When Taiwanese government officials began publicly requesting that the US repeat the 1982 "Six Assurances" on the record in some manner, the issue was already lost. For starters, how reassured can anyone feel if the so-called "assurances" have to be dragged out from an otherwise unwilling source?
Further, even if Taiwanese leaders got their wish, would they in fact be convinced that the content of the so-called assurances are appropriate for their contemporary circumstances?
The debate over these six assurances is misleading.
In actuality, the most important question here is not whether the US will publicly repeat the six assurances or not.
If the US State Department spokesman were to stride to the podium tomorrow and state the six assurances verbatim, I suspect very little comfort and confidence would be gained in Taipei.
The more important questions relate to why government officials in Taiwan feel so insecure and so in need of public reassurance, and what the US can say and do to help provide genuine reassurance.
Taiwan is feeling insecure for a variety of reasons.
China's military capabilities are developing rapidly, while Taiwan's may be atrophying; Taiwan's divisive internal politics seem to create opportunities for Beijing to exploit divisions and undermine confidence in the future of Taiwan's democratic experiment; Taiwan is increasingly isolated within the Asia-Pacific region; the US is diverted to issues in the Middle East, and at the same time working more closely with China on a range of global and regional issues; and the US attention to Taiwan is episodic, and takes the form of "trouble shooting" rather than sustained engagement.
This is hardly an environment where including the phrase "and the six assurances" at the end of a policy mantra that begins with "Our one China policy, based on the Three Communiques ?" is going to make everything well again.
People engaged in this debate should be reminded of the content of the six assurances of 1982.
While it's true that the language was actually proposed by the Taiwanese side, it is also true that circumstances were very different in 1982.
Would Taiwanese leaders today feel "reassured" if the US pledged that the sovereignty of Taiwan should be "determined by Chinese [on both sides of the Strait]" themselves?
With the People's Liberation Army build-up opposite Taiwan unabated, are there still remaining concerns that the US would set a date to end arms sales to Taiwan? In 1982 Taiwan was happy to hear that the US wouldn't alter the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), but in 1999 Taiwan lobbied very hard for a Taiwan Security Enhancement Act. And cross-strait interaction was at a very nascent stage in 1982.
The real concern for Taiwan in 1982 seemed to be potential pressure from the US to enter into dialogue, whereas now the concern is "too much dialogue" (in the form of business people, political parties, and people-to-people contact) without a proper political framework for this interaction.
While I continue to wonder why the US government seems reluctant to publicly state the six assurances and to endorse its sustained relevance to US policy, I come back to the conclusion that our problems run much deeper, and the required solutions are likely more bold than a restatement of long standing policy.
It has been over three years since the last major policy address by a Washington-based, senior US official on US-Taiwan Relations. The last such occasion was when then-assistant secretary of state James Kelly testified before the House International Relations Committee in April 2004 marking the 25th Anniversary of the TRA.
In his testimony, Kelly said, "our position continues to be embodied in the so-called `six assurances' offered to Taiwan by [former] president [Ronald] Reagan."
While his words were reassuring at the time, I think over the three years since this testimony trust between the US and Taiwan has weakened. Thus there is a need today for a strong, clear statement from a senior US official that will move us toward genuine reassurance. If the US government does see fit, I suggest they not think about reissuing the old six assurances -- rather, they should consider delivering "six new assurances."
Crafting a policy message that is appropriate for contemporary circumstances, including an acknowledgment of the remarkable changes that have taken place in both China and Taiwan can set us on a better course.
The "six new assurances" might look something like this:
One, the survival and success of democracy in Taiwan is in the interest of the US and thus the US government will endorse efforts that deepen and strengthen Taiwan's democracy.
Two, the US will always honor the TRA, and will continue to pay special attention to ensure the US government makes available to Taiwan weapons needed for self-defense, and that the US military maintains the capacity to resist force in the Taiwan Strait if instructed to do so.
Three, the US endorses cross-strait dialogue and interactions, but will not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the People's Republic of China (PRC) on terms Taiwan may deem as unfavorable.
Four, issues related to the sovereignty of Taiwan are for the people of the PRC and the people of Taiwan to decide peacefully themselves; the US will not formally recognize the PRC's sovereignty over Taiwan; the US will not support any outcome achieved through the use of force, nor any outcome that does not enjoy the support among the majority of the free people of Taiwan.
Five, the US needs good relations with China to further a broad range of security interests. However, under no circumstances will the US seek to curry favor with China by making sacrifices in its relationship with Taiwan.
The US-Taiwan bilateral relationship is a valuable in its own right and worthy of greater investment.
The US will not agree to "co-manage" the issue of Taiwan with the PRC.
Six, Taiwan as a successful democracy, a thriving economy, and a global leader in health and science stands to contribute far greater as a good citizen of the world.
The US will seek to promote opportunities for Taiwan to participate meaningfully in international organizations, and will resist pressure to isolate Taiwan from participating and/or benefiting from the cooperative work among nations in international organizations.
Randall Schriver is a former US deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and a founding partner of Armitage International LC.