In the following viewpoint, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, editors of the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard, argue that the United States should pledge to defend Taiwan in the event the People’s Republic of China (PRC) attempts to invade or otherwise threaten Taiwan. Current U.S. policy on Taiwan is ambiguous, according to the authors: U.S. leaders have repeatedly implied that they would use force to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression, but they have also discouraged Taiwan from openly declaring independence from mainland China. Kristol and Kagan believe this ambiguity could lead to war if Chinese leaders are not convinced of America’s commitment to Taiwan. Writing a few months prior to the 2000 presidential primaries, Kristol and Kagan call on the Republican presidential candidates to make a clear promise to defend Taiwan.
As you read, consider the following questions:
1. In the authors’ opinion, what “simple reality” should be the basis for American policy toward Taiwan?
2. What are the proposed provisions of the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, according to Kristol and Kagan?
Taiwan’s President Li Teng-hui sent the American foreign policy establishment into a nervous frenzy [in July 1999] when he declared that Taiwan would henceforth negotiate with China as one state to another. China experts are working overtime on their op-eds chastising Taiwan for its provocative action. And the Clinton administration has already made known its displeasure with Li’s statements, denouncing them as unhelpful and reiterating the administration’s own agreement with Beijing’s one-China policy. Meanwhile, Beijing went nuclear, literally. In a document charmingly entitled “Facts Speak Louder Than Words and Lies Will Collapse on Themselves,” Beijing informed the world of what the Cox committee and other investigations had already revealed: that it has a neutron bomb, just perfect for dropping on a nearby island that China would like to occupy. This threat will no doubt cause even more anxiety among American China hands, who will blame President Li for increasing the danger of another crisis in the Taiwan Straits.
Everyone should calm down. By carefully stripping away the absurd fictions of the “one-China” policy, President Li is actually doing all concerned a big favor. After all, it is true that “facts speak louder than words.” The fact is that Taiwan is and has been a sovereign state for decades, with its own government, its own army, its own flag, its own flourishing economy, and full possession of its territory. Since the early 1990s, moreover, Taiwan has been a democracy, and nothing could be clearer than that the Taiwanese people want to remain separate from mainland China as long as that territory is ruled by a dictatorship. Until there can be one democratic China, they insist, there must be two Chinas.
Beyond the Shanghai Communique
These facts are, of course, inconvenient for the Clinton administration, which has adhered slavishly to the fiction of “one China” embodied in over a quarter-century’s worth of Sino-American agreements. Beginning with the Shanghai Communique of 1972, the United States declared its understanding that both sides of the China-Taiwan dispute agreed that there was but one China. At the time of the Shanghai Communique, this was true in an odd sort of way. Both the Communist government of Beijing and the authoritarian government of Chiang Kaishek’s Kuomintang agreed that there was one China, and they both insisted it was theirs. The United States used this cute “one-China” formulation as a way of avoiding the issue. Anyway, the Cold War was on, and U.S. officials believed they needed China’s help in containing the Soviet Union. If the price was a certain ambiguity and even some deception on the subject of Taiwan, so be it.
Twenty-seven years later, however, the world is a very different place. The people of Taiwan, now able to express their will electorally, have declared that they do not want to rule the mainland, and they do not want the mainland to rule them. There are two Chinas, not one. This puts an end to the smoke-and-mirrors game of the Shanghai Communique. The Clinton administration’s spokesmen can say “one China” till they’re blue in the face, but, to quote the Chinese government again, “lies will collapse on themselves.” And then, of course, there is that other small difference between now and 1972: The Cold War is over. The Soviet Union is gone, and the biggest challenge to American interests in the world today comes from Beijing, not Moscow. With that rather large shift in global strategic realities, the need for ambiguity on Taiwan has disappeared.
The Dangers of Ambiguity
Indeed, ambiguity under the...