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The Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 21, 2000


Dreams of 'One China' Clash with Taiwan Realities


Now that the U.S. Senate has passed legislation to permanently normalize trade relations with China, we should ask whether Washington will continue to allow Beijing's bluster over Taiwan to unduly influence U.S. China policy. Last month, the administration, concerned about a Beijing temper tantrum as the Senate considered the landmark bill, put extraordinary pressure on a congressional delegation not to meet with Taiwan's President Chen Shui-bian during his overnight transit stop in Los Angeles. Now Taiwan's vice president, Annette Lu, has been denied a stop in New York.

Earlier this month, China again blocked Taiwan's bid to join the United Nations, marshaling the votes to defeat a proposal to put the issue on the General Assembly agenda. The U.S. voted no, adhering to President Clinton's public promises to oppose U.N. membership for Taiwan. Next year, the U.S. should leap into longer-term thinking about the China-Taiwan conflict, and abstain.

Clinton is the only U.S. president to publicly espouse the "three no's": No Taiwan independence, no "two-China" formulas and no Taiwan entry in international organizations requiring sovereignty for membership. His tendency to pander to Beijing's concept of Taiwan as a breakaway province characterizes an ad hoc approach that invites serious miscalculation and confrontation: Witness the biggest show of U.S. force in the Pacific since Vietnam during the 1996 Taiwan elections and the thinly veiled threat of a repeat performance in White House expressions of "grave concern" during the run-up to Chen's election this year.

Supporting Beijing in words and Taiwan in deeds carries considerable potential for U.S. involvement in a future conflict. Mainland positions ensure that China-Taiwan tensions will flare again.

Chen, keenly aware of Beijing's promises of war if he should act on his long-standing advocacy of Taiwan independence, has been conciliatory to a fault. He abandoned his party's platform and pledged that he will not declare independence as long as China doesn't use force against Taiwan. He has made many offers to discuss a "one-China" vision, but Beijing now rejects an earlier compromise that would allow each side to have its own interpretation of "one China."

Beijing has demanded, as a precondition for any talks, clear acceptance of its "one-China" principle, acknowledgment that Taiwanese are Chinese and a clear commitment to pursue reunification. No Taiwanese president would sell out the island's future political status just to get to the negotiating table.

The next U.S. president should ask whether it serves American interests to profess policies that could make the U.S. a hostage in a dangerous game of Chinese chicken.

It is a destructive fantasy to expect that Taiwan would voluntarily relinquish the right to determine how it is governed. Is the U.S. willing to risk involvement in a war if either Beijing or Taiwan miscalculates in this never-ending game of threat and bluff? Or should the U.S. start telling Beijing that the foundations of U.S.-China relations for the past 28 years rest on a lie that no longer can be sustained?

The U.S. needs careful moves to persuade China to accept two realities. First, threats will only make it harder, if not impossible, to achieve any kind of meaningful association with Taiwan, much less reunification. Second, traditional views of sovereignty will not lead to peace across the strait.

"One China" as now demanded by Beijing will go nowhere beyond continued stalemate and eventual conflict. It is becoming clear that nothing short of Beijing's eventual acknowledgment that Taiwan will govern itself as a separate sovereignty can lead Taipei to accept a so-called "one-China" solution. If Beijing wants to seriously pursue its vision, it will have to find an acceptable reality that accords Taiwan some form of international legitimacy.

Washington will need to nudge both parties to find a way to accommodate "one-China" dreams and Taiwan realities. For starters, Washington should reject Beijing's attempts to further assert its claims to Taiwan by altering the agreed-to formula for accession of both parties to the World Trade Organization. Next, the U.S. should underscore its interest in reconciliation based on compromise by moving toward support for observer status for Taiwan in international councils, particularly those that should be nonpolitical, like the World Health Organization. This would be part of a gradual process of educating Beijing that a peaceful resolution of its squabble with Taipei demands Taiwan representation in world bodies, including the United Nations.

This does not mean provoking Beijing with diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, but we do need to make it clear to Chinese leaders that should their threats impel Taiwan to declare independence, the responsibility for splitting China would be theirs alone.

Syd Goldsmith, a Retired U.s. Foreign Service Officer, Was Posted to Taiwan From 1985 to 1989


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