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Testimony Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on S. 693, the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, by Stanley O. Roth, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, August 4, 1999

BG9912E | Date: 1999-08-17

It is a pleasure to appear before the Committee today, Mr. Chairman, in response to your request for Administration views concerning S. 693, "The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act." I welcome the opportunity to respond to you on that subject, but I would like to do so in the context of providing you the Administration's assessment of current cross-strait relations.

Recent Events

When I appeared before this Committee on March 25, I found some cause for optimism about dialogue between Taiwan and the PRC. In October of 1998, Koo Chen-fu, Chairman of Taiwan's Straits Exchange Foundation (SEF) and Taiwan's senior unofficial representative in talks with the PRC, traveled to Shanghai, where he was welcomed by his counterpart, Wang Daohan, the chairman of the PRC Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait (ARATS). He then went to Beijing where he stayed in an official state guesthouse, and met with President Jiang Zemin. Koo and Wang agreed to further dialogue on political, economic and other issues, and Wang agreed to make a return visit to Taiwan.

The United States had strongly encouraged both sides to engage in such a direct dialogue. We welcomed the prospect that the dialogue would continue and hoped that Wang's visit to Taiwan might establish a more solid basis on which to continue the dialogue. Such a dialogue is the basis for Taiwan's lasting security, which military hardware alone cannot guarantee.

In the context of that positive momentum, we had in recent months suggested that both sides look at the possibility of "interim agreements" as one way to move forward in their dialogue. We offered no preconceived formula about what the substance of interim agreements might be, only that they might serve as a way for both sides to build confidence in their ability to work together, setting the stage for increased cooperation and enhanced regional stability. We did not offer this suggestion to put pressure on either side, only as an idea that might prove useful to both.

Unfortunately, the positive momentum which existed earlier this year has deteriorated sharply. On July 9, Taiwan's President Lee Teng-hui told Voice of Germany radio that "we have designated cross-strait ties as state-to-state or at least as special state-to-state ties." On July 12, Su Chi, the Chairman of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, said that the PRC's formulation of the "one China" principle was not a basis for cross-strait discussions.

Beijing stated that Lee's statements threatened the idea of "one China" that was the basis for relations across the Taiwan Strait and "was a very dangerous step along the way to splitting the country." Beijing repeated its long-held position that it reserved the right to use force if Taiwan moved toward independence. Wang Daohan suggested that Lee's statement undermined the basis for him to travel to Taiwan this fall to continue the dialogue between the two sides, and he called for a clarification from SEF's Koo Chen-fu.

On July 30, Koo Chen-fu sent a statement to Wang Daohan to clarify Lee's statement. Although he stated that there had been no change in Taiwan's policies favoring cross-strait dialogue, agreements between the two sides, and the goal of a unified China, Koo also held to Lee's position on "special state-to-state relations." Koo said Taiwan considers that "'one China' is something for the future since China at present is divided and ruled separately by two equal sovereign states in existence at the same time."

After Koo sent his statement of clarification, ARATS immediately rejected it and said that it "seriously violated" the 1992 SEF-ARATS consensus.

From the very beginning, the United States responded to this disruption of cross-strait relations with consistent public and private statements in an effort to calm tensions and encourage a peaceful resolution of this dispute. On July 12, the State Department spokesman reiterated the U.S. commitment to its "one China" policy. The spokesman also stressed that, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, we would view with grave concern any attempt to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means.

The President, first in a telephone call to PRC President Jiang Zemin, and later in a White House press conference, spelled out the three pillars of our position toward relations between Taiwan and the PRC:

-- Our "one China" policy is unchanged;

-- We support dialogue as the only way for differences between the two sides to be resolved;

-- We have an abiding interest that there be a peaceful approach by both sides to resolving

Following the Clinton-Jiang call, the Administration continued its diplomatic efforts to restore calm in cross-strait relations. This included dispatching parallel missions to Beijing and Taipei. NSC Senior Director for East Asia, Ken Lieberthal, and I traveled to Beijing while the Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Richard Bush, traveled to Taipei. Both missions had the same objectives: to listen to senior leaders; and to make sure that they understood the United States's firm adherence to its long-standing policies: "one China" and our insistence on peaceful resolution of differences.

As a second step, the Secretary met with PRC Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan in Singapore July 25, on the eve of the meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), to make clear our commitment to a one-China policy, a peaceful approach and cross-strait dialogue. Secretary Albright pressed Beijing to continue the cross-strait dialogue and urged them not to use force.

Where does this leave the cross-strait situation today? It is impossible to be certain. There is no sign of imminent hostilities. It appears that PRC military activity is somewhat elevated, but reports in the media have been exaggerated. Nonetheless, the risk of escalation remains. The visit of Wang Daohan to Taiwan has not been officially cancelled, but the situation is serious, and we have urged that the visit proceed. In this period of uncertainty, all the key players will need to navigate with care.

Comments on "The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act"

Having set the context for our consideration of "The Taiwan Security Enhancement Act," I would like first to offer a personal observation. Everyone who knows you, Mr. Chairman, knows beyond the slightest doubt that your overwhelming interest in offering this legislation is to strengthen Taiwan's security.

Nonetheless, Mr. Chairman -- and I say this with all due respect -- the Administration believes that this legislation could have serious, unintended negative consequences that would weaken Taiwan's security and impinge on our own security interests in the region. These consequences arise because this legislation will be interpreted by Taiwan and by the PRC as a significant revision of the Taiwan Relations Act, which has successfully governed the U.S. role in cross-strait issues for twenty years. It will be seen as an effort to reverse our commitment to an unofficial relationship and to recreate in its place a formal military relationship with Taiwan.

Several provisions of this bill lead to this perception. For example, the legislation mandates operational communication links between military headquarters of Taiwan and the United States in Hawaii, a linkage more indicative of formal military ties than an unofficial relationship. This perception would be further enforced by the Act's requirement that the Secretary of Defense permit the travel of flag-rank officers to Taiwan. Avoiding such senior military travel has helped this and previous administrations of both parties to have successful working-level contacts while avoiding the cloak of officiality that would be a hindrance to effective exchange.

Equally troubling is the specific authorization (in section 5(d) and (e)) that the United States provide ballistic missile defense and early warning radar to Taiwan. As you know from my previous testimony, Mr. Chairman, the Administration, as a matter of policy, does not preclude the possible sale of TMD systems to Taiwan in the future. But, making this determination now, when the systems are still under development, and not yet even available to U.S. forces, is certainly premature. By their nature, providing these systems to Taiwan would be a decision with significant implications for Taiwan's security, for regional security, and for the security of the United States. That decision will need to be made based on a determination of Taiwan's defensive needs and in the context of regional developments at some point in the future when the system is ready for deployment.

One major element of that context will be the choices that the PRC makes over the intervening years concerning the deployment of its missiles. We believe, and we are discussing this with the PRC, that its own security interests, as well as regional security, would be best advanced by a decision to check or scale back its missile deployments. Trends in PRC deployments will affect our consideration of deploying ballistic missile defense systems to Taiwan. While I cannot predict the outcome of our discussions with the PRC, I can assure you that enactment of this language into law will make it harder rather than easier for us to succeed, and could fuel an arms race that would leave Taiwan worse off.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, this bill puts the Congress on record as endorsing the sales of a number of specific weapons, including several which the Administration had previously denied because they did not meet the criteria of strictly defensive weaponry.

We see a danger that this bill could be the first step in a process whereby Congress would attempt to mandate specific arms sales, thereby abrogating the long-standing and effective arms sales process that now exists. That very prospect would change the dynamics of the current process, encouraging Taiwan to seek direct Congressional authorization for the sale of desired weapons.

Equally significant, three actions required by the bill raise immediate constitutional concerns: the report detailing the Administration's deliberative review of Taiwan's arms sales requests (sec. 4(b)); the plan for "operational training and exchanges of personnel" between the Taiwan and U.S. militaries (sec. 5(b)); and the establishment of a "secure direct communications" between the U.S. and Taiwan military (sec. 5(c)). All three would unconstitutionally interfere with the President's authority as Commander in Chief and interfere with his ability to carry out his responsibilities for the conduct of foreign relations.

In considering all these potentially serious problems with the proposed legislation, Mr. Chairman, I think is worth considering whether there is really a need for this Act. Has the Taiwan Relations Act failed in assisting Taiwan to provide for its security and stability? The track record of four administrations says "no." Despite the difficulties cross-strait relations have encountered since I testified before you in March, the assessment of the Taiwan Relations Act, which I offered then, remains valid:

"I have no hesitation in declaring the TRA a resounding success. Over the past twenty years, the TRA has not only helped to preserve the substance of our relationship with Taiwan, it has also contributed to the conditions which have enabled the U.S., the PRC, and Taiwan to achieve a great deal more."

While there have been periods of friction over these twenty years, the dynamism and increasing prosperity across the Strait is unmistakable.

That dynamism and prosperity has been the product of people on both sides of the Strait working together. Thousands of Taiwan companies have established operations in the PRC, often in cooperation with PRC companies, both private and government owned. Tens of thousands of PRC workers work for these Taiwan companies.

That shared prosperity has been possible in part because Taiwan has been able, with the support of the United States under the TRA, to strengthen its self-defense capability. The United States has provided a wide range of defensive military equipment to Taiwan, ranging from Knox-class frigates, to anti-submarine S-2T aircraft, to anti-air missiles. Just last week, when some doubted we would move forward on pending sales, we notified to the Congress an additional sale of E-2T early warning aircraft and parts and equipment for F-16 aircraft.

Every year, it seems, there is some speculation that the Administration will not move forward with some sale of defensive equipment to Taiwan because of some issue of the moment. Each time the speculation has been wrong. We are and will remain committed to fulfilling our obligations.

In addition to providing military systems, we have provided extensive advice and training opportunities for Taiwan's military. Having an unofficial relationship has not obstructed our ability to have the kinds of contacts necessary to meet our obligations under section three of the TRA.

All of this has occurred in accordance with our commitments under the TRA. It has worked and is working. Taiwan has never had a stronger defense capability, and that capability remains robust as a result of our ongoing efforts. I would propose that this answers the question I posed a moment ago. The Taiwan Relations Act has succeeded in assisting Taiwan to provide for its security and stability. There is no benefit to counterbalance the risks entailed in changing it.

Conclusion: A Serious Decision

In concluding, I would like to note that the TRA, for all its considerable success, cannot by itself provide for Taiwan's security. Given the disparity in size between the PRC and Taiwan, the island's security must always depend on more than just military hardware. The TRA must be complemented by peaceful interaction, including dialogue, between Taiwan and the PRC, if we are to reduce tensions and improve security. For twenty years, with the support of the TRA we have seen progress, halting at times, toward such a dialogue. Despite the difficulties of recent weeks, it must continue. It was with that in mind that the President responded to recent statements on both sides of the Strait by reiterating our commitment to dialogue and to a peaceful resolution of differences between Taiwan and the PRC.

This bill would not enhance the prospects for dialogue and the peaceful resolution of differences. On the contrary, it could make it more difficult for both sides to advance cross-strait talks. And, it would do all this at a time of continuing concern, a time when the United States must provide stability and predictability if the two sides are to move forward to resolve their differences in a peaceful manner.

Your vote on this bill is a serious decision. It is not what some would call "a free vote." It is a potentially dangerous vote against a policy that has worked through four administrations and continues to work today.

Thank you.