Mon, Feb 04, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Decades of foiling Beijing’s efforts

By Parris Chang 張旭成

Forty years ago, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) made a celebratory tour of the US in the wake of Washington’s recognition of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Deng’s trip from Jan. 28 to Feb. 5, 1979, started in Washington, and he made stops in Atlanta, Houston and Seattle.

One of the memorable scenes of the trip was a gala in Deng’s honor at the Kennedy Center in Washington on Jan. 29. The Chinese leader, wearing a dark Mao suit, and then-US president Jimmy Carter, in a black tuxedo, stood side by side with arms aloft and smiled broadly, as the orchestra played Getting to Know You, symbolizing the beginning of a new era of US-PRC friendship and cooperation.

If Carter thought the Chinese connection was a diplomatic coup enabling the US to play “the China card” against the Soviets, he was terribly mistaken, and the cost was enormous.

To establish full diplomatic relations with the PRC, the US had to accept Beijing’s three demands: to severe official ties with the Republic of China (ROC); abolish the US-ROC mutual defense treaty; and withdraw US military installations and personnel from Taiwan.

During his stay in Washington, Deng also succeeded in persuading Carter to give China’s invasion of Vietnam the “green light.” The invasion took place on Feb. 17, 1979, less than two weeks after Deng returned home.

Deng received more than “moral support” from Carter in Beijing’s plan to “teach a lesson” to Vietnam, as the Carter administration also provided intelligence support to aid China’s war effort.

Deng’s “shopping list” was long. He believed that “technology is the No. 1 productive force” for economic growth, the only way that China could surpass the US as an economic power was through massive scientific and technological development, and that an essential shortcut would be to take what the Americans already possessed.

Hence, under Deng’s guidance, then-Chinese Science and Technology Commission director Fang Yi (方毅), signed agreements with the US government on Jan. 31, to speed up scientific exchanges.

In the first five years of exchange, about 19,000 Chinese students studied at US universities, mainly in the physical sciences, health sciences and engineering. Their numbers continued to increase.

China’s strategy was to obtain the US’ assistance in physics, atomic energy, computer science, astronautics and other fields, and an innocent and sympathetic Carter administration complied.

Deng might have thought in 1979 that, with the US cutting official ties with the ROC and terminating the mutual defense treaty, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) regime in Taiwan would be weakened and would readily accept Beijing’s terms of unification.

Deng’s “Taiwan dream” was dashed soon after his return from the US. Although Carter no longer recognized the repressive authoritarian KMT regime, Americans and their representatives in the US Congress valued the security, freedom and friendship of the 17 million Taiwanese and tried to do what was possible to forestall possible annexation by the Chinese communists.

Much to the chagrin of Chinese leaders, the US Congress in the spring of 1979 enacted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), despite Carter’s objections.

The TRA is a US law, but it contains provisions that commit the US to Taiwan’s security. More specifically, it stipulates an obligation to provide Taiwan with “such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary” for Taiwan’s defense, declaring an intention to “resist any resort of force” against Taiwanese, and warning Beijing that any such use of coercion to achieve unification would be a matter “of grave concern to the United States.”

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