Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Tkacik on the UN and the Status of Taiwan

John Tkacik has a wonderful piece that gives a behind-the-scenes look at the recent US response to Taiwan's UN drive, as well as some historical information on the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

"In accordance with that resolution, the United Nations considers Taiwan for all purposes to be an integral part of the People's Republic of China," he said.

"For all purposes?" Could the UN secretary-general unilaterally and without consultation make a major pronouncement in international law on the status of 23 million people?

This caused such diplomatic concern in Washington and Taipei that both sides tried to keep it secret.

The US State Department, in its own methodical way, convened internal meetings and disseminated several confidential memorandums on how it might neutralize the secretary-general's stance without angering China.

This, of course, was impossible. Indeed, many officials in the department believe that Taiwan had brought all this on itself.

Others, however, argued (successfully) that unless Ban's pronouncement were reversed, Taiwan may find itself bound by a number of international protocols under China's signature.

The Department of Agriculture was particularly concerned that China, which bans US beef, would ensure via the World Organization for Animal Health (known by the French acronym "OIE") that Taiwan cease imports of the meat.

So, after considerable internal consultation, a delegation of US diplomats quietly approached one of their only friends in the UN Secretariat, Under Secretary-General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe.

Pascoe, a retired US ambassador, once served as the director of the American Institute in Taiwan. Pascoe was sympathetic, but demurred that the issue was a "legal" one, not a political one. He directed the Americans to UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Larry Johnson.

In late July, the Americans confronted Johnson on Ban's letter. The assertion that Taiwan was "for all purposes an integral part of the PRC [People's Republic of China]" was very disturbing, the US diplomats said, because "while this assertion is consistent with the Chinese position, it is not universally held by UN member states, including the United States."

Significantly, China's position is held neither by Japan, nor the UK, Canada, Australia nor New Zealand, all of which signed the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 under which "Japan renounce[d] all right, title, and claim to Formosa and the Pescadores [Penghu]," but the treaty did not add to whom "right, title and claim" to Formosa might ultimately devolve.

At the time, Britain set down for the record that, while the treaty provided for Japan to renounce sovereignty over Taiwan, "the treaty itself does not determine the future of these islands." As such, Britain was happy to sign it, as did Australia and New Zealand.
The position of the United States, up until Henry Kissinger, the Dementor of US foreign policy, decided to sell the island out, was that the status of Taiwan was undecided, a position also held by the other major Powers. As late as the Nixon Administration State Department officials regularly testified that Taiwan's status was yet to be determined. But then Nixon decided it would be a great idea to get Chinese cooperation on Vietnam........

However, accounts of President Nixon's secret talks with PRC Premier Zhou Enlai in China in 1972 reported that Nixon made promises on the question of Taiwan in return for diplomatic normalization that went beyond the communique issued at the end. The Carter Administration later called the promises: "Nixon's Five Points." Also, according to Assistant Secretary of State Stanley Roth's March 1999 testimony, Nixon pledged no U.S. support for Taiwan independence (second time after Kissinger's 1971 promise): "We have not and will not support any Taiwan independence movement." With the release on December 11, 2003, of declassified memoranda of conversation of the secret talks between Nixon and Zhou, there was confirmation that Nixon stated as first of Five Principles that "there is one China, and Taiwan is a part of China. There will be no more statements made -- if I can control our bureaucracy — to the effect that the status of Taiwan is undetermined." (source)

Tkacik is trying to argue that this is the policy we've defaulted back to, but while his heart is in the right place, there is no support for that interpretation in the Bush Administration. Instead, the Taipei Times quoted the Nelson Report on the F-16 sale:

The Nelson Report, which caters to politicians in the US capital, quoted sources close to the Bush administration as saying that the purchase would not happen soon, if at all.

The sources said that the White House, not the State Department or the Department of Defense, was blocking the deal.

The report also said that Bush was holding on to control over US-Taiwan policy and was concerned that sending positive signals to President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) could destabilize the "status quo."

Although the Taiwan Relations Act allows the US to sell arms to Taiwan based solely on Taiwan's defense needs, the report said that the Bush administration felt separating the issue from US-China relations was difficult.

The report quoted the sources as saying that the Taiwan Relations Act did not necessarily justify the sale of F-16s to Taiwan's military and that the administration was debating Taiwan's defense needs.

This can't be emphasized enough: Taiwan policy is being run at the highest levels of the US government.

Let's hope that the Administration's apparent refusal to help Taiwan defend itself ends the prospect of any more misguided articles about Taiwan's unwillingness to defend itself. Taiwan clearly recognizes its need for these weapons, and wants the US to sell them. It is the US, not Taiwan, that is causing the problem here.

It is often said -- and usually attributed to Marx -- that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce. Once again we have a corrupt, deeply unpopular Republican President embroiled in a losing war against an insurgency, trampling over the Constitution, and seemingly willing to sell out Taiwan permanently for transient political gains. Only the second time round, it's a tragedy too.

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