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"U.S.-PRC-Taiwan Relations"

BG0012E | Date: 2000-06-07

Remarks by Director Raymond F. Burghardt
To the 29th Sino-American Conference on Contemporary China:"U.S.-China Relations in the Year 2000" Opening Ceremony Monday, May 29, 2000 Grand Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan

I am honored to take part in the Sino-American Conference to discuss U.S.-PRC-Taiwan relations. The dynamics of this triangular relationship will directly shape the prospects for peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region.

I look forward to hearing the insights that this conference will share over the next two days. My role is to make a few brief remarks to set the scene, particularly in terms of the American views on the key factors and issues among the United States, PRC, and Taiwan at this very important moment in history.

This is a time of great excitement and possibility. It comes after a tense and uncertain period, when the three sides of the triangle were each wondering what the others would do in the run-up to Taiwan's presidential election.

Undeterred by the tensions, the people of Taiwan turned out in record numbers -really extraordinary numbers -- to cast their ballots for new leadership. I remember myself visiting one of the polling stations on March 18 as the ballots were being counted. There was a kind of almost reverential, religious feeling that you got as people were very proudly watching the process go on, and very proudly welcoming us as foreigners to come look at it. And of course the turnout was about twice that of the average American election. President Chen referred on election night in his victory speech, and again in his inaugural address, to the "sacred votes" of the Taiwan people. They indeed, the Taiwan voters, exercised a privilege that exists in no other Chinese political system.

Now that the excitement of the election has passed and calmed down, it is time to reconcile expectations with realities and reconcile ideologies with action. The new administration brings a fresh opportunity for Taiwan and the PRC to move toward peaceful resolution of their differences through dialogue.

Of the many challenges which President Chen and the new leadership face, the greatest is probably to build domestic support for his policies on future cross-Strait interactions.

At the same time, of the many challenges which Beijing's leadership faces in its approach to Taiwan, the greatest is to understand the impact which Taiwan's democratic system has had. Under this system, it is not possible for just a few people to determine what steps Taiwan will take in working to resolve differences with the PRC. No one is going to negotiate over the heads of the people of Taiwan. The leaders in Beijing obviously cannot draw on a great deal of personal experience in trying to understand the political evolution here and understand the democratic system here. But the leaders in Beijing must understand that Taiwan's elected leaders are obligated to adopt policies that take into account the views of the public, a multi-party political spectrum, and an active and critical press - a sometimes very creative press. To the extent that the people of Taiwan interpret the actions of Beijing as hostile or bullying, that will make it harder for Taiwan's leaders to get support for cross-Strait initiatives.

President Clinton and other American leaders have commented favorably on President Chen's pragmatic, constructive approach to resuming cross-Strait dialogue. The United States has expressed to Taiwan's leadership, as well as to the leaders in Beijing, our hope that both sides will continue to listen to each other and to take a creative approach in moving the cross-Strait relationship forward through peaceful dialogue.

We also have welcomed the "wait and see" attitude that the PRC has taken toward the Chen administration. The United States has made it clear that we oppose the threat or use of force to resolve the Taiwan Strait issue.

President Chen has taken a constructive approach and expressed good will. He has sought to be conciliatory and to avoid provocation. In its reaction to Chen Shui-bian's inaugural speech, Beijing both offered criticism and cited statements it regarded as positive. It expressed an interest in resuming dialogue.

In this complex atmosphere of change and some possibility, the United States will continue its role of encouraging cross-Strait dialogue, but we do not seek a role as mediator. Our contribution is to maintain an atmosphere in which positive, constructive change can occur. It is not up to the United States to determine the basis for dialogue or what its outcome should be. How to define "one China" and how to realize it are best left for the two sides of the Strait on a mutually acceptable basis. The United States is not going to tell Taiwan's new leadership to accept the PRC's terms of negotiation. We will support any arrangement that is voluntarily - voluntarily - agreed to by both sides. And as President Clinton recently stated, the issues must be resolved peacefully and with the assent of the people on Taiwan.

We have not changed our longstanding policy that is built on three principles: First, we support a one-China policy as defined by the Taiwan Relations Act and the three communiques. Second, the Taiwan Strait issue should be resolved peacefully. Third, we believe dialogue is the best way to resolve the differences. The way to reach that resolution must be determined by the creativity and wisdom of people on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.

We encourage both sides to continue to act with patience, restraint, and flexibility. This is not the time to adopt an extreme position, nor time to put forward non-negotiable demands. Positive actions should be reciprocated with positive actions. The U.S. government has reminded Beijing that the Taiwan public has become a key element in the cross-Strait equation. It has warned against any use of force.

We see a number of promising avenues for increased cooperation and productive contact between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. There is a solid cross-Strait economic framework already in place. Taiwan-owned enterprises and Taiwan investors play a significant role in the PRC economy. This not only improves the PRC's economy and social stability, but also gives Taiwan investors and Mainland employees a stake in maintaining harmony between the two sides of the Strait.

The cross-Strait economic interaction will only increase after the PRC and Taiwan join the World Trade Organization, which we hope to see in the very near future. With the PRC and Taiwan in the WTO, the two sides will have more opportunities for contact and greater interdependence, which should serve to deter conflict.

This important process of bringing the PRC into the global trading system is part of our overall strategy of engagement with China. Even when America and the PRC disagree, we cannot afford to ignore each other. The United States and the PRC are too powerful and too important, to the world at large and to each other.

Moreover, if the United States wants to encourage progress in the PRC, as we surely do, the way to achieve that is not to stand across the ocean and shout instructions. Nor is it a good strategy to oppose automatically whatever the PRC favors. Instead, we must work together, find the areas where we agree, and talk about how to resolve the areas where we disagree.

Our engagement with the PRC is based on our goal of seeing it become a strong, stable, prosperous, and open country with respect for its own people as well as for other countries. China can become a source of stability or a source of chaos; obviously, it is in everyone's interest to keep moving toward stability, the kind of genuine stability that is based on popular freedom and consent.

I have said a great deal about dialogue and negotiations and confidence-building measures, but the picture of U.S.-PRC-Taiwan relations is not complete without the defense and security dimension. There is no question that the U.S. security relationship with Taiwan is important on its own, and as a part of our overall strategy in East Asia.

American presence in the region and our readiness to respond to any situation that might arise is a significant factor in maintaining the peace. Military strength is one part of the wide array of policy measures we consider in dealing with Taiwan and with the PRC.

As you know, the United States and Taiwan recently completed the annual process of determining which defense items and services the United States will make available to Taiwan. We offered a robust package that meets Taiwan's needs and is consistent with U.S. obligations.

The final decisions took into consideration many factors, including the cross-Strait military situation; our judgment of what Taiwan needs to maintain its defense capability; and the readiness of the Taiwan military to integrate new hardware into systems it already has in place. Our objective is to ensure that Taiwan maintains sufficient defense capability in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. Ultimately, we believe resolution of the security problem depends on the ability of the PRC and Taiwan to promote an atmosphere that reduces tensions and makes military conflict unlikely and arms acquisitions less necessary.

Whether it is on political, economic, commercial, cultural, or security questions, we will continue to watch very closely what happens on both sides of the Strait. We will continue to talk with both sides to hear their ideas, as well as to express our own concerns. With President Chen and his talented Cabinet, the traditional friendship between Taiwan and the United States will continue, and we will work together to pursue our mutual interests.

At the same time, the United States will continue its engagement with the PRC, working to improve our relationship with Beijing. Our engagement and cooperation with Beijing are not carried out at the expense of Taiwan. On the contrary, these efforts support Taiwan's interests as well - especially the interest that Taiwan shares with the United States in maintaining peace and stability in East Asia.

As President Chen said in his inaugural address, both sides of the Strait can make great contributions to the prosperity and stability of the Asia-Pacific region. That is a positive and constructive starting point for the next steps in cross-Strait cooperation - cooperation that America supports as part of our own commitment to the prospects for peace in the new century. Thank you very much.