Anybody who was around when the US and China established diplomatic relations in 1979 would know that the term “no timetable” is essentially all obfuscation and deceit. Two weeks before then-US president Jimmy Carter announced the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Washington was insisting that there were neither fixed plans nor any timetable for establishing relations with Beijing.
When politicians say there is no timetable for such-and-such an action, they actually mean that the situation is ongoing, that nothing has yet been finalized and that they have nothing further to announce on the matter.
Two weeks after this rather evasive language was employed, then-US ambassador Leonard Unger woke then-president president Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) in the middle of the night to tell him that the very thing for which there had been no timetable had just occurred.
By saying that the government has “no timetable” for unification, Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) has only succeeded in making the public even more suspicious about the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and its behind-closed-doors style of government.
The fact of the matter is, there is no practical or legal reason for “unification” being an issue at all. The entire problem is caused by Beijing’s despotic bent.
In 1971, during a discussion between then-Taipei City councilor Kang Ning-hsiang (康寧祥) and a political counselor from the US embassy, the talk was of whether Taiwan and China might “merge.”
The Ma administration tells the country that it will not make any moves toward unification, and yet it has this “one China” understanding with Beijing.
It is a ridiculous situation, just like telling your partner that you want to get engaged, but that marriage is out of the question. If you present your partner with an engagement ring, they have every right to expect church bells somewhere down the line.
It comes as a surprise to nobody that China’s Taiwan Affairs Office is pushing hard for “political talks,” and any assurances to the effect that there is “no timetable” is no assurance at all.
Chiang’s “one China” policy was totally impractical, but at least he kept his distance from Beijing, which the public found reassuring.
Speaking to then-US ambassador Walter McConaughy, Chiang vigorously denied any suggestion that there could be peace talks between the Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), and insisted that any government in Taiwan that attempted to hold peace talks with China would collapse. Chiang’s position on the issue was crystal clear.
It is a shame that he only determined to commit to Taiwan late in his life, after the window of opportunity for the US to recognize China and Taiwan as two separate countries had closed.
When then-US president Richard Nixon replaced McConaughy with Unger in 1974, the latter’s credentials identified him as “ambassador to the Republic of China,” instead of “ambassador to China” as used in McConaughy’s credentials in 1966, leaving open the potential for recognizing the two countries as separate and independent entities.
Ma’s ambiguity — his acceptance of a “one China” framework and claims that he will not address the idea of unification while saying there is “no timetable” for unification — is not reassuring anyone.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Paul Cooper