Dennis Wilder, the senior director of East Asian Affairs for the US National Security Council, recently stated that "Taiwan, or the Republic of China [ROC], is not at this point a state."
As in the past when the US tried to please China by saying bad things about Taiwan, it again succeeded in angering both the pan-green camp, which supports Taiwan, and the pan-blue camp, which is for the ROC.
But Beijing must also have been alarmed at hearing these words. China would never have thought that a US official would use the phrase "the ROC, Republic of China, is an issue undecided."
This is a re-emergence of the old US position from the beginning of the Cold War that "Taiwan's status is undetermined."
Even though the US has established diplomatic relations with China, it never relinquished its position that Taiwan's status is undetermined. When signing the Shanghai Communique and the other joint communiques, neither side disputed that the People's Republic of China (PRC) is the only China and that "the Government of the People's Republic of China [is] the sole legal government of China."
When it came to the issue of who Taiwan belongs to, China insisted that the US acknowledge Taiwan belongs to the PRC, but the US stuck to its position that Taiwan's status was undecided. In the end the two countries reached an ambiguous compromise, with the US acknowledging China had certain points of view.
After this, the US didn't change its position, but it started to avoid the issue in public documents and statements, still preserving the facade.
Everybody kept up appearances in this fashion for more than 30 years, and it became an unspoken convention. Surprisingly, now, while Taiwan's ruling and opposition parties are vigorously pushing for referendums on joining international organizations as a sovereign, independent country, the US makes such an unprecedented move. China's shock was of course only to be expected.
And Beijing's reaction did not end there. In the past, the people who argued that Taiwan's status was undetermined were the people in favor of Taiwanese independence. The Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) held the same position as Beijing in this respect, and was strongly against it. One example are the quarrels over including the idea that Taiwan's status is undetermined in Taiwanese textbooks.
When then Taipei mayor Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) sat in on one particular Cabinet meeting, he expressed his strong opposition to the idea. Nowadays, right after angrily rebuking the comments that the ROC is not a country, Ma turned around to commend the position that "the ROC, Republic of China, is an issue undecided."
He is happy with this position, as he believes that it leaves open the possibility of joining the UN.
Ma is of the opinion that this new version of the US' position that the ROC is an issue undecided is better than the old version, because the new version makes it easier for Taiwan to join the UN. This is of course a very immature point of view, just as immature as his former belief that after the Shanghai Communique in 1972, the US had abandoned its position that Taiwan's status was undetermined. Everybody knows that as long as China is against it, neither position will get Taiwan into the UN.
As to which has more international breathing space, Taiwan or the ROC, it only takes a look at various joint communiques between China and other countries and the US' Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) to understand that after these countries ceased to recognize the ROC, these documents determined that the party that they and the US have relations with is the Taiwanese people, not the ROC.
Although Wilder stated the ROC is an issue undecided, the TRA says that it is Taiwan's status that is undetermined.
Although the US denounced Taiwan because of pressure by China, now it suddenly comes up with the opinion that Taiwan's status is undetermined. This might be the result of further pressure from China. Beijing went so far as threatening to propose a resolution in the UN saying Taiwan is a part of the PRC.
China has put all its cards on the table, so the US can only follow and show its hand. The ingenious reply of the US State Department was that Wilder's statement was in line with US policy. But I can't say the same about China's State Council, which can be said to have flashed its cards, but then covered them up again as if no one had seen them. It could not be more clear in its intentions.
At the APEC meeting between US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), it was likely both leaders had some negative things to say about Taiwan.
But now the cards have been shown, and that limits the extent of the damage.
Lin Cho-shui is a former Democratic Progressive Party legislator.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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