Mon, Feb 10, 2020 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik, Jr. On Taiwan: ‘Republic of China’ and ‘Taiwan’

I was amazed by the Secretary’s message. This was a completely new tone from the United States, and from the Secretary of State himself. In my memory, these are the warmest words ever from an American secretary of state to a Taiwan leader since the Eisenhower administration. Out of curiosity, I compared Mr. Pompeo’s message with one he had sent to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson just a month earlier on December 13. The message to Johnson was nice, but nothing approaching the warmth of his message to President Tsai.

Four years ago, when Ms. Tsai was first elected on January 16, 2016, the US Department of State press spokesman merely issued a perfunctory statement, which fretted about “a profound interest in the continuation of cross-Strait peace and stability” and the “unofficial relationship” between the US and the “people on Taiwan.” At the time, I thought it was churlish for the state department always to insist on the word “unofficial” to describe ties between “the United States” (a country) and the “people of Taiwan” (well, what? … not a country?); and to thank outgoing “President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) for concrete steps he has taken to improve cross-Strait ties in recent years”; as if “cross-strait relations” were of overriding importance to America, not Taiwan’s democracy.

And eight years ago, Washington’s 2012 message was just as awkward when Mr. Ma Ying-jeou was reelected President. The state department issued a curt two-sentence statement which extolled “the vibrancy in our … people-to-people relationship.”

In fact, US messages on Taiwan’s elections going back to 2000 all have been largely unsympathetic. When Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) was elected, US president Bill Clinton used up several minutes of a March 29 press conference seeming to pressure Taiwan’s president-elect into negotiating with China. Beijing and Taipei, he said, “need to get together and start the dialogue again and figure out where to go from here.” The American president also seemed to endorse China’s goal of absorbing Taiwan in “One Country, Two Systems” explaining “…the Chinese have been quite clear that they were willing to be patient and to negotiate an arrangement which might even be different from that in Hong Kong.” (Oh my sweet grandmother! “…which might even be different from that in Hong Kong”?)

In March 2004, President George W. Bush (like Clinton) likewise had his eye on Beijing, reciting the jargon of “unofficial relations,” “our One China Policy,” and the “Three Joint Communiques” in his uncomfortable message of congratulations to “the people of Taiwan” on the “conclusion of their March 20 presidential election.” Again, in March 2008, President Bush issued a message to “the people of Taiwan” praising “the strength and vitality” of democracy, but muddied it with platitudes of “dialogue” and “engagement” with Beijing, and noncommittal references to “unofficial ties” and joint communiques.

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