three years after the US Congress had overwhelmingly passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), mandating that the US provide Taiwan with “a sufficient self-defense capability.”

The TRA was an angry and instantaneous reaction to Carter’s rupture of diplomatic and military ties with the Republic of China.

Yet, here was Reagan, who, during his 1980 campaign, had criticized Carter’s treatment of Taiwan and pledged to enforce the TRA, in effect undoing the Congress’ repudiation of Carter. The man who fervently opposed Chinese communists now was giving them what they wanted on Taiwan. How did this happen?

Henry Kissinger, who was in a position to know as a former US secretary of state, wrote in his book, On China, that it was the work of his former deputy, Alexander Haig, who was secretary of state under Reagan.

Consistent with his campaign positions, “Reagan made no secret of his wish that some arms sales to Taiwan go forward... Haig had a contrary view,” Kissinger wrote.

After complicated and confusing negotiations with China — and with Reagan — Haig produced the infamous third communique.

When the media, and conservative and liberal supporters of Taiwan in Congress expressed their dismay, Reagan immediately disavowed his own communique.

Kissinger writes that Reagan told the National Review’s editor: “You can tell your friends there I have not changed my mind one damn bit about Taiwan. Whatever weapons they need to defend themselves against attacks or invasion by Red China, they will get from the United States.”

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