US Senator Rubio seeks answers on the ‘six assurances’

By William Lowther  /  Staff reporter in Washington

Sat, Apr 05, 2014 - Page 1

A US senator is writing to US Secretary of State John Kerry demanding to know if former US president Ronald Reagan’s “six assurances” — the guidelines used to conduct relations between the US and Taiwan since 1982 — are still in force.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio announced the move on Thursday following a subcommittee hearing during which US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Daniel Russel repeatedly refused to confirm that the “six assurances” remained part of Washington’s foreign policy.

Rubio asked Russel if the administration of US President Barack Obama remained committed to Reagan’s assurances.

“The six assurances continue to play an important part of our approach,” Russel said.

“All six of them remain the policy of the United States?” Rubio asked.

“They comprise an ongoing element of our approach to the Taiwan question,” Russel said.

“My concern now is why can’t the answer be ‘yes, we remain committed to all six of them as elements of our foreign policy’ — why are you unable to say that?” Rubio asked.

“What I am trying to communicate is that the underpinning of our approach to Taiwan is the one China policy, the three communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act,” Russel said. “The six assurances are things that we take seriously and remain important elements as we form practical policies.”

“I am concerned about your answer because on a number of occasions after meeting with the president, the Chinese have misrepresented us,” Rubio said.

“I understand that you are not the decisionmaker about what our policy is, but I am concerned that I am unable today to get a statement from the administration that all six of these assurances are things we remain committed to, as opposed to things that simply inform us or are elements of our policies,” he added.

Rubio asked Russel if the Obama administration was prepared to say that it remained committed to all six assurances “in their totality” as the cornerstone of US policy toward Taiwan.

“I am not familiar with categorical statements of that nature in this or in recent administrations and I think it’s wisest to approach the challenges of Taiwan based on the agreements and legislation that I have described, but mindful of the important elements that are captured in the six assurances, including principles that we continue to abide by,” Rubio said.

Reagan’s “six assurances” were: The US would not set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; the US would not hold prior consultations with China over arms sales to Taiwan; the US would not mediate between China and Taiwan; the US would not revise the Taiwan Relations Act; the US would not alter its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan; and the US would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with China.

“President Reagan was pretty definitive with his assurances,” Democratic Senator and subcommittee chairman Benjamin Cardin said. “I personally believe that China respects a clear understanding of where the US is, consistent with our historical commitments to the people of Taiwan.”

Rubio said it was “critically important” to be clear and unequivocal about the assurances.

Project 2049 Institute president Randall Schriver, who was also testifying before the subcommittee, said he was surprised that Russel had not given a more direct response in the affirmative.

Schriver said that when he served in the administration of former US president George W. Bush, he would have confirmed — “and did so on many occasions” — that the assurances were part of Washington’s policy.

Rubio said Russel’s answers to questions about the “six assurances” could be misinterpreted by China as an opening for a change in US posture toward Taiwan and that he was “very concerned.”

“I hope that we can bring some clarity to this over the next few days,” he said. “I intend to ask the question in writing of the Secretary of State to get clear assurances that the six assurances remain the cornerstone of our policy.”

The hearing, called to evaluate US policy on Taiwan on the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, also heard about the ongoing protests in Taipei.

Asked for an update on how the Obama administration views the protests, Russel said the situation was evidence that Taiwan had a robust democracy with a high tolerance for divergent political views.

“The US hopes that the students and demonstrators will use their freedom responsibly and will behave in a civil and peaceful manner and avoid violence,” Russel said.

“But it is a reflection of a very open society in which debate is not only allowed, but encouraged. We believe strongly that the pace and scope of movement in cross-strait discussions is one that must be in accord with the comfort level of the wishes of the people on both sides of the strait,” he added.

Schriver said that the demonstrations reflected public opinion on the cross-strait relationship.

“What is really at the core of the protest is a very deep-seated anxiety about the future of the cross-strait relationship and what that might mean for Taiwan’s status,” he said. “There is great anxiety about where things are going and that could put a break on future cross-strait progress.”