On Dec. 15, 1978, then-US president Jimmy Carter abruptly declared the switching of diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) to the People’s Republic of China. This move shocked Taiwan and Taiwanese-American communities. Many other Americans who cared for the US and its international relationships were also shocked.
Fortunately, less than four months later, on April 10, 1979, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The act effectively bridged and sustained the interrupted US-Taiwan relationship.
Section II-c of the TRA included an important paragraph concerning human rights in Taiwan.
This paragraph reads: “Nothing contained in this chapter shall contravene the interest of the United States in human rights, especially with respect to the human rights of all the approximately eighteen million inhabitants of Taiwan. The preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan are hereby reaffirmed as objectives of the United States.”
Many Taiwanese activists who subsequently struggled for democratization and were involved in the Kaohsiung Incident credited that paragraph for compelling the tyrannical Chiang Ching-kuo (蔣經國) — then-chair of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Taiwanese president — to “grant” an open trial to the arrested activists, saving many of their lives.
I have also heard many say the existence of TRA’s paragraph on human rights substantially emboldened Taiwanese freedom fighters to more courageously stand out in protest against Chiang’s dictatorial rule to fight for Taiwan’s democratization. Therefore, replacing formal US-ROC diplomatic relations with the TRA might have actually expedited Taiwan’s democratization process.
I believe it important to recall my own efforts to express my concern for human rights violations in Taiwan 30 years ago.
That concern led me to a person-to-person diplomatic action that may have encouraged the inclusion of the human rights paragraph in the TRA.
Hopefully, it will inspire Taiwanese-Americans today to undertake person-to-person diplomatic efforts to save Taiwan from being further betrayed and encroached upon by China.
When Carter ceased official recognition of the ROC in 1978, I was working at Proctor & Gamble. Owen Bradford Butler, then the company’s vice chairman of the board, was one of the people worried about how this sudden change might affect the mutual interests of the US and Taiwan.
He was also the chairman of the policy/program committee of the National Association of Manufacturers. Under this capacity, Butler quickly formed a fact-finding group including representatives, a senator, a state legislator, a lieutenant governor and individuals from religious, educational, veteran and business organizations.
He led this group on a weeklong fact-finding visit to Taiwan. Upon his return, Butler wrote and published a very thorough report entitled “U.S. cannot negotiate Taiwan out of existence” published on Feb. 7, 1979, in the Cincinnati Enquirer.
Besides recounting the details of their Taiwan trip, Butler’s article suggested and recommended how best for the US to sustain the relationship with Taiwan that had been elaborately built up over years.
I quickly responded to his article with a two-page letter. Besides commending his concerns about the future of US-Taiwan relations, my letter also pointed out that the places they had visited and the people they had met in Taiwan were mostly pre-arranged by the KMT regime. This meant that their visit did not allow them to truly see and understand the real views of the majority of Taiwanese.
My letter also gave a brief Taiwan history emphasizing the stark human rights violations of the KMT against the country’s 85 percent ethnic-Taiwanese population.
As academic proof for my arguments, I attached an article that had recently been written by John Cantwell entitled “Myth of Retaking the Mainland Still Fuels Taiwan’s Repression.”
I also mentioned my wish to meet him to provide more documents and materials related to the subject.
Soon after my letter, I was excited to receive an invitation to lunch with Butler on Feb. 27, 1979.
At that time, I was working with the Formosan Association for Human Rights to help Taiwanese prisoners of conscience.
I prepared many materials related to the KMT’s human rights violations to present to Butler.
We had a very pleasant lunch for about two hours at Queen City Club and Butler treated me to a gorgeous meal.
During lunch, I almost over-enthusiastically and a little bit nervously described to him case after case of the KMT’s human rights violations in Taiwan.
From the 228 Massacre in 1947 to the more recent cases at the time of Pai Ya-tsan (白雅燦), Chen Min-chong (陳明忠), Yen I-mo (顏伊謨), Huang Hua (黃華), Yang Chin-hai (楊金海), Wang Sing-nan (王幸男), Shih Ming-teh (施明德) and others.
In response, Butler promised that he would ask Ohio representative Bill Gradison to add a human rights paragraph to the draft of the congressional resolution related to the future of US-Taiwan relations.
Butler urged me to understand the hardships of the KMT government and defended the ROC a little.
He also contested my letter by saying that the visiting group to Taiwan had met people in religious and civilian commerce arenas.
He further claimed to have met one relatively young businessman who told him that the real future for Taiwan was to become an independent country.
After further inquisition, I believe it was at a dinner party given by Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) and the young businessman may have been one of Koo’s sons.
At the end of our lunch, before departing, Butler once again told me that he would ask representative Gradison to include a paragraph asking for the improvement of Taiwan’s human rights in the soon-to-be-drafted TRA.
Finally, the TRA emerged, and it has a very powerful human rights paragraph indeed.
Soon after, the Kaohsiung Incident happened on Dec. 10, 1979.
I continued to send reports and materials to Butler concerning human rights violations in Taiwan. I received a two-page letter from him dated Jan. 24, 1980.
In his letter, Butler said he would do his best, but he emphasized his limited ability to help. He seemed to advise me not to be excessively demanding.
Butler also expressed his personal philosophy of avoiding excessive pursuit of “personal fulfillment.” He reminded me there were worse human rights violations in many other Asian countries.
Butler was 57 then (17 years my senior). In my interaction with him, he gave me the impression he was a compassionate, yet conservative person of integrity.
Two years later (1981), he became chairman of Proctor & Gamble and eventually retired in 1986.
He continued to serve society after retirement by asserting and promoting equal opportunity for education to all mankind. I also remember reading an article in Moonbeam (the Proctor & Gamble magazine) reporting that in retirement, he and his wife were raising bison because his ancestors had killed too many of them.
The US government typically uses a “passive approach” when conducting human rights diplomacy.
In the case of the TRA, Washington seemed to be acting against its tradition, adopting an “active approach” in including the human rights paragraph in the act.
Thirty years later, I am still wondering whether or not my efforts really had some bearing on the inclusion of that paragraph.
The recent anniversary of the act has made me wonder even more whether my efforts to inform Butler of Taiwan’s human rights violations at that time had an impact on the final appearance of the TRA.
If my input did in any way have some bearing on the inclusion of that paragraph, I hope my story will inspire Taiwanese-Americans today to put more energy into person-to-person diplomatic efforts to save Taiwan.
Strong Chuang is a former chairman of World United Formosans for Independence-USA.
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