President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) recently expressed his support for holding a referendum to decide whether to apply for UN membership under the name Taiwan. The US State Department said it opposed this plan. This was not the first time the State Department had said it was against a referendum in Taiwan, but while in the past it said it did not support a referendum, this time around it clearly opposes it.
As the US is a democratic country, surely the State Department knows that this statement is a brazen meddling in the internal affairs of another country. I am sure the US knows this, and since it knows, why does it take this stance? Several media reports have said the reason the US does is because Chen is retreating from his "four noes and one without" pledge
Yet, if we look closely at the State Department's statement, Chen supposedly breaking his pledge is surely only an excuse. What the US really means is in the second part of the statement, when it says: "The United States opposes any initiative that appears designed to change Taiwan's status unilaterally. This would include a referendum on whether to apply to the United Nations under the name Taiwan. Such a referendum would have no practical impact on Taiwan's UN status, it would increase tensions in the Taiwan Strait."
Under US President George W. Bush, Washington has repeatedly stated it is against any change in the status quo. There are different interpretations of what this "status quo" is. Many commentators assume that the "status quo" the US talks about means some vague status of Taiwan not being independent but also not a part of China. Hence, the people satisfied with the "status quo" happily accept this definition.
But the "status quo" the US talks about is not Taiwan as neither independent nor a part of China, but Taiwan's status remaining undetermined. The US opposes any unilateral move that would change the "status quo" from undetermined to determined.
To examine the reasons behind the US interpretation, we can look into the opinions of previous US officials. At the time the US Senate ratified the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Republic of China (ROC) and the US, a supplementary decision was made whereby the treaty could not influence the legal status and sovereignty of Taiwan and Penghu.
On Dec. 12, 1954, US secretary of state John Foster Dulles told a press conference that "technical sovereignty over [Taiwan] and [Penghu] has never been settled. That is because the Japanese peace treaty merely involves a renunciation by Japan of its right and title to these islands. But the future title is not determined by the Japanese peace treaty, nor is it determined by the peace treaty which was concluded between the Republic of China and Japan."
Similarly, after the UN revoked the ROC's right of representation, and when the US was preparing to set up diplomatic relations with China, on Nov. 12, 1971, the State Department's legal advisor, John Stevenson, wrote a memorandum to assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs Marshall Green in which he stated: "Since the 1952 Japanese Peace Treaty, the United States has taken the position that [the] status of Taiwan is undetermined, subject to some future international resolution. That position has been stated publicly from time to time."
In the joint communique the US and China signed in Shanghai in 1972, the US acknowledged Beijing's position that "Taiwan is a part of China," but it did not say it supported this. Afterwards, Green denied that the communique represented a change in the position the US had held since 1950. He was of the opinion that the status of Taiwan was still undetermined.
When Henry Kissinger, national security adviser to US president Richard Nixon, met Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) on Oct, 21, 1971, he said that the US was"not encouraging any government to maintain the position that the status is undetermined ... But [I cannot confirm] what tactical position we will take if another government raises whether the status of Taiwan is undetermined. I can confirm our position to bring about peaceful solution within the framework of one China."
Kissinger's words had an important influence on the US' Taiwan policy. Washington had assured Beijing it would not say that "the status of Taiwan is still undetermined," but deep down, the US kept thinking that it was. And because the status of Taiwan was still undetermined, the US could build up relations with Taiwan on all levels through the Taiwan Relations Act. How would the US resolve these difficult issues? That's where the talk about the "status quo" came in.
When we look at how the whole situation has evolved, we see that the reason this issue has become so complicated was mostly that Nixon, because he wanted a quick end to the Vietnam War, completely trusted Kissinger's plans, to the point that he was defeated in the UN and in his talks with China.
The US should remember this lesson and not again try to feed Beijing's hunger for power by putting pressure on Taiwan. The more the US stresses that a referendum in Taiwan will increase cross-strait tensions, the more China is encouraged in its aggression toward Taiwan and its talk of military action against Taiwan.
If it is US strategy to view Taiwan's status as undetermined, it should make a public appeal to all the peace-loving people in the world, especially China's government and its people, to respect the Taiwanese people's will.
As long-term US allies, the people of Taiwan are waiting for Washington to change its view on the status of Taiwan, and for it to view Taiwan as a country that can participate in international affairs and have its share of international rights and obligations.
Chen Hurng-yu is a professor at Tamkang University.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has created a dilemma that could soon cause him to be hoisted with his own petard, bringing his leadership of China to an end. His threatening rhetoric over the unification of Taiwan with China, in which he has said, “we are willing to draw blood if necessary,” has placed Xi in a corner. Xi is portrayed as a strong world leader, yet he has created a scenario for himself that most likely would have an unfavorable outcome. With the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) scheduled to convene this month, Xi cannot
The 77th session of the UN General Assembly opened on Sept. 13. More than 10 overseas Taiwanese organizations had submitted a petition to the UN secretary-general, protesting that 23.5 million Taiwanese are excluded from representation. As president of the Taiwan United Nations Alliance, I also submitted a letter to the UN, saying that Taiwanese should have the right to be represented under the name of Taiwan. The government has been asking its allies to support Taiwan’s entry into the UN, but under its official name, the Republic of China (ROC). Doing so would have involved the right to represent China, with
I was privileged to meet with many of Taiwan’s leaders and leading thinkers during a study tour visit in August. One theme I heard several times during that trip was that bad relations between the United States and China benefit Taiwan. At first thought, I empathize with the argument. After all, there is a troubling record of America’s leaders negotiating with Beijing over the heads of Taiwan’s leaders. For example, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt returned Taiwan to China after World War II. President Richard Nixon surprised Taiwan leaders with his 1972 trip to China. President Jimmy Carter unilaterally chose to normalize
Washington’s “one China” policy has not changed and the US does not take a position on Taiwan’s sovereignty issue, a US Department of State spokesperson has said. He said that this has been the principle of US policy toward Taiwan since 1979, and the policy has remained in effect. He also said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has privately made this clear to Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅). The US’ “one China” policy and China’s “one China” principle recognize China as the “representative of China.” The two diverge on the issue of Taiwan: Beijing asserts sovereignty