Sun, Nov 28, 2010 - Page 14 News List

Ex-AIT chair describes turbulent era in US-Taiwan relations

By Gerrit van der Wees  /  Contributing Writer

The Path to Taiwan’s Democracy: Memories of an American Diplomat

In the first half of The Path to Taiwan’s Democracy: Memories of an American Diplomat, former US diplomat Nat Bellocchi describes his early life through his ambassadorship in Botswana in the late 1980s. The second half of the book covers his years as chairman of the board of the American Institute in Taiwan (1990-1995) and contains his writings, analyses and anecdotes about a particularly turbulent and exciting period in US-Taiwan relations.

Born of Italian immigrants in upstate New York, Bellocchi grew up during the Depression and World War II. His father lost his job early in the Depression and passed away in 1938, leaving Bellocchi’s mother to raise her son and his sister. After finishing high school at the end of the war, Bellocchi studied engineering at Georgia Institute of Technology, driving ambulances and doing other odd jobs to pay his way through college.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he joined the Army and after six months of training was sent to Korea, where he and his men were hit hard by wave after wave of Chinese attacks.

After completing his stint in the Army, he enrolled in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and decided to become a diplomatic courier. This work took him to Eastern Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Far East, giving him a wealth of experience in foreign lands and with foreign cultures. It also almost cost him his life: Once his plane developed engine trouble and had to crash land in the Mediterranean.

After five years of globetrotting, Bellocchi settled down into the “regular” Foreign Service. Hong Kong was the first of a long list of postings, which also included Laos, Taiwan (Chinese-language training in Taichung and the embassy in Taipei), Washington and Vietnam during the height of the Vietnam War.

Publication Notes

The Path to Taiwan’s Democracy: Memories of an American Diplomat

By Nat Bellocchi

222 pages


A second round of senior postings in the late 1970s and 1980s included Tokyo, Washington, India, and finally as ambassador in Botswana.

Then, at an age when most people retire, Bellocchi accepted an appointment as chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, the agency formally representing the US in its informal relations with Taiwan. It was to become, in his own words, “the most difficult and historic journey of my entire life.”

The second half of the

book begins with a bit of historic overview on the 1979 de-recognition of the Kuomintang (KMT) government as the government of China, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and subsequent vagaries in US policy toward Taiwan.

A main theme in this section is that the US policy establishment, and particularly the State Department, had problems adjusting itself to the new reality when Taiwan made a momentous transition to democracy, and had become “an entirely different kind of entity” from 1979, when the TRA was written.

Bellocchi doesn’t argue for changing the TRA, but says that “policies that better accommodate ... a democratic Taiwan could be pursued with the support of the Act as written.” He gives the examples of human rights and membership in international organizations — to which the TRA refers in specific clauses — and faults Washington for not mustering the political will to take a more principled and supportive stance on these issues.

He also has some poignant words about the “one China” policy: “One should know that although we have a ‘one China’ policy, we have never defined ‘China’ (there have been many in China’s long history); that we recognize the government in Beijing as the government of China; that we have never said that Taiwan is part of China; that the US position on the sovereignty of Taiwan is that it is yet to be determined; and that we have no preference for any resolution on the issue between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait other than it be peacefully resolved.”

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