Abandoning Taiwan: Not such a good idea
In these difficult days of unprecedented chaos in the Middle East and North Africa, plus the horrific recent events in Japan, so little attention is being paid to the vast regions of Asia where countless millions remain unable to enjoy even the basic elements of human rights.
It is, however, heartening to see Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Taiwan make progress toward escaping difficulties that could provide fodder for those who seek to undermine their democracies.
One recent commentary in Foreign Affairs magazine on Asia titled “Will China’s Rise Lead to War?” by professor Charles Glaser, however, has surfaced. It proposes a plan that has been rejected ever since we established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
Mr. Glaser clearly and scholarly outlined his concept that if the United States “kowtows” to China by withdrawing our security blanket from Taiwan as a peace offering, we will avert war.
Let me offer some history as to why this is not a viable course, since it runs counter to policy enunciated by Congress when it enacted the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and which has since been re-emphasized repeatedly by the legislative process for more than 30 years.
As someone deeply engaged in the negotiations that led up to our diplomatic recognition of the PRC and who played a leadership role in the framing and legislative enactment of the TRA, I would like to respond to Mr. Glaser’s well-meaning but inadvisable recommendation that the U.S. revise its commitment to the maintenance of peace in the Pacific by trashing the Taiwan Relations Act, legislation which was exquisitely drafted to navigate very sensitive relationships impacting American foreign policy.
During one of the most difficult periods in 1977, some seven years into an unofficial relationship with China, I led, as chairman of the House Committee on International Relations subcommittee on Asian and Pacific affairs, a delegation to meet with Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping. We got along famously. Our meeting turned out to be one of the most significant discussions leading up to diplomatic recognition.
Here is an excerpt from the State Department’s report of the meeting:
“The chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs, Lester Wolff, led one such congressional delegation, which met with Vice Premier Teng Hsiao-ping on July 9. At this meeting Teng stated that China would respect realities on Taiwan in working toward unification, and that China would do its best to create conditions permitting solution of the Taiwan question by peaceful means. This conversation, reported back to the State Department by Congressman Wolff and the members of his delegation, and other talks by Senators and Congressmen visiting Peking were important in moving forward the normalization process. On September 19, 1978, President Carter met with Ambassador Chai Tsemin. During this important meeting, Ambassador Chai referred to the Teng-Wolff conversation as being of particular importance in understanding China’s position.”
After the official meeting was concluded, Premier Teng took me aside and instructed me to pass a message to President Carter. He told me to tell the president that we both should set aside Taiwan as an impediment to our relationship and proceed to engage in full diplomatic relations. The process continued and we derecognized Taiwan and set the course for a healthy relationship with the PRC and, though unofficial, a beneficial relationship with Taiwan that set it on a course of a true democracy.
In all the meetings I held with the Chinese, neither Premier Teng nor his successors has ever renounced the use of force to enable the reunification of Taiwan and the PRC. It was under these circumstances that Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and I worked together to ensure that official diplomatic recognition of our new relations with the PRC did not mean the abandonment of the people of Taiwan. Together, we introduced the security provisions of the TRA to ensure the free will of the people of Taiwan:
Section 2(a)(1): “The Congress finds that the enactment of this Act is necessary to help maintain peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific.”
Section 2(b)(3): “It is the policy of the United States to make clear that the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.”
The TRA is a unique and significant piece of legislation that has survived more than 30 years. No other political arrangement like it exists.
Mr. Glaser seems willing to sacrifice the right of 23 million people to self-determination by reversing the protection provided those people by the United States through the TRA.
It was important then and is still today. Congress’ intent was to protect Taiwan and its people from the incursion of any and all (political, security and/or economic) assaults upon its integrity and the freedom of its people. The struggle of the people of Taiwan to attain their vibrant democracy should not continue to be a pawn in the relationship between the United States and China. Peace and stability in the Pacific is the underlying reason Congress has maintained its support for the TRA over the years.
America is now engaged in three wars, however justified, to ensure the freedoms of people all over the world, and Mr. Glaser wants to advance the opposite by offering up the Taiwanese people as a “human sacrifice.” He appears to want to put the human and political rights of millions of people at risk and walk away from the firm commitment the United States has made under the TSA, which is U.S. law. If there is any question of the legal realities pertaining to the United States’ position regarding Taiwan, I refer to this law, which was passed by more than two-thirds of both chambers of Congress and signed by the president.
Putting aside the very troubling reality of the deployment of the vast array of missiles China has targeted at Taiwan, I must return to the important reasoning behind the TRA and the legislative history of its enactment. Here is the law:
Section 2(b)(6): “It is the policy of the United States to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” Section 2(b)(4): “It is the policy of the United States to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.” Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou and China have made remarkable strides in reconciling their differences. Let us not interfere in that process.
Lester L. Wolff is a retired Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives from New York.