John R. Bolton
Should the U.S. grant diplomatic recognition to Taiwan?
Yes: Dual recognition of two Chinas is good for national security
and for stability in the Western Pacific.
recognition" may sound like a question that only the
striped-pants set could love but, in fact, it embodies critical
political realities. Nowhere else is the issue posed more
dramatically for the United States than by the Republic of
China, or ROC, on Taiwan, derecognized by President Carter
when he established relations with the mainland People's Republic
of China, or PRC, in 1979. This U.S. concession to Beijing
was a mistake at the time, and we can and should correct it.
1979, the United States and the ROC on Taiwan have not had
formal diplomatic ties. Instead, our extensive trade and economic
relationships have been handled through "private"
channels, on the U.S. side by the American Institute on Taiwan,
or AIT. In Washington, the Taiwanese Economic and Cultural
Relations Office, or TECRO, functions in virtually every significant
way exactly as do embassies from countries recognized by the
U.S. government. Taiwan is the United States' seventh-largest
international trading partner and is a critical supplier of
semiconductors and other vital components necessary for the
continued progress of the telecommunications and information-technology
revolutions, so the issues AIT and TECRO handle are enormously
decision to downgrade relations with Taipei had its antecedents
in President Nixon's initial overtures to the PRC. Nixon believed
that "playing the China card" would gain for the
United States an unusual and highly unexpected ally in the
global struggle against the Soviet Union and its satellites.
By outflanking the Soviets geographically, Nixon forced them
to realign their defensive configurations along the Sino-Soviet
border, placing substantial strains on their military capabilities.
Moreover, the United States obtained prime locations near
that border for eavesdropping on internal Soviet communications
and weapons testing. The PRC obviously also benefited significantly
by using the visible U.S. connection to enhance its international
first "payment" from the United States came, in
effect, at the United Nations in 1971. The PRC had wanted
to assume "China's" U.N. seat since 1949, when the
Chinese Red Army captured the mainland from Nationalist Chinese
forces led by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and drove his
remaining supporters to the island of Formosa (returned to
Chinese control in 1945 after 50 years of rule by Japan).
Not only would U.N. membership represent an important measure
of international legitimacy for the PRC, it also would make
it one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security
Council, with the power to veto any resolution that conceivably
could threaten the PRC's interests. The United States had
opposed the PRC's membership campaign vigorously, arguing
that the ROC, even though its effective authority was limited
to Taiwan and some nearby islands, still was the constitutional
government of all of China and that its stay on Taiwan was
the years passed, this argument became harder and harder to
sustain, and even close allies of the United States began
to shift their formal diplomatic relations to the PRC, and
away from the ROC. When word of Henry Kissinger's secret trips
to Beijing became public in 1971, it was apparent that "Red
China" inevitably would succeed in its 22-year campaign
to replace "Nationalist China" in the United Nations.
Nonetheless, then-ambassador George Bush, representing the
United States, proposed a compromise: Both Chinas would have
U.N. General Assembly seats, but the PRC would assume China's
place as a Security Council permanent member. This "dual
representation" approach was seen at the time as the
only way to forestall the adoption of a Communist-bloc resolution
that simply would substitute the PRC for the ROC. Unfortunately,
in light of subsequent events, the ROC rejected the compromise
and withdrew from the United Nations moments before the General
Assembly handed its seat to the PRC. (In fact, this vote was
a plain violation of the U.N. Charter since it effectively
expelled a U.N. member in good standing without a vote of
the Security Council.)
Bush's 1971 compromise concerned U.N. membership rather than
diplomatic recognition, the basic concept remains valid and
warrants extending full relations to Taipei as well as to
Beijing. Concern about recognizing the ROC stems almost entirely
from PRC insistence that it will break diplomatic relations
with any country that does so. While Taipei itself once adhered
to this policy, it now fully accepts dual recognition both
as unobjectionable and inevitable. Confronted with PRC intransigence,
most foreign governments follow a pragmatic approach, seeking
full political relations with the much larger PRC, while carrying
on only commercial and cultural relations with Taiwan. A small
number of states (29 at last count) maintain diplomatic relations
with Taipei, but they are under constant pressure from Beijing
to acknowledge the error of their ways and recant. With other
countries, Taiwan must rely on informal offices with no protected
diplomatic status. This unfair isolation weighs heavily on
Taiwan, which unlike the mainland now has a rich and vibrant
democracy with a vigorous, independent press and free, hotly
the ROC's role in world trade, especially in high-tech industries,
the size disparity between it and the PRC almost certainly
means that Beijing will sustain its lead in the ongoing diplomatic
struggle unless an outsider shuffles the deck. The only candidate
to do so - the only country willing and able to withstand
the torrent of abuse that would flow from Beijing following
dual diplomatic recognition - is the United States. Others
will follow, but only the United States can reignite the debate.
why should the United States undertake this arduous and (at
least initially) thankless task? There are several important
reasons - all of them hard-core U.S. national interests.
recognizing Taiwan simply recognizes reality - the best grounding
for any foreign policy. By any accepted definition of customary
international law and practice, the ROC is a "state":
It has an established government carrying out normal domestic
functions over a defined territory with a stable population.
It has a currency, a capital city and all the other indicia
of statehood, as well as the clear capacity to make and honor
international commitments with other states.
that Taiwan does not qualify as a "state" ignores
the unmistakable evidence. In fact, it is precisely the overwhelming
reality of Taiwan's sovereign status that most aggravates
Beijing's hard-liners and incites their apocalyptic rhetoric.
Would Beijing, responding to full U.S. diplomatic recognition
of the ROC, actually end its diplomatic relations with us?
That certainly is the import of Chinese rhetoric, and it is
a credit to Beijing's propaganda skills that so many in the
West believe it. If the PRC actually severed relations, however,
it would demonstrate indisputably that it remains a rogue
state not entitled to the normal treatment it so much desires
from the United States and the world. Indeed, unpleasant for
Beijing though it may be, the PRC needs close ties with the
United States far more than we do with them. For the PRC to
take the extreme step of cutting itself off diplomatically
from Washington would be a leap into the dark and actually
is the least likely outcome of U.S. recognition of the ROC.
fact, the PRC will not break ties with the United States.
It certainly would fulminate mightily and well could exact
some economic costs in the short term, such as by favoring
European sources for critical imports. This has been Beijing's
pattern in the past and is central to the PRC's strategy for
paralyzing the will and determination of U.S. decisionmakers.
But for the PRC, this too is ultimately bluff and - sooner
rather than later - it would acquiesce in dual recognition.
And once the United States established this principle, many
others would follow, eager for the economic benefits of greater
trade with an advanced economy such as Taiwan's.
the United States must remove the ambiguity that currently
exists about whether we will defend Taiwan in the event of
a PRC military attack, a by-no-means unrealistic prospect.
This ambiguity, worsened dramatically in the last seven years
by President Clinton's unprecedented deference to Beijing
on nearly every issue of importance, encourages the PRC to
believe that a military solution (or credible threat of one)
actually might succeed at a propitious moment. Allowing this
possibility to remain open in the minds of Beijing's top leaders,
the evident result of Clinton's ambiguous approach, thus actually
contributes to instability.
recognition of Taipei unmistakably would underscore the strength
of the United States' military commitment and thus help stabilize
relations across the Taiwan Strait and in the region. Moreover,
recognition clearly would indicate to others in East Asia
that the United States is firmly committed to resisting PRC
military or political adventurism generally, thus strengthening
the U.S. hand in the region. This is not a policy of "containment"
or "encirclement" toward Beijing, but simply a logical
way to protect important U.S. political and economic interests
recognizing Taiwan will no more subvert the "one-China"
policy than did the West's Cold War diplomatic recognition
of the two Germanies. German reunification occurred when the
Soviet Union, facing its own impending collapse, lost the
political will to use military force to keep its satellite
governments in power. Dual recognition of the two Germanies
was irrelevant to this much larger and more important political
reality, and the same will be true for cross-strait relations.
Moreover, the question of "when" and "under
what circumstances" Chinese reunification might take
place inevitably shades into the question of "whether"
it will do so. Optimism that democratic transformation on
the mainland is inevitable does not necessarily mean it will
be expeditious; the continued fears of Hong Kong democrats
are the only evidence anyone really needs to underscore the
legitimacy of Taiwanese warnings about the premature creation
of "one China."
policy should not be to prejudge the outcome for "China"
one way or the other. If both sides of the Taiwan Strait decide
to reunify, we can welcome that development; if they do not,
we can welcome that as well. But until then, the United States
should set its own foreign policy and not follow the hollow
threats or dictates of Beijing or anyone else.
is senior vice president of the American Enterprise Institute
and served as the assistant secretary of state for international
organization affairs under President Bush.
article appeared in Insight on the News on February