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"US Policy Regarding Taiwan"

BG9820E | Date: 1998-09-23

It is a great pleasure for me to participate in today's conference on the first two decades of the Taiwan Relations Act. I am honored to share the platform today with such an illustrious group of speakers, particularly my good friend C. J. Chen, the director general of Taiwan's Information Office.

My assignment for today is to provide you with an accurate and up-to-date statement of U.S. policy towards Taiwan. Before I do so, I would like to talk briefly in a historical vein about the Taiwan Relations Act, which remains one of the key pillars of that policy. From the time of its enactment, the TRA has been important in a number of important ways:

* It provided a legal basis for the unofficial relationship between the United States and Taiwan. We are a nation of laws, and unlike most other countries, we required that legal basis to do anything regarding Taiwan, particularly in the area of arms sales.

* Second, the TRA created an institutional framework for the conduct of that unofficial relationship. Specifically, the Act authorized the establishment of the American Institute in Taiwan, which is staffed by and large by separated government employees. In addition, the Act contemplated a counterpart Taiwan organization, which is today known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.

* Third, the TRA made a number of policy prescriptions to guide the Executive Branch in the conduct of relations with Taiwan. For example, commercial and cultural relations were highlighted and the promotion of human rights got special mention. Yet most important was the guidance provided on security issues -

* that the United States expects the future of Taiwan to be determined by peaceful means;
* that hostile action by the PRC against Taiwan would be regarded as a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific and a matter of grave concern to the United States;
* that the United States should maintain the capacity to resist such hostile action;
* that the President and the Congress would consult and take appropriate action in response to any threat to Taiwan's security and danger to U.S. interests; and
* that the United States should provide defense articles and services necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient ability to defend itself.

* And fourth, the TRA represents a political commitment on the part of the government of the United States and the American people to preserving the welfare and security of the people on Taiwan.

There was no certainty at the time that the TRA was enacted that the unofficial relationship created would serve the interests of both the United States and Taiwan. With the benefit of hindsight, there is widespread agreement that the framework created in 1979 has succeeded far beyond anyone's expectations. The two sides preserved the substance of their relationship in absence of diplomatic relations, to the point that fundamentally our ties are stronger than they have ever been. The AIT-TECRO mechanism has ensured effective and clear communications. What are the reasons for this success? In my view, four are most important.

* First is the resilience of the leaders and people on Taiwan. They have taken advantage of the opportunities open to them and rebounded from periodic setbacks with new vigor.

* Second is the dedication and effort of people on both the American and Taiwan sides who labored to ensure that the unofficial relationship would work well.

* Third is the warm feeling that Americans have felt for Taiwan for decades, a feeling that grew even warmer as Taiwan became a democracy.

* Fourth, is the improvement in US-PRC relations that occurred after normalization, that stalled after the Tiananmen tragedy but which has resumed in the last couple of years. I believe, and the Administration believes, that the unofficial relations between the United States and Taiwan and relations between Beijing and Taipei have been at their best when US-PRC relations have been positive. This is not a zero-sum game.

This brings us to the core of US policy over the past two decades. I would suggest that through the Taiwan Relations Act, but also through a positive US-PRC relationship, through clear and consistent statements of our one-China policy, through the forward deployment of our forces in East Asia, through our aggressive pursuit of global economic liberalization, and through a variety of other steps, the United States created an environment in which spectacular economic and democratic progress has occurred on Taiwan, in which Taiwan's security has been preserved, and in which there has been movement toward a durable peace and increased cooperation across the Taiwan Strait. The United States has not sought to impose solutions, nor can we take much of the credit for the progress that has occurred. Yet the United States has played a significant role in creating the context in which people on Taiwan and people in the PRC gain confidence to take steps in the direction of peace and progress.

With that long wind-up, I will now deliver my pitch on current US policy towards Taiwan. There is a school of thought that US relations with the PRC and Taiwan are a zero-sum game and that President Clinton during his June visit to the PRC made statements that changed U.S. policy toward Taiwan and harmed Taiwan's interests. I can assure you: that was neither the President's intention nor the result of his statements. Those who hold this view seriously misunderstand where U.S. policy has been and where it is going.

The fundamental purpose of American policy remains what it has always been: to create an environment in which the people on Taiwan can pursue their aspirations for prosperity, democracy, and peace, and in which the two sides of the Strait can fashion -- on a mutually acceptable basis -- a durable peace and framework for productive cooperation. Nothing that President Clinton said or did while he was in the PRC was contrary to that fundamental purpose, because nothing he said was at all new.

Indeed, the key and long-standing elements of the US approach to Taiwan remain in effect. These include:

* Our adherence to a one-China policy;

* The three US-PRC communiques;

* The Taiwan Relations Act (which, by the way, the President publicly reaffirmed in Beijing);

* Our insistence that the Taiwan issue be resolved peacefully and, to that end, our encouragement of both Beijing and Taipei that a constructive and substantive cross-Strait dialogue will soon resume; and

* A number of long-standing policy statements that are corollaries of our one-China policy. These include certain outcomes that the United States does not support and certain steps that it will not take. An example of the former is that we do not support Taiwan independence; examples of the latter are that the United States will not seek to mediate the cross-Strait dispute nor pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations.

Because United States policy towards Taiwan has not changed, I am confident that the rich, substantive relations that exist between us will continue to develop as they have before. On the economic front, we will continue to work with Taiwan to bring about its accession to the World Trade Organization. We will maintain and broaden our cooperation in a variety of technical and functional areas, such as customs and narcotics cooperation. We will work together to build on the progress that Taiwan has already made in the protection of intellectual property. Pursuant to the TRA, we will carefully consider Taiwan's requests for defense articles and services. Moreover, we are working closely with Taiwan to ensure that its recruitment, training, logistics and other systems -- what are sometimes called "software" -- are compatible with the more advanced systems it is acquiring from the United States. In the spirit of the TRA, we want to do more than sell expensive weapons systems; we hope to provide hardware and software to create military capabilities and so ensure that Taiwan has the ability to defend itself.

Also in the months ahead, the United States will watch the development of cross-Strait relations, in the hope that they will develop in a constructive and substantive manner and lead to a reduction of tensions and greater stability in the region. Forward movement on cross-Strait relations will contribute to Taiwan's security, just as its military capabilities do.

The Administration is thus pleased that Dr. Koo Chen-fu, the head of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation, will visit the Mainland this fall. That visit, we hope, will clarify mutual misperceptions and facilitate a consensus on how to bring about a deeper dialogue and broader cross-Strait cooperation. We hope that through the efforts of both sides the dialogue will be constructive and substantive, and believe that Beijing and Taipei themselves possess the creativity to address issues of content and process.

Some may ask whether the search for a durable peace in the Taiwan Strait is facilitated or undermined by Taiwan's democratic system. I think the answer is clear: Taiwan's democracy, the emergence of which the United States strongly supported, contributes to peace and stability. We believe that the people on Taiwan are wise and prudent enough to support responsible approaches regarding Taiwan's future. We understand, of course, that the results of cross-Strait dialogue must meet with the Taiwan public's approval, but we also believe that any result that enjoys broad support will be more lasting as a result. And we believe that Taiwan's democratization -- one of the most remarkable examples of political progress in our time -- serves as a useful model for political liberalization in the PRC. That a Chinese society like Taiwan with an authoritarian system could in a relatively short period of time become a full democracy while preserving social stability gives hope that the same process of change can occur on the mainland of China.