Taiwan’s Message to President Obama

January 13, 2010

In the wake of President Barak Obama’s China trip this past November and the U.S.-China joint statement that resulted, many in Taiwan are apprehensive about Taiwan-U.S. ties and Taiwan’s security, and for good reason.

January 13, 2010

In the wake of President Barak Obama’s China trip this past November and the U.S.-China joint statement that resulted, many in Taiwan are apprehensive about Taiwan-U.S. ties and Taiwan’s security, and for good reason.

True, the Obama Administration has stated that U.S. policy on Taiwan remains unchanged. A week after President Obama’s November 16 meeting with China’s President Hu Jintao, the chairman of the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT), Raymond Burghardt, was dispatched to meet with Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou. Burghardt also met with Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng and the opposition Democratic Progressive Party Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen, among others, to reassure Taiwan. Press reports, however, indicated that only President Ma took the American’s typical diplomatic double-speak seriously.

When President George W. Bush, President Obama’s predecessor, visited China the first time in February 2002, there were no surprises from his talks with Chinese leaders, nor was there a joint statement. Prior to his arrival at Beijing, President Bush told Asia in his speech before Japan’s legislature that, “America will remember our commitment to the people on Taiwan.”

President Bush pledged, “to do whatever it takes to help Taiwan defend itself,” and held up Taiwan’s remarkable democratization as a model for emulation by China and other Asian nations. He also announced a $6.5 billion package of arms sales to Taiwan in October 2008, three months before he left office.

In stark contrast, President Obama’s speech on Asia delivered November 14, 2009 in Tokyo emphasized that the United States would not seek to contain China, but did not mention Taiwan at all.

People in Taiwan are unsure if President Obama cares about the growing military imbalance in the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan’s security. They noticed that during his meetings with Chinese leaders, President Obama avoided the issue of China’s military threat, nor has his administration announced any arms sales decision to Taiwan in the past 10 months.

For decades, Beijing has tried, in vain until now, to get Washington to accept China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. In July 1982, the AIT Director James Lilly delivered “Six Reassurances” on behalf of President Ronald Reagan, which stated that “the U.S. had not altered its position regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty,” meaning that the U.S. does not recognize China’s claim of sovereignty over Taiwan. But President Obama easily gave away what Beijing sought for so long, as the Obama-Hu joint statement makes clear: “China emphasizes that the Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity…[U.S. and China] reiterate that the fundamental principle of respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is at the core of the three U.S.-China joint communiqués which guide U.S.-China relations.”

It is morally and politically wrong for the U.S. to oppose the right of Taiwan, a democratic and open society of 23 million people, to determine its own future. All along, Beijing has been scheming to isolate Taiwan in the international community, cage Taiwan in the framework of “One China,” pave the way for Taiwan’s eventual unification with China, and most important of all, seek Washington’s support for its maneuvers.

Now, President Hu has outwitted and led President Obama to “welcoming peaceful development in cross-strait relations, and encouraging both sides to strengthen dialogue and interactions in economic, political and other fields.” In so doing, President Obama has tacitly endorsed Beijing’s grand strategy on Taiwan’s unification with China.

There is no reason for Washington to believe that Taiwan’s unification with Communist China is desirable or inevitable. The three U.S.-China communiqués and other joint statements do not commit Washington to Taiwan’s unification – and democratic changes in Taiwan have precluded it.

America’s relationship with democratic Taiwan is valuable in its own right and should not be subordinated to or become merely function of the U.S.-China relations. To remove any doubts and reassure Taiwan, President Obama should reiterate the commitment of his administration to the Taiwan Relations Act and the “Six Reassurances,” which were supported by his four predecessors. Moreover, to honor the U.S. pledge on security support to Taiwan, the Obama Administration should soon make available to Taiwan F-16 C/D jet fighters and other weapons needed for self-defense.

Taipei-based, Dr. Parris Chang is the CEO of the Taiwan Institute for Political Economic and Strategic Studies and Professor Emeritus of Political Science of Pennsylvania State University. His former positions include Representative of Taiwan’s Trade Mission to Bahrain, Deputy Secretary-General of Taiwan’s National Security Council and Chairman of the National Defense Committee and of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Legislative Yuan (Taiwan’s parliament). His publications include Power and Policy in China, If China cross the Taiwan Strait (coauthor and coeditor), and scores of articles in academic and popular journals in the U.S., U.K., Japan, Hong Kong and other countries.