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The United States' Role in the Taiwan Strait Issue by Richard Bush, Chairman of the Board and Managing Director, American Institute in Taiwan, Carbondale, Illinois, December 7, 1998 (as Prepared for Delivery)

BG9825E | Date: 1998-12-22

By virtue of its title alone - "Building New Bridges for a New Millennium" - this conference looks forward. Yet to contemplate the future role of the United States concerning the Taiwan Strait issue, it is necessary to have some understanding of the past and present. Ambassador Lord has provided the former and I will offer the latter, to help provide a framework for discussion.

The United States' role in the Taiwan Strait issue can be defined by five key principles.

First of all, the United States has insisted and will insist that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved peacefully. The Administration remains firmly committed to President Carter's statement to this effect in December 1978, and to the elaborations made in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), as follows:

* That hostile action against Taiwan would be regarded by the United States 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.

It was in part to re-emphasize the U.S. insistence on resolving the Taiwan Strait issue peacefully that President Clinton sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan area in March of 1996, and that both Houses of Congress reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to the TRA in July of this year. This is a point on which the Executive Branch, the Congress, the media, and the American public agree.

The second principle that governs the Administration approach is that constructive and meaningful cross-Strait dialogue is the best way to resolve Taiwan-PRC differences. In and of itself, dialogue fosters an atmosphere in which tensions are reduced, misperceptions can be clarified, and common ground can be explored. One of the most salutary developments in East Asia during the early 1990s was the beginning of a dialogue between Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and the Mainland's Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). Cancellation of the dialogue in July 1995 aggravated the tensions of the time, for it closed off a channel of communication. Now, with the encouragement of the United States, the two sides have resumed dialogue through the visit of Dr. Ku Chen-fu, chairman of SEF, to Shanghai and Beijing in October.

The Administration is pleased with the achievements of Dr. Ku's visit and the seriousness with which it was conducted. The atmosphere between the two sides is much improved and they reached a four-point consensus for future cooperation. For example, Mr. Wang Daohan, the ARATS chairman, will visit Taiwan. We welcome these developments and the meetings, contacts, and exchanges that are to follow.

The third principle governing the U.S. role in the Taiwan Strait issue is that the issues that divide Beijing and Taipei -- substantive and otherwise -- should be resolved by the two sides themselves. Whereas the United States has played a central role in trying to end conflicts in the Middle East, Northern Ireland, and Cyprus, in this case our interests in peace and stability are best served by not taking a seat at the table. Indeed, it has been a matter of U.S. policy since 1982 that we would not seek to mediate this dispute.

Why is this the case? In the first place, the United States has some experience in mediating disputes between these two parties. In the late 1940s, in a vain attempt to head off civil war in China, General George Marshall undertook an effort to bring peace between the Communist and Nationalist parties. That effort failed because neither side possessed the political will to coexist with the other, and because each side believed that Marshall had sided with the other. Of course, circumstances today are very different, but the Marshall mission remains a useful historical lesson on the dangers of good but na鴳e intentions.

Second, the test of any negotiated settlement is the commitment of the parties directly concerned to abide by it. That commitment is likely to be higher for a settlement that the parties themselves have negotiated, and less in a case where a mediator is involved and can be blamed for the compliance failures of the other. To be concrete, any arrangements achieved by Beijing and Taipei alone are more likely to endure than those facilitated by an American go-between.

Similarly, and this is my fourth principle, the United States will remain even-handed in its approach to cross-Strait dialogue. We will neither support one side over the other, nor pressure one side to make concessions that it does not wish to make. As a matter of fact, it has been U.S. policy over a long period of time that we will not pressure Taipei to negotiate with Beijing. That is a policy that the Administration takes very seriously. But it applies equally to Beijing.

Now I am well aware that there are people who say that U.S. policy is not evenhanded and that the President's visit to the PRC in June constituted pressure on Taiwan to negotiate when it did not want to. President Clinton -- the same President Clinton who sent two carrier battle groups to the Taiwan area in March 1996 -- did not intend to either change U.S. policy toward Taiwan or harm Taiwan's interests during the summit. Nor was that the result of his statements. That is true for at least three reasons.

First of all, the three statements of President Clinton that have drawn attention (that the United States does not support two Chinas or one China/one Taiwan, does not support independence for Taiwan, and does not support Taiwan's membership in organizations for which statehood is a requirement) are by no means new. These statements are in fact corollaries of our one-China policy, and have been operative for years, the first two since 1971.

Second, these three points are not the sum total of our policy towards Taiwan. Together, they are one of several elements of our Taiwan policy; among the others are the Taiwan Relations Act, the insistence on peaceful resolution, and so on. Each element was part of our policy before the June summit and each is in place after the summit. They are, moreover, our policy, not what Beijing wants our policy to be.

Third, the Clinton Administration, like its predecessors, does not believe that our relations with Taipei and Beijing are a zero-sum game. The historical record suggests that when U.S.-PRC relations are good, cross-Strait relations and U.S. ties with Taiwan are good as well. In the context of the two summits, for example, the United States has moved forward with Taiwan on its accession to the World Trade Organization, and Secretary of Energy Richardson made a well-received visit to Taipei last month. After President Clinton's visit to the PRC, Taipei went forward with Dr. Ku's visit to the mainland primarily because it believed that it was in the island's best interest and because of confidence in the United States.

Now some critics will acknowledge on the one hand that the Clinton Administration does not pressure Taipei directly, but then charge on the other that it is deviously working through former officials. Thus it is still asserted that William Perry was carrying a U.S. message when he traveled to Taipei in January of this year, and that Joseph Nye's March 8th op-ed in the Washington Post reflected the Administration's views. These allegations are simply speculation without foundation. These gentlemen were expressing their views as private individuals.

My fifth principle is a corollary of the fourth. Part of the Administration's approach of evenhandedness is a belief that any arrangements concluded between Beijing and Taipei should be on a mutually acceptable basis. In any successful negotiation, in fact, each party should believe that its fundamental interests have been protected and that it is better off because of the bargaining that has taken place. Also, as a corollary of this principle of mutual acceptability, the Administration understands that because Taiwan is a democracy, any results of cross-Strait dialogue will have to have broad public support.

There are some who believe that democracy on Taiwan is an obstacle to peace across the Strait. I disagree with them. Taiwan's democracy, the emergence of which the United States strongly supported, contributes to peace and stability. The results of cross-Strait dialogue must meet with the Taiwan public's approval, but any result that enjoys broad support will be more lasting as a result. In the meantime, I believe that the people on Taiwan are wise and prudent enough to support responsible approaches regarding Taiwan's future. And, by the way, Taiwan's democratization -- one of the most remarkable examples of political progress in our time -- serves as useful reference for political liberalization in the PRC.

So these are my five principles on the United States role in the Taiwan Strait issue:

* The United States insists that the Taiwan Strait issue be resolved peacefully.

* The Administration believes that constructive and meaningful dialogue is the best way to resolve cross-Strait differences.

* It believes that these differences should be resolved by the two sides themselves.

* The United States will remain even-handed in its approach to cross-Strait dialogue, and not apply pressure to either side.

* The Administration believes that any arrangements concluded between Beijing and Taipei should be on a mutually acceptable basis.

What is striking about these elements is that they are not new. Most have been around decades and the others were added to take account of the changes that have taken place in Taiwan and between Taiwan and the PRC since 1986. Moreover, they are consistent with the fundamental policy approach of six Administrations: to foster an environment in East Asia in which the all the parties concerned can take advantage of the opportunities for cooperation and remove the roots of conflict. The Clinton Administration, like its predecessors, has pursued this context-creating approach in a variety of ways: forward deployment of our military forces, alliances with five Pacific partners, promotion of global economic liberalization, good substantive relations with Taiwan, engagement with the People's Republic of China, and a willingness to be a stabilizing force when necessary. The results on Taiwan alone have been impressive: spectacular democratic progress, continued security, and movement toward a durable peace and increased cooperation across the Taiwan Strait. In East Asia as a whole, regional peace and security -- the central objective of U.S. policy -- have been enhanced.

In the spirit of this fundamental policy, the United States will follow the development of cross-Strait relations in the months ahead, 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. At the same time, we understand that this is only the beginning of a long process in which fundamental differences will be addressed and that the results must meet with the Taiwan public's approval. And we have confidence that the two sides, with the proper political will, have the wisdom and creativity to craft arrangements that are consistent with their mutual interests and that will command public support. Having helped create the environment in which cross-Strait relations are improving, and assuming that peaceful means are followed, the United States monitors developments closely as an interested observer.