A senior US official commended Taipei and Beijing for “historic progress” in improving relations across the Taiwan Strait on Friday, but emphasized that Washington’s policy on Taiwan has not changed, despite a recent “mischaracterization” by Beijing.
US National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Evan Medeiros said that the US hopes progress between China and Taiwan will continue “in ways acceptable to both sides,” adding that a peaceful resolution to the “Taiwan question” is an “abiding interest” to the US.
Medeiros’ comments came at a seminar organized by the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington, to mark the 35th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between the US and China.
In his prepared remarks, Medeiros said the issue of Taiwan has been one of the “perennial difficulties” in US-China relations, but insisted that the position of the US has not changed.
Medeiros rejected a statement released by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs after a meeting on Monday last week between US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) that seemed to indicate a change in the US position on Taiwan.
He called it a “willful mischaracterization” and reaffirmed that the US stance on Taiwan remains unchanged.
The report posted on the ministry’s Web site highlighted the two leaders’ discussions on Taiwan and quoted Obama as saying: “On the Taiwan issue and Tibet-related issues, the US side respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. This stance remains unchanged.”
Medeiros said China had characterized the US position on Taiwan as if it had changed, adding: “It has not.”
He said such actions by the Chinese are “unwelcome,” and they only serve to “foster mistrust” in US-China relations.
Neither are they helpful to China’s own stated goal of promoting unification with Taiwan, he added.
“China should focus on winning the hearts and the minds of the people of Taiwan, as opposed to making them insecure about US policy as if somehow we have changed our position on Taiwan and are saying things differently in meetings with President Xi than we do publicly, which we aren’t,” he said.
“So in this context, I think it’s important to pay attention to the fact that not only is 2014 the 35th anniversary of the US-China relationship, it’s also the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, which is US law, and [to] which we remain firmly committed, along with the six assurances,” Medeiros said.
The assurances were made in 1982 by then-US president Ronald Reagan. They include not setting a date for ending US arms sales to Taiwan and not pressuring Taiwan into negotiations with China.
Some experts on US-China relations welcomed Medeiros’ clarification of Washington’s position on Taiwan.
According to Bonnie Glaser and Jacqueline Vitello, researchers with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, it is not the first time that US statements regarding Taiwan have been misrepresented in China.
China should be rebuked for “deliberately distorting President Obama’s words and US policy,” they said in an e-mail to Taiwan’s Central News Agency.
They added that, with the anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act fast approaching, a restatement of US policy in this regard would be “well-timed.”
The experts added that US policy differs greatly when it comes to Tibet and Taiwan, and Obama “almost certainly did not lump the two together” in his talks with the Chinese leader.
With regard to Taiwan, several important documents that outline US policy on cross-strait relations merely “acknowledge,” but do not endorse Beijing’s “one China” position, they said.
The US’ long-standing policy on the concept of “one China” has been purposefully vague, they said.
Since the UN formally admitted the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1971, US presidents have articulated a “one China” policy, but have never recognized the PRC’s claim over Taiwan nor recognized Taiwan as a sovereign state, they said.
Ambiguity allows the US to maintain a stable relationship with China and to simultaneously support Taiwan as needed, they said.