U.S.-Taiwan Relations at the Beginning of a New Year Richard C. Bush Chairman and Managing Director, American Institute in Taiwan January 28, 2002
I would like to chat with you today about Taiwan’s relationship with the United States, which, from my point of view is good and getting better. Indeed, I think one can argue that our ties are stronger now than at any time in the last fifty years. People on Taiwan can be quite confident that the US-Taiwan relationship and US policy in other respects serves their interests and aspirations well.
In elaborating on this basic point, I wish to start with Taiwan’s response to the tragedy of September 11th in all its aspects. I have come to Taiwan on this trip and appear at Cheng-ta today to express on this occasion the gratitude of the government and people of the United States for your outstanding contributions. It is in times of crisis that we learn who our true friends are. And the United States knew from the beginning of this particular crisis where Taiwan stood.
I imagine that you know of some of the ways in which Taiwan has responded to the 9/11 tragedy and supported the campaign against terrorism. But there are some that you don’t know. The cumulative effect of this effort is quite impressive.
First of all, your government has made a number of expressions of sympathy and support. For example, I was in Hawaii on September 11th, because I was accompanying Premier Chang on his transit through the United States. GIO Director General Su Tzen-ping awakened me at around 4:30 AM Hawaii time and I immediately turned on the television. Within a matter of a couple of hours, Premier Chang sent to me a five-point statement of sympathy and support. President Chen and other officials made other statements of solidarity, which have an important symbolic value. Most important in those early hours was the decision to heighten protection of Americans in Taiwan. This made a particularly deep impression on the entire American community here. Also touching to us was the decision to lower Taiwan’s flag to half mast on September 15th and 16th. Not many countries made this gesture, and I understand that my old friend Foreign Minister Tien came under some criticism. But it is a powerful expression of the deep friendship between the United States and Taiwan.
On a more substantive level, your government joined us in the global fight against terrorism. You sought to an impressive degree to share information with the American side, to heighten security at your ports of entry, and to monitor financial flows. This is particularly important because our adversaries look to exploit places that might not seem to be either a likely target of terrorism or a sanctuary for terrorists and their money. Taiwan is such a place, and your continuing vigilance helps to tighten the net.
Next, your government has pledged to act according to international conventions against terrorism and the various resolutions of the UN Security Council. These commitments are made in spite of the fact that Taiwan is not a party to these conventions – for reasons that we all understand. This demonstrates that in substantive terms – which is what counts most – Taiwan is a good global citizen.
Next, the government, your NGOs, some with branches overseas, and individual residents and overseas compatriots have been making substantial donations to the relief effort since day one. This has gone in two directions. On the one hand, organizations like Tz’u-chi and the Red Cross responded quickly to the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. and provided help to the victims and their families. In this regard, I would like to acknowledge the generosity of Chinese-Americans and Taiwanese-Americans, who made contributions of around US$8.5 million. Donors in Taiwan provided another US$1.5 million for the victims of the attacks. I would also make a side comment that charitable and community service organizations like Tz’u-chi have been important indications of the growth and maturation of civil society in Taiwan – one of the hallmarks of a stable democracy.
In addition to looking west to the United States, Taiwan also looked east to Afghanistan. The Taliban and al-Qaeda, through their cruel and dictatorial rule in Afghanistan brought about intense suffering to a society that has suffered enough. The military campaign, which the Taliban brought upon itself, exacerbated the situation and created the danger of a humanitarian emergency. This necessitated a multifaceted relief effort to keep to a minimum the number of innocent people put at risk by this conflict. The United States and other countries responded quickly to this emergency, and here too, Taiwan’s government, NGOs and people have been very generous in providing money, food, and survival necessities, in the amount of US$7.25 million. Included in these generous donations is a special way that Taiwan has contributed to the effort to meet the humanitarian emergency in Afghanistan.
Obviously, one of the significant dimensions of this emergency was food – not just a lack of food inside Afghanistan but the lack of means to transport international food aid from outside the country to Afghans who need it. Last fall, there was a global appeal for a very large number of trucks to ship food into Afghanistan.
I would note here that people who do disaster relief have learned over the years that, faced with a food emergency like that in Afghanistan, it is far better to ship the food to the people where they live than to have the people go to where the food is, such as a neighboring country. Typically, once needy people start to move in search of food, they are already fairly desperate. The trip is dangerous in and of itself, particularly when the weather is bad. Once they arrive at a refugee camp, there is increased danger of disease, along with a number of social problems. And there is the simple fact that even the poorest people know best how to cope in their home area. If they survive the winter at home and receive some seed, they have a better chance of restoring some level of subsistence. All the more reason therefore that a large number of trucks were needed to help ship food and other items into Afghanistan.
Where did Taiwan come in? I am pleased that Taiwan has donated nearly 1,400 tons of relief aid, including transportation vehicles, medicine, tents and food in response to this global appeal. Your government responded quickly and energetically. On behalf of the United States government and the American people, I wish to express deep appreciation for this outstanding contribution to the struggle for a new Afghanistan.
If one totals up the dollar value of the various donations made by Taiwan and people in the United States connected with Taiwan, the total comes to over US$17 million so far. In addition, there is assistance and solidarity that cannot be quantified. The truck project alone consumed countless person-hours that are not reflected in the dollar figures I have cited. Again, on behalf of the US government and American people I wish to extend to the government and people of this island our heartfelt gratitude for your contributions to this effort. Terrorism presents a strategic challenge to our global community. The United States has resolved to meet that strategic challenge. Taiwan has been an outstanding partner in carrying out this strategic mission.
Now most of you are probably aware that the United States is also grateful for the cooperation we have received from the People’s Republic of China. And some of you may be worried that Beijing may try to play upon American gratitude in order to extract political concessions concerning Taiwan. Let me assure you as categorically as I can: it will not happen. I, of course, cannot rule out the possibility that there will be an attempt to exercise that kind of leverage. But I can categorically rule out the possibility that any such attempt will be successful. In the counter-terrorism effort, the United States has not sought assistance from others – from the PRC, from Taiwan, or from anyone else – with an expectation or assumption that we will have to reward those who help us in the counter-terrorism campaign. Rather, we believe that our friends should provide support to this cause because, as members of the international community, we share a common vision of a peaceful and prosperous world free from intolerance and wanton acts of terror.
Let me be clear. The United States wants to have a positive and constructive relationship with the People’s Republic of China. The tragedy of September 11th and the necessity of striking back against terrorism is only the most recent and vivid evidence that the United States and the PRC have common or parallel interests. We also share those interests regarding regional hot spots such as the Korean peninsula and on other transnational issues – such as drug trafficking. Our economic relationship with the PRC benefits companies and consumers in both China and America, and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization will only enhance those benefits. On the other hand, there are issues on which we disagree: proliferation, human rights, religious freedom, Taiwan, and missile defense. Consequently, the Bush Administration is pursuing engagement with China that seeks to maximize the areas of cooperation, address areas of difference frankly but respectfully through dialogue, and encourage China’s adherence to international norms as it becomes more a part of the international community. We hope that such an approach will move China in the right direction, but we cannot be sure. The United States is not na?ve. We will follow China’s actions carefully. We will remain strong. And we will not sacrifice Taiwan’s interests in order to have a good relationship with the PRC. President Bush demonstrated that when he visited Shanghai in October last year.
At the same time, the Bush Administration is pursuing a policy towards Taiwan that fits not only our interests but yours as well. That policy mixes useful points of continuity and significant changes in substance, emphasis, and tone. It has the following important elements.
First and foremost, there is the fundamental emphasis on peace and an unconditional insistence that the Taiwan Strait issue should be resolved peacefully. This is a long-standing principle of US policy, going back more than forty years. It was enshrined in the Taiwan Relations Act and reaffirmed by every Administration since then, and certainly by the Bush Administration.
In light of the priority we place on the peaceful resolution of differences, changes in PRC behavior over the past few years have called into question Beijing’s stated commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan Strait issue. These changes are Beijing’s acquisition of more advanced military capabilities; its deployment of those capabilities in Taiwan’s vicinity; and a negative shift in its statements about the circumstances under which it would use force.
Consequently, in order to guard against miscalculation by the PRC leadership and PRC military, it has become necessary to re-emphasize the concern that the United States feels about Taiwan’s security and remind Beijing that the United States clearly has the capacity to come to the assistance of Taiwan should it be threatened by the mainland and will help Taiwan defend itself.
In addition, and pursuant to the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States will continue to provide arms to Taiwan based on its needs in light of the current situation. For example, the Administration in April made some decisions on the weapons systems that Taiwan would need to ensure a sufficient ability to defend itself. We reject the idea that our arms sales make a peaceful resolution more difficult. Indeed, the Administration believes that our arms sales give Taiwan a greater sense of security and the confidence to enter into a dialogue with Beijing, something that President Chen has said publicly.
A second element of the Bush Administration’s policy is that the United States will continue to follow a one-China policy, as defined by the three US-PRC communiqu?s and the Taiwan Relations Act. We will conduct our relations with Taiwan on an unofficial basis, but within that parameter we have a rich substantive relationship, seeking cooperation on a wide array of issues on which we have common and parallel interests. Examples of this are our work together on the response to 9/11, Taiwan’s WTO accession, and the mutual legal assistance agreement that the Legislative Yuan recently approved. Our communication is excellent, but we also look for ways to improve it.
The third element is the important and inescapable fact that Taiwan is a democracy. The December 1st elections demonstrated once again that strength and vitality of Taiwan’s free, open, and competitive political system. Given America’s values, that is significant for its own sake. It also means that the United States will treat Taiwan and its leaders with the respect and dignity that is worthy of a fellow democracy. This was most evident in the transits through the United States by President Chen in May 2001, Premier Chang in September, and Vice President Lu this month. The Administration was pleased to accord your high officials this respectful and dignified treatment. It was my honor to assist in making these transits successful.
Democracy is important in another way. The Bush Administration believes that any agreement regarding the Taiwan Strait issue, in addition to being reached peacefully, has to be acceptable to the people on Taiwan. This should be self-evident. Indeed, it is inevitable that Taiwan’s people, through their democratic institutions, will have a say in any cross-Strait arrangements. This is a point that I shall return to in a minute.
On cross-Strait relations, and this is my fourth point, the Bush Administration believes that how the Taiwan Strait issue is resolved is up to the two parties concerned. That is, our one-China policy in no way dictates for Taipei or Beijing how substantively cross-Strait differences should be resolved. Similarly, the United States favors and encourages dialogue, but has no intention of serving as a mediator in this dispute, or of pressuring Taiwan to negotiate.
We face a mixed situation between the two sides of the Strait. Tensions are down from eighteen months ago. Economic interaction has intensified, which creates the possibility that shared interests will reduce the possibility of conflict. Joint accession to the WTO will only intensify that interaction. And positive economic interchange can have a good impact on other dimensions as well.
On the other hand, there has been no progress toward addressing key cross-Strait political issues. Dialogue has been suspended for over two years. The absence of dialogue could still lead to some kind of conflict as the result of accident or miscalculation. A resumed dialogue could reduce misunderstanding and misperception, resolve practical problems, and create positive momentum towards an enduring peace. This is the lesson of 1992-93 and 1998.
Now the reasons that dialogue is still suspended are complex, and I don’t want to bore you with a discussion of them. Speaking for myself only, it does not seem constructive for one side to set pre-conditions for a resumption of dialogue that the other side even suspects would be tantamount to conceding a fundamental issue before discussion begins. For Side A, in effect, to ask Side B to concede a major point would only raise Side B’s doubts about Side A’s good intentions. Also, it does not seem helpful (or logical) for one side to say that “anything can be discussed” once certain conditions are met but rule out in advance discussion of approaches other than its preferred approach.
Fifth, the United States believes that Taiwan can contribute to international organizations and should benefit from international organizations. Obviously, this is a sensitive issue, since the PRC already occupies China’s seat in most organizations and opposes Taiwan’s participation wherever possible. And because these are multilateral institutions and often operate by consensus, there are limits to what any one country, even the United States, can do. But we do support Taiwan’s participation in the work of international organizations like the World Health Organization. In no way is this position inconsistent with our one China policy. We believe the international community loses if Taiwan is excluded.
Moreover, the Administration strongly supports Taiwan's membership in organizations like the World Trade Organization, and we worked hard to help bring about Taiwan’s accession. This was a victory for the United States, but it was also a victory – and challenge – for Taiwan. WTO membership will open an important new stage in its economy’s integration with the global economy. And given Taiwan’s understandable desire to play a greater role in the international community, WTO accession is also an important foreign policy achievement. The WTO is the world’s most important economic organization, which will shape the global economy of the 21st century. Taiwan will be there, a full member, offering its creative ideas along with other members. In addition, I know that Taiwan hopes that its accession to the WTO along with the PRC’s accession will foster greater economic cooperation between the two economies and also can create a venue and a bridge for improving cross-Strait relations.
I am pleased that the United States played a critical role in facilitating Taiwan’s entry into the WTO. We played this role because of our deep and abiding friendship for Taiwan, but, more importantly, because we believed it was in our national interest that Taiwan be a full member of the Organization and that it undertake the market-opening measures that WTO membership entails. We also believe that it was in Taiwan’s interest to subject itself to the market discipline that open markets impose.
The year 2001 was a difficult year for all of us, for reasons that it is painful to recall. But I am confident that 2002 will be a good year. The world will certainly make significant progress in the fight against terrorism, because of the strength and resolve of many good global citizens – like Taiwan. Taiwan’s economy will likely pick up as the changes recommended by the EDAC (Economic Development Advisory Conference) are implemented, as financial reforms occur, as new political arrangements are consolidated, and as growth of the American economy accelerates. On balance, expanded economic integration between the two sides of the Strait will have a positive impact on Taiwan and enhance the interests that the island and the mainland share in prosperity and peace. My optimism is strengthened by what happened at the EDAC – setting aside partisan difference for the sake of the common good. Most of all I remain confident about Taiwan because the US-Taiwan relationship is sound. It is based on shared values, common interests, and good communication. The United States can rely on Taiwan when we must face strategic challenges like 9/11 but will not sacrifice Taiwan’s interests to get the help of others. US policy creates an environment in which Taiwan people can address with confidence the internal and external challenges before them, and be ready to seize the opportunity to forge an enduring peace should that opportunity arise. I have read news reports that some in Taiwan are worried that Taiwan is getting too close to the United States. I don’t agree with that opinion although I understand why people might make that judgment. But I also believe that Taiwan could do a lot worse in its choice of partners. The state of US-Taiwan relations is good, and it will continue to get better.