Jun 16, 2004

Taiwan: Congress Debates Restoring Recognition to Taiwan

A new push in the U.S. Congress aims to restore full recognition of and diplomatic relations with Taiwan, in the face of continued threats by communist China
By Patrick Goodenough
CNSNews.com Pacific Rim Bureau Chief
June 15, 2004

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - Weeks into Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian's second term, a new push in the U.S. Congress aims to restore full recognition of and diplomatic relations with Taiwan, in the face of continued threats by communist China.

Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado recently introduced a "sense of Congress" resolution, pressing for the U.S. to resume normal relations with Taiwan, "separate from the authoritarian communist regime in Beijing."

It said Taiwan should also be allowed to participate as an equal partner in international organizations like the United Nations.

The U.S. shifted recognition from Taiwan to mainland China in 1979. Taiwan, a founding member of the United Nations, had earlier that decade lost its seat at the world body to Beijing.

Since then, Taiwan has undergone a process of democratization, ending decades of martial law and emergency rule, and it has held direct presidential elections since 1996.

China, meanwhile, has pursued economic reforms, but it remains an authoritarian communist state, one often criticized for human rights abuses.

"The people of Taiwan have time and time again demonstrated their commitment to democracy, liberty and human rights," Tancredo said in a statement as he introduced the resolution.

"We ought to extend the same formal diplomatic recognition to the elected government in Taipei that we accord to the unelected government in Beijing."

"Sense of Congress" resolutions are not binding on the executive branch of government, and they have no formal impact on public policy. But they are an important indicator - both to the administration and foreign governments - of lawmakers' views on topical issues.

Tancredo spokesman Carlos Espinosa said Monday the resolution has drawn a lot of interest and support from both sides of the aisle.

Support for the resolution from Democrats appeared to be based largely on concerns regarding China's poor record on human rights, he added.

"Taiwan is not known as a human rights violator."

A number of lawmakers had expressed to Tancredo the view that "Taiwan has always been such a great partner as far as establishing a democracy and has always been a real friend, not just to the United States but to the U.N."

To deny Taiwan the right to be recognized while at the same time recognizing the government in Beijing was "hypocritical."

Espinosa said Tancredo was optimistic of achieving sufficient support. "We're not going to let it slide. It's definitely something that Tom feels pretty passionate about."

Differing interpretations of 'one China'

In his resolution, Tancredo described Taiwan as a "vibrant and pluralistic democracy" and an ally to the U.S. through World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the war on terror, and the conflict in Iraq.

The motion says the "one China policy" - under which China views Taiwan as a renegade province that must be incorporated, by force if necessary - is "effectively obsolete."

The policy "does not reflect the obvious reality that Taiwan has, is, and continues to effectively function as an independent and sovereign nation," it says.

Under its "one China" policy, Beijing insists that no government recognize Taiwan and still enjoy relations with China.

At the same time, the U.S. is committed under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act to help Taiwan to defend itself against outside aggression. The U.S. also maintains a de facto embassy in Taipei, funded by the State Department.

Tancredo's resolution comes at a time when Washington appears even more ready to stand behind Taiwan, albeit at the expense of upsetting China.

Last April, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly testified before the House International Relations Committee that the U.S. was committed to "our" one-China policy.

"The U.S. does not support independence for Taiwan or unilateral moves that would change the status quo as we define it," he said.

"For Beijing, this means no use of force or threat to use force against Taiwan. For Taipei, it means exercising prudence in managing all aspects of cross-Strait relations. For both sides, it means no statements or actions that would unilaterally alter Taiwan's status."

During questioning later, Kelly was asked to define further the "one China" policy.

"I'm not sure I very easily could define it," he said. "I can tell you what it is not - it is not the one-China policy or the one-China principle that Beijing suggests, and it may not be the definition that some would have in Taiwan."

That acknowledgement that the U.S. interpretation of "one China" does not coincide with China's view on the matter prompted John Tkacik, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, to detect a "reappraisal" in the Administration's China policy.

"Kelly's redefinition of "our one-China policy" in congressional testimony was the first time an American administration has evinced some appreciation for the profound political changes that have unfolded on Taiwan since constitutional democratization on the island began in 1991," Tkacik wrote in a recent National Review article.

"It was the first hint that the U.S. is willing to speak in terms of "one China" that does not involve anybody's claims to sovereign territory," he said.

After Kelly's testimony back in April, Beijing responded tetchily: "The U.S. side has no right at all to accuse Chinese government's military deployment in its own territory to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan the following day.

Kong said the U.S. government should stick to previous joint communiques regarding Taiwan, honor its commitments and "stop arms sales to Taiwan immediately."


Relations between Washington and Taipei appeared strained late last year, when President Bush warned Chen against any attempts to unilaterally change the status quo existing between China and Taiwan by planning national referendums on matters of importance.

Bush's comments drew criticism from some prominent conservatives, who said the U.S. should be "standing with democratic Taiwan" rather than "seeming to reward Beijing's bullying."

Last March, Chen won re-election by a narrow margin, increasing his share of the votes from 39 percent four years earlier to 50.1 percent.

In the run up to Chen's inauguration last month, U.S. officials voiced some concern that he would use the occasion to push forward a pro-independence agenda which had so angered Beijing.

In the end, Taiwanese officials discussed the draft of his speech with U.S. colleagues beforehand, and when he delivered his address Chen undertook to "establish a dynamic peace and stability framework" with Beijing "to guarantee there will be no unilateral change to the status quo in the Taiwan Strait."

Despite the effort to placate China, the mainland government responded angrily to a speech that failed to acknowledge its view that China and Taiwan both belong to a single country.

Source: CNS News