Jul 05, 2004

Taiwan: US Congress call to reassess one-China policy

East Asia is likely to enter an era of instability if the United States were to redefine its 'one-China' policy in a way that, in essence, denies Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan
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By Ching Cheong

HONG KONG - East Asia is likely to enter an era of instability if the United States were to redefine its 'one-China' policy in a way that, in essence, denies Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

The spectre of that happening has been raised by a US congressional body in a recent report that, if adopted, is certain to provoke a violent response from Beijing - and light the fuse for a war over the Taiwan Strait.

In the report, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC), which was set up by the American Congress to monitor the implications of relations with the mainland, came right out to describe the one-China policy as 'obsolete' and called for changes.

It argued that the US should respond to the new reality of Taiwan acquiring a separate identity following its democratisation.

And it recommended specifically that Congress and the Bush administration conduct a fresh assessment of the one-China policy.

It said the study should include, among other things, a review of:

- The 'successes, failures, and continued viability' of the 'one-China policy';

- Whether changes are needed in the way that the United States gives Taiwan defence assistance, including the need to enhance operational relations between the two militaries; and

- How the US could help Taiwan break out of the isolation that China seeks to impose on it.

If these recommendations are adopted, then, to all intent and purpose, Taiwan will become an independent country.

The report was the first official call by the US Congress to either abrogate the 'one-China policy' altogether or redefine it to exclude Taiwan from China.

Several China-watchers in the US, including Dr Susan Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state in the Clinton Administration, have sought to play it down, saying that the USCC does not represent the mainstream view.

Beijing, some of them argued, should not be too perturbed as there is no danger of Washington reneging on the one-China policy that has served it well.

But China, having watched the US flirt periodically with the idea of not accepting Taiwan as a part of China, is unlikely to be sanguine about it, especially as some of the recommendations have already been put into practice in one disguised form or another.

For example, according to Taiwanese media, for the first time since 1979, the US sent a 60-man team to take part in the island's annual Hankwang military exercise this year.

Similarly, Taiwanese troops, also for the first time, will take part in Operation Summer Pulse 04 in the West Pacific next month.

Such moves cannot but improve the operational relations between the two militaries, which was precisely what the USCC called for in one of its recommendations.

Another example: The United States has also decided to champion Taiwan's representation in the World Health Organisation.

China read the USCC report as part of a long-standing US desire, which started after the Korean War, to deny Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

For example, a July 12, 1971 US Department of State Memo on the legal status of Taiwan started by saying: 'From the middle of the 17th century to 1895, Formosa (Taiwan) and the Pescadores (Penghu) were part of the Chinese Empire.

China then ceded these islands to Japan in 1895 in the Sino-Japanese Treaty of Shimonoseki.'

It then noted that in the Cairo Declaration of 1943, the United States, Great Britain and China stated it to be their purpose that 'all the territories that Japan has stolen from the Chinese, such as Formosa and the Pescadores, shall be restored to the Republic of China'.

On July 26, 1945, the three governments issued the Potsdam Proclamation, declaring that 'the terms of the Cairo Declaration shall be carried out'.

It is clear from this memo that prior to the Korean War, the US accepted Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

But the fighting that broke out in the Korean peninsula in June 1950 changed the US attitude.

Seeing Taiwan's value as an 'unsinkable aircraft carrier', a famous characterisation by General Douglas MacArthur, the US began to say that 'the status of Taiwan was undetermined'.

To give legal basis to this claim, the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty with Japan merely committed the latter to surrendering Taiwan but did not specify to whom the island was to be returned.

This amounted to a repudiation of US treaty obligation as spelt out in the Cairo and Potsdam instruments.

Despite this deliberate attempt to deny Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan, former US President Richard Nixon pledged to China in no uncertain terms:

'Principle One: There is one China, and Taiwan is part of China.

'There will be no more statements made to the effect that the status of Taiwan is undetermined.'

This declaration is there in the declassified documents of his historic trip to Beijing in 1972.

However, American words were not matched by deeds.

Despite the Nixon pledge, the 1979 Joint Communique establishing formal diplomatic relations was crafted in a way to give the US room for backpedalling.

In that document, the US said that 'it acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is a part of China'.

The US Congress later elaborated on this in the Taiwan Enabling Act Report, March 1, 1979.

It said that 'the Administration acknowledged the Chinese position that Taiwan is part of China, but the US has not itself agreed to this position'.

Thus, from the Chinese point of view, the USCC report calling for an end to the 'one-China policy' is but another attempt to deny Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.

While Beijing has refrained thus far from public criticism of the report, no one should be under any illusion that it will sit on its hands while Washington tinkers with the one-China policy.

Source: The Straits Times