Mon, Jul 05, 2004 - Page 3 News List

US security commission keeps dodging `one China' issue

POLICY Almost everyone in Washington now recognizes that Taiwan is, and has been, a separate entity from China. Yet official US policy is at odds with that reality


When the prestigious US-China Economic and Security Review Commission recently suggested that Washington "conduct a fresh assessment of the `one China' policy" in view of changes over the past several years on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the commission said little about what was on its mind.

Chairman Roger Robinson said the commission was not advocating a wholesale change in the policy or a recognition of Taiwan as a de jure independent state. But neither he nor the panel's annual report to Congress laid out in what way the group envisioned changes to the "one China" policy.

The reason is that the commission members who wrote the report were fundamentally split on the "one China" issue with some personally in favor of all-out recognition of Taiwanese independence, others taking a diametrically opposed stance and yet others urging caution.

"There was a big argument of how to phrase every paragraph," one commission member said.

In favor of a major change in the policy were Robinson, commission vice chairman Richard D'Amato, University of Miami professor June Dreyer and, to a lesser extent, former House Democratic aide Michael Wessel, according to commission sources.

On the other end of the spectrum was former US Commerce Department trade official Patrick Mulloy, who wrote a separate opinion defending the existing "one China" policy and arguing that the US does not have a legal obligation to defend Taiwan militarily.

The commission made three specific recommendations: that the "one China" policy be reviewed for its "successes, failures and continued viability," that the US' defense coordination with Taiwan be reviewed, and that ways be found to help Taiwan break out of its China-imposed international isolation.

It also urged the administration to unlock any secret assurances made to China and Taiwan over the years that could bear on the review, and that the US find ways to promote cross-strait dialogue.

More importantly, the report served to raise the visibility of a "one China" issue that many in Washington have wrestled with in recent years, especially since the back-to-back elections of President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and the increasing military buildup across the Strait.

All but the most myopic supporters of China in this city now recognize that Taiwan is, and has been, a separate entity from China. Yet official US policy is at odds with that reality, and as democracy advances in Taiwan under the Democratic Progressive Party, it becomes harder and harder to justify that difference. But, from all appearances, many in the Bush administration and in Congress are trying to bridge those gaps.

When pressed to define the "one China" policy, most administration officials just come up with imprecise aphorisms.

The policy "does not mean that Taiwan is part of China. It is simply a bumper sticker that we use to assuage Chinese sensibilities while at the same time cautioning them that we don't accept Taiwan as part of China," one senior administration official has been quoted as saying.

The "one China" policy "is a means, not an end. It is a tool, not a condition, not an existing state," another official said.

When Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly was asked at a congressional hearing this spring what the "one China" policy was, he said only what it was not, that is, China's version of the principle. He described the policy as an expression of "solidarity" between the people of the US and Taiwan.

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