US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton delivered a wide-ranging speech on China on Wednesday in which she said the US had “strengthened” its unofficial relationship with Taiwan.
Addressing a daylong Washington symposium to mark the 40th anniversary of former US president Richard Nixon’s watershed 1972 trip to Beijing, she stressed that the US was “working around the clock” to defend and advance security and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
Clinton called on China to be responsible, not to achieve success at the expense of others and to demonstrate in concrete ways that it was pursuing a constructive path.
She said that Beijing could no longer have it “both ways,” seeking to be treated as a great power in some forums and as a developing nation in others.
In what some of the experts at the symposium interpreted as a hardline approach, Clinton said China needed to go further to give the world confidence that it would, in the long run, play a positive role.
“Can China meet its obligations to protect universal human rights and fundamental freedoms?” Clinton asked.
She said there was a larger regional push underway by the US to strengthen its ties throughout the Asia-Pacific region.
“We’ve enhanced our relationships with our treaty allies Japan, [South] Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. We’ve broadened our relationships with other emerging powers, including India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Singapore. We’ve strengthened our unofficial relationship with Taiwan,” she said.
Clinton did not enlarge on Taiwan or mention it again in her address.
Earlier in the symposium, organized by the US Institute of Peace and the Richard Nixon Foundation, Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) said that to prevent setbacks in China-US relations Washington should “honor its commitments on issues related to Taiwan and Tibet.”
Speaking via a video link from Beijing, Yang did not spell out the details of what he meant.
However, he said almost exactly the same thing earlier this week after China announced it would boost its military spending by 11.2 percent this year.
Analysts at the conference said the repetition could be seen as a thinly veiled warning to the US not to “interfere” in Taiwan and Tibet, and that it illustrated just how important these issues were to Beijing.
“We must earnestly respect each other’s core interests and major concerns, expand common ground, while setting aside differences and properly handle differences to maintain steady growth of bilateral ties,” Yang said. “We should endeavor to enhance strategic mutual trust. China is committed to peaceful development.”
“We hope that the US will respect China’s interests and concerns in the region, and work with us to blaze a trail of sound interactions and win-win cooperation,” he said.
David Ignatius, a Washington Post columnist and moderator of the first panel discussion at the symposium, said that what the US did when Nixon went to Beijing was “to sell out an old ally.”
He said it was “measured and careful,” but that was in fact what happened to Taiwan.
Robert Kagan, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, said there was some question as to whether the US, at the time, had given away more than it needed to satisfy the Chinese.
He said the Chinese were not “obsessed” with Taiwan during the Nixon visit, rather they were mostly “obsessed” with the Soviet Union and Taiwan was not “so high” on their list of priorities.
“I am not sure that we haven’t generally misled the Chinese as to what our Taiwan policy could possibly be,” Kagan said. “We have perhaps encouraged them to believe that we are moving faster and more determinedly toward abandoning Taiwan than we have in fact been able to do.”
“Right now things seem to be fairly stable, but I don’t think we have heard the end of where this whole policy will wind up. I think there is a great opportunity for tension and possibly, if not managed well, even conflict,” Kagan said.
However, on the question of Taiwan during the Nixon visit to Beijing, Kagan said: “We were a little more generous and forthcoming than the Chinese expected.”
Stapleton Roy, director of the Kissinger Institute on China, said: “If you look at Taiwan’s current situation, where it is among the more affluent entities in the world, Taiwan has benefited enormously from the tough decisions that president Nixon and [former US] president Jimmy Carter later made in order to carry out the breakthrough to China.”
Former National Security adviser Brent Scowcroft said the US might now propose that China dismantle some of its missile deployment against Taiwan and in return the US could cut arms sales to Taiwan.
“That’s a distinct possibility, I think,” Scowcroft said.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to Carter, said that at some point in the next decade the US would have to address — “maybe not directly, but indirectly” — the fate of Taiwan.
He said it was an issue that had to be faced.
“We have to be realistic and patient, but also sensitive to the meaning of this issue to China,” Brzezinski said.
In answer to a question about how he expected the US and China to resolve the “Taiwan issue,” Brzezinski said: “In my judgment, it is not realistic to assume that the US can indefinitely be the source of arms for Taiwan.”
Brzezinski said that eventually the arms sales were certain to “negatively affect” the US relationship with China.
“It is a matter of common sense,” he said. “However, I also think that in the long run the relationship between China and Taiwan will be resolved on the basis of accommodation between the two parties, depending on the scale of China’s own national success, and also depending on the degree to which China and Taiwan grow closer together by the peaceful expansion of closer and closer ties creating, in effect, a situation in which one China with several systems becomes reality.”
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