Cross-strait dialogue should focus on stabilizing relations between Taiwan and China by addressing the fundamental lack of trust between the two countries, former senior US director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council (NSC) Kenneth Lieberthal said yesterday morning, citing concern about the possibility of military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
"The way to stabilize [relations] is to work on concrete issues, one after the other, and build up trust ? I think at the core remains an underlying issue of fundamental mistrust," Lieberthal said.
Lieberthal was quick to add, however, that the agreement would have to be forged by Taiwan and China, saying that the US could only act to encourage the process. He also said the US would not "simply drop the TRA [Taiwan Relations Act] if an interim agreement were put into force, indicating that the US would not withhold arms sales to Taiwan under those circumstances.
Lieberthal elaborated on the role that the international community could play in the process.
Lieberthal pointed to the international community's role in ensuring that commitments made by both sides of the Strait are credible.
"Taipei may need all major countries to take the matter seriously [if Beijing uses force]. Beijing may require that Taiwan promise not to declare independence during [the negotiation] period, and all countries would cut ties with Taiwan if it does this," he said.
Lieberthal, currently a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, was the keynote speaker at a conference on grassroots democracy and local government in China during the reform era. The conference was organized by the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC), National Chengchi University, and the Chinese Association of Political Science.
MAC Chairman Joseph Wu (
In a recent editorial in the Washington Post in April, Lieber-thal and co-author David Lampton, a China Studies professor at Johns Hopkins University, referred to the establishment of a "stability framework," but made no mention of an "interim agreement."
However, the editorial did point out that an agreement on the principles of the stability framework must be approved by the US, China and Taiwan.
In China's May 17 statement, the Office for Taiwan Affairs also re-ferred to a "framework for peace-ful, stable and growing cross-strait relations."
Lieberthal also explained that his proposal for an "interim agreement" -- introduced over seven years ago -- had not taken unification as the ultimate goal, as had been widely reported by the media at the time.
"[The proposal] was totally misreported in Taiwan. It is absolutely not what I had proposed. An interim agreement for 50 years, and at the end of 50 years, there is a start of discussions about the final status," Lieberthal said, re-ferring to a proposal he had made in February 1998 in a paper on cross-strait relations.