Wednesday, December 03, 2003
# Posted 12:26 PM by Patrick Belton
[NSC senior director for Asia, Jim] Moriarty's second proposal is even more worrying. He proposes the United States declare that it will not defend Taiwan if Beijing launches a military attack on the island in response to a "provocation," i.e., some action or statement by Taiwan that Beijing determines moves in the direction of independence. This proposal, if adopted by the administration, could prove disastrous on several grounds. First of all, it would appear to run counter to the Taiwan Relations Act passed by Congress in 1979. Indeed, it may constitute an effort by the Bush administration in effect to repeal that law by executive fiat. The Act makes it U.S. policy that there should be a peaceful resolution of the dispute between China and Taiwan. But, by suggesting that there may be "legitimate" grounds for China to take offense, this new declaration would condone the very action the law intends to prevent. This would be all the more remarkable given that less than two years ago President Bush reaffirmed the American commitment to Taiwan by declaring that the United States would do "whatever it took" to defend Taiwan.For my part, I’m curious whether the administration is attempting to deter Taipei from proceeding with a referendum on independence - which would definitely cross what China has clearly indicated to be its red lines and would likely bring about a military conflict in the Straits - by signaling that the US would not defend Taiwan in such a circumstance. This is, however, a risky gambit as well as a high-wire maneuver, for the very breadth of the message – and the language “a provocation,” and not the narrower “declaration of independence” – not only goes far beyond that circumstance, but also places exegetical authority in the hands of Beijing, and not in world’s gaze at a fairly objective fact.
A second possibility is to place this within the long tradition of secret executive promises to China with regard to Taiwan during high-level summitry, which are generally reported by journalists and historians years after the fact. Jim Mann reports President Clinton’s secret promises to oppose Taiwanese independence in his book About Face (as well in as his more contemporaneous foreign affairs reporting for the LA Times), and most presidents seem to have made similar sorts of compacts with their visiting opposite numbers from Beijing.
Few in our days share Wilson’s complete rejection of executive understandings with other governments apart from those which are open and openly arrived at - much useful assistance is, for instance, provided to the United States by governments which would be embarrassed were the fact to be discovered publicly by their people, and the aversion of wars between nuclear powers has often depended upon such “gentlemen’s agreements” as Robert Kennedy’s assurance to Ambassador Dobrynin at the end of the Cuban Missile Crisis. However, while the aversion of conflict in the Straits requires careful negotiation by every President, not only would it be clearly contrary to the United States’s democratic principles to forget its commitment to a democratic people, enshrined in its federal statute books, but a second audience must be kept in mind here. This is after all the Asia Pacific region, where it is not yet in the United States’s interests to show itself to be deterred by a China that would like itself to be perceived as the rising power to Washington’s widely predicted (especially by the Chinese) wane. (0) opinions -- Add your opinion
Comments: Post a Comment