Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Pinning Down that Elusive Status Quo

US Ambassador Harvey Feldman, who led the drafting of the Taiwan Relations Act, weighed in at the Heritage Foundation last month with a review of what the Status Quo is.

At the most obvious level, the status quo is an entity called China on one side of the Taiwan Strait and an entity called Taiwan on the other. The claims each makes certainly are part of the status quo and so deserve some consideration.

The Chinese government asserts something it calls "the sacred One China Principle" which, when it speaks to the people of Taiwan, goes like this: One China is the China that will be created by the necessary and inevitable unification of Taiwan with the mainland. But when China addresses an international audience, it goes like this: There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is a province of that China whose only lawful representative is "the people's government in Beijing." This is the formula used to block Taiwan's participation in the World Health Organization and other international bodies.

Back in the days of one-party authoritarian rule on Taiwan, Taipei claimed to be the seat of the legitimate government of all China, including not only Taiwan but Mongolia and Tibet as well. And the United States recognized it as such, more or less, up to January 1, 1979, when diplomatic recognition switched to Beijing. "More or less," because after President Nixon's visit to China in 1972 and the issuance of the Shanghai Communique, diplomatic niceties aside, America dealt with the government in Beijing as the government of China and the government in Taipei as the government of Taiwan. Despite the subsequent change in diplomatic relations, it still does. And we recognized Mongolia many years ago.

In 1991, a dozen years after the U.S. switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing, the Taipei government stopped claiming to be the legitimate government of China and asked to be recognized only as the government of the territory it obviously controls, Taiwan and associated islands. But the government still calls itself, formally, "The Republic of China" (ROC for short), its name under a constitution written for all of China, adopted in Nanjing in 1947, and brought to Taiwan by Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. That constitution has been amended many times, for example to eliminate the seats of those who claimed to represent mainland districts not under ROC control since 1949, but it remains in force.

The U.S. regarded neither the amendments nor dropping the claim to be the legitimate government of all of China to be changes in the status quo—or at least not changes that merited some statement of displeasure. After all, it would be a bit difficult to insist that the ROC should maintain its claim to legally govern all of China when the U.S. recognizes another in that role. But were the Taipei government to call the mainland-issued 1947 constitution null and void, drop the name Republic of China, and call itself something simple and descriptive like "Taiwan," the U.S. would likely denounce these actions as a most grievous unilateral change in the status quo. China would regard it as intensely provocative.

Feldman's article is a good basic review of what the Status Quo means from an American perspective. Note that the way the Status Quo is understood and constructed by all sides, China's diplomatic isolation of Taiwan is not treated as a violation of the Status Quo -- if Costa Rica jumps ship, that's too bad, but events that happen within the Taiwan Straits are regarded as potential violations of the Status Quo. In other words, in addition to the Status Quo's increasingly wongheaded basis, it is manifestly incomplete, with competition between Taiwan and China likely to occur anywhere in the world.

Several conservative scholars are attempting to reconstruct recent US policy, which is tilting toward China -- State Department maps list Taiwan as part of China -- and return it to the days prior to Henry Kissinger, when the US was quite clear: the status of Formosa was undetermined:

Actually, no. In fact, the U.S. makes no formal statement at all about Taiwan's status. In the communiqué establishing diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, the U.S. "acknowledged" the Chinese position that there is but one China of which Taiwan is a part. That word, "acknowledged," is diplomatic jargon meaning "we understand that is your claim." Washington has never said it regards Taiwan as a PRC province. Nor, when various Taiwan spokesmen assert that the island republic is a separate, independent sovereignty, has the U.S. contradicted that claim. It is true that both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations have said they would not support Taiwan's membership in international organizations that admit only states. But in this, they appear not to have read American law carefully enough.

Wish more people understood things this way.


4 comments:

Blue Shrew said...

Ambassador Feldman trots out the tired neocon US "acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China" bit in an effort to claim this entitles the US to wriggle room.

This is a favorite tactic of the neocons. How revealing that he leaves out the following:

The United States Government does not challenge that position. (emphasis mine)

It is Ambassador Feldman himself who could stand a closer reading of American law. I suspect he has not had any formal legal training, and I am highly skeptical of his role as a 'drafter' of the TRA; most likely he just signed off on what State lawyers came up with their congressional counterparts, and it is clear he does not understand its ramifications all that well.

The TRA does not in any form formally recognize Taiwan as a state or country; Amb. Feldman is severly mistaken. If it did, the US would not need the TRA at all, and it could have maintained formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, along with the 26 (make that 25) countries that continue to do so.

This bit is really rich: "the TRA says that, should the PRC attempt to alter Taiwan's status "by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes," the U.S. would treat this as "a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."

Oh, like the US actively did to the PRC from the Korean War until the PRC gained its rightful admission to the US as the representative of China in 1971? The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And the PRC does not 'boycott' or embargo' Taiwan. If anything, it's keeping Taiwan's economy afloat. Oh right, India and Vietnam will save the day.

These modern-day Henry Luce-ites take the cake. You do your otherwise fine site a true disservice by giving a platform to these crackpots.

Look, if any of you are unhappy with US policy towards Taiwan, and as you term, its 'slavish devotion to its PRC masters', then at least have the balls to come right out and advocate that the US renounce the Shanghai Communique, enter into formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and tell the PRC to get bent.

Of course, when the missiles start flying, I hope you and your merry band of greener-than-thou expats will do the right thing and form an foreigner freedom fighter's brigade. And I'm sure all your kids will gladly volunteer for service in the Taiwan army.

The Taiwanese, safely esconsed in their safe havens throughout Vancouver and the San Gabriel Valley will thank you for your martyrdom.

Michael Turton said...

The TRA does not in any form formally recognize Taiwan as a state or country; Amb. Feldman is severly mistaken.

Feldman never says it "formally" recognizes Taiwan was a state. He notes that for legal purposes Taiwan is a state. Perhaps you're not reading it closely enough.

Look, if any of you are unhappy with US policy towards Taiwan, and as you term, its 'slavish devotion to its PRC masters', then at least have the balls to come right out and advocate that the US renounce the Shanghai Communique, enter into formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and tell the PRC to get bent.

I have not said the US is serving its PRC master; I have only pointed out that the State Department is.

I have no idea why dissatisfaction with the State Department's position should lead one to embrace a position that is clearly insane.

Michael

blue shrew said...

Feldman never says it "formally" recognizes Taiwan was a state. He notes that for legal purposes Taiwan is a state.

Semantics. American law does not view Taiwan as a state. That is why the US does not recognize Taiwan as such, exchange embassies and ambassadors, or permit Taiwan government officials to visit the US in their official capacities. It won't even allow A Bian's plane to enter US airspace if he flies on Taiwan's Air Force One. A better analogy would be 'separate but equal'-and we all know what that meant for those such designated.

The entire US policy towards Taiwan is built around careful ambiguity. As much as I deplore US foreign policy in general, I think that for the most part, the US is following the only rational course it can to avoid a shooting war in the Pacific.

There exists in US political circles a small but very dangerous cabal of right-wing fossils from the Cold War whose only reason for being consists of replacing their lost bogeyman USSR with the PRC. These nutjobs believe NOW is the time to confront China rather than later, so they've cozied up to the DPP and are encouraging A Bian and others to do some very stupid, provacative things.

Extreme greens are so marginalized in Taiwan they realize they have nothing to lose. It's in this they show their common legacy with everyone's favorite old fascist Chiang Kai-shek: just let the US fight its war of independence for it.

Which is exactly what will happen. As soon as real danger appears, it will be 1996, but on an unprecendented scale. Taiwan's financial capital will vanish, to miraculously appear in Canada and the US. And Taiwan certainly won't have an army to speak of: its supply of able-bodied recruits will cash in their foreign passports and visas to wait the madness out in safer climes.

Think about what % of Taiwan's population hold a second passport or have an immigration petition on file. There's your army, and it doesn't have the stomach for this fight.

What exactly is your vision of appropriate US policy towards Taiwan? Tell us how it will work better than the status quo. I'm all ears.

Michael Turton said...

The entire US policy towards Taiwan is built around careful ambiguity. As much as I deplore US foreign policy in general, I think that for the most part, the US is following the only rational course it can to avoid a shooting war in the Pacific.

I agree. In ambiguity lies safety.

There exists in US political circles a small but very dangerous cabal of right-wing fossils from the Cold War whose only reason for being consists of replacing their lost bogeyman USSR with the PRC. These nutjobs believe NOW is the time to confront China rather than later, so they've cozied up to the DPP and are encouraging A Bian and others to do some very stupid, provacative things.

Yes, so I've heard, publicly and privately. They make a nice counterpoint to the people at State who want to deliver Taiwan, gift-wrapped, to the Chinese.

What exactly is your vision of appropriate US policy towards Taiwan? Tell us how it will work better than the status quo. I'm all ears.

A fair question....

Blue, I've never complained about the Status Quo as such. I'm all for it. What I've noted is that the State Department's interpretation of it is pro-Beijing, when that was clearly not the intent of the treaties, such as the SF Peace Treaty, that the US is signatory to, nor is that a safe policy. At the moment State treats the Status Quo as Whatever Makes Beijing Happy, which essentially gives Beijing leverage over it. That is the problem that needs to be addressed.

What changes?
(1)The Taiwan Desk is moved out from under the China Desk and the current desk officer replaced by someone who knows Taiwan and is sympathetic to it.

(2) The State Department comes out far more forcefully on China's far more serious violations of the Status Quo, such as the missile buildup. It is absolutely asinine to refer to changing the name of the Post Office and making war threats as equally "unhelpful." The State also needs to stop cluck-clucking every time Beijing asks them to. They look foolish whenever they do that. Benign silence and quiet understanding will serve the US better.

(3) The US needs to change its own behavior with respect to the proffering of arms. Specifically: Taiwan needs to get licenses to the sub designs, some manufacturing in Taiwan, and a much lower price. The most recent request for F-16s needs to be fulfilled pronto. The US should shut up about Taiwan developing missiles as well -- it is ridiculous to complain that Taiwan doesn't defend itself, and then turn around and complain that it is doing too much to defend itself.

(4) The ban on high official visits to and fro needs to be lifted. If the president of China can visit the US capital, so should the Taiwan Preznit. State made a total ass of itself protesting Chen's virtual appearance at the NPC, showing how technology has made the policy obsolete. A policy of silence would in most cases serve the US far better.

To continu in this view, high-level military contacts must be restored and multiplied so that Taiwan can come back into the mainstream of world military practice and so that the US and Taiwan can coordinate their defense. Allies who don't practice together don't perform well in combat.

(5) The US needs to push Taiwan to step up relations with India and Japan, and to support it in those endeavors, and it needs to pull out of Iraq and refocus on the Pacific and Asia, where the future is. But that is a pipe dream.

its supply of able-bodied recruits will cash in their foreign passports

LOL. The working and middle class recruits who form the backbone of the army can only dream of owning a US passport. There are 70,000 US citizens on the island, according to AIT figures, and their flight will make hardly a dent in available manpower in a country with a nominal military of just under 2 million.

Michael