The Liberty Times Editorial: TRA explicates US view of Taiwan

Wed, Jan 26, 2011 - Page 8

US President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), have given a show of unity, holding a joint press conference during Hu’s recent visit to the US. Hu would have been very happy with Obama’s reiteration of a commitment to the US’ “one China” policy, the Three Joint Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) as a basis for the furthering of US-China relations. Not long before, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had also emphasized that the US would continue “our ‘one China’ policy” based on the TRA and the three communiques. Evidently, the US is keen on letting China understand — and perhaps also passing the information to the government here in Taiwan — that the TRA remains the cornerstone of Washington’s Taiwan policy and that its “one China” policy is not the same thing as China’s “one China” principle.

The other day, the Presidential Office expressed gratitude that Obama approved of improving cross-strait relations and the bilateral signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). Of course the US is going to be pleased that cross-strait tensions are decreasing and that relations between Taiwan and China are taking a more peaceful course at the moment. The government here should note, however, that just because Obama says he approves of the ECFA doesn’t mean he agrees with the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Chinese Communist Party (CCP) using the so-called “1992 consensus” — the tacit position that Taiwan is a part of China — as a basis for its signing. On the -contrary, he stressed this point in the TRA, specifically ignoring the “1992 consensus.” The KMT and CCP might want unification, but the US, observing the situation from the wings, wants peace, not unification.

Every US administration since former US president Ronald Reagan has upheld the Six Assurances approved by the US Congress, concerning Washington’s policy toward Taiwan, one of which is that the US would not alter its position about the sovereignty of Taiwan. After the US formally established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and recognized its government as the sole legitimate representative of China, it approved the aforementioned assurance about Taiwan’s sovereignty. This essentially denied the PRC’s claims over Taiwan’s sovereignty and clearly stated that this sovereignty belongs to Taiwan, as opposed to the Republic of China (ROC). Consequently, even if the US had changed its recognition of the sole Chinese representative from the ROC to the PRC, there was no reason for it to change its consistent stance on Taiwanese sovereignty. Put simply, Taiwan is Taiwan, China is China. This is the card the US is playing with the “one China” policy.

The US government has given equal weighting to the TRA and the three communiques, dealing with an international issue with domestic legislation, a reflection of the special nature of Taiwan’s status. This special nature derives from the Treaty of San Francisco, which simply stated that Japan had relinquished the right to govern Taiwan, without actually specifying to which third country this right was to be transferred. At the time of the treaty, the ROC had already been defeated during the Chinese Civil War and its forces had retreated to Taiwan. The ROC government of Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), though, had been commissioned by the Supreme Allied Command to look after Taiwan at the end of World War II.

This historical background is essential for an understanding of how it is that Obama can raise the TRA with Hu and how it is that Hu dared not bring up Beijing’s “Anti-Secession” Law with Obama. Given the historical and legal factors mentioned above, the “Anti-Secession” Law is domestic Chinese legislation that has no legal hold over Taiwan and does not belong in any discussion with the TRA. The fact that Beijing’s opposition to US arms sales to Taiwan came to naught is a case in point.

President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is on record as saying that his government would never call on the US to go to war on Taiwan’s behalf. He seems to think that Taiwan’s sovereignty is an issue to be decided by the KMT and the CCP, with eventual unification as the goal. This is naive to say the least.

When Beijing ordered missile tests to intimidate Taiwan in 1996, then-US president Bill Clinton sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the Taiwan Strait in response. Taiwan did not have to ask for this. The point was that Taiwan’s -sovereignty had been jeopardized. At the time, Clinton reiterated that the US had not changed its consistent stance on Taiwan’s sovereignty. This sovereignty has never belonged to either the PRC or the ROC, and it is not for these two parties to decide, either individually or jointly.

The US’ “one China” policy is markedly different from Beijing’s “one China” principle, and it has nothing to do with the so-called “1992 consensus.” As far as the US is concerned, there is only one China, of which the sole legitimate government is that of the PRC, and whose territory does not include Taiwan.

Furthermore, the ROC government, which no longer has any claim to represent China, continues to shelter on Taiwan, but it does not own the rights to Taiwan’s sovereignty. Ma has to realize this and he should not think that Obama’s approval of the softening of cross-strait tensions or praise of the ECFA should be read as an approval of the “1992 consensus” cooked up between the KMT and CCP to claim that Taiwan is a part of China.

On the contrary, Section 15, Article 2 of the TRA clearly states that “the term ‘Taiwan’ includes ... the islands of Taiwan and the Pescadores [Penghu], the people on those islands ... and the governing authorities on Taiwan recognized by the United States as the Republic of China prior to January 1, 1979, and any successor governing authorities.”

In other words, Taiwan is still Taiwan, irrespective of whether there is a change in the governing authorities, and Taiwan itself is considered to be an actual country.