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An Awkward Stretch Across the Taiwan Strait

Jun 03, 2016
  • Zhao Weibin

    Researcher, PLA Academy of Military Science

On May 16, the U.S. House of Representatives passed HCR 88, reaffirming the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances as cornerstones of United States-Taiwan relations, which seriously breached the One-China policy and the principles of the three joint communiqués between China and the US, and rudely interfered in China’s domestic affairs. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson expressed strong opposition to the resolution, and urged the U.S. side to immediately revoke it and take effective measures to eliminate the adverse impact.

HCR 88 was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Steve Chabot from Ohio in October 2015. After being referred to relevant committees, the resolution was approved by the House without objection on May 16, and received in the Senate on May 17. HCR 88 reviews the historical development of U.S.-Taiwan relations, emphasizes U.S. contribution to Taiwan’s prosperity, praises Taiwan’s role as a “beacon of democracy”, traces back the origins of the Taiwan Relations Act, describes its significance, highlights the Chinese mainland’s military threat to Taiwan, and finally focuses on the so-called “Six Assurances”.

According to the resolution, the “Six Assurances” were some oral promises made by President Ronald Reagan to Chiang Ching-kuo before the issuance of the “August 17 Joint Communiqué” with the PRC in 1982. They included statements that the U.S. did not agree to set a certain date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; saw no mediation role for the U.S. between Taiwan and the PRC; would not attempt to exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC; did not change its the longstanding position on the issue of sovereignty over Taiwan; had no plans to seek revisions to the Taiwan Relations Act; and the “August 17 Communiqué” should not be read to imply that the U.S. had agreed to engage in prior consultations with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan. Then the resolution cites some quotations by Assistant Secretaries of State Kurt Campbell and Daniel R. Russel to illustrate the importance of the “Six Assurances”.

Based on previous statements, HCR 88 points out that the U.S. Congress has affirmed that the Taiwan Relations Act and the “Six Assurances” are both cornerstones of United States relations with Taiwan, and then “urges the President and Department of State to affirm the Six Assurances publicly, proactively, and consistently as a cornerstone of United States-Taiwan relations”.

It is easy to find that the contents of “August 17 Communiqué” and “Six Assurances” contradict with each other. No different from the two-faced game played over 30 years ago, just two days before the U.S. Congress passed HCR 88, the U.S. Department of Defense released the annual China military power report, reiterating that the U.S. maintains the One-China Policy, opposes any unilateral change to the status quo, and does not support Taiwan independence. Again, HCR 88 contradicts the 2016 China military power report.

What is different from 30 years ago is that covert deals have turned into open provocations, and the rules of the game between China and the U.S. have gone from darkness into daylight.

In recent years, cross-Strait relations have sustained a sound momentum of peaceful development, and Taiwan becomes a leisurely used chess piece in U.S. strategy of rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region. At the sensitive time of regime change in Taiwan, the U.S. Congress for the first time brought up the “Six Assurances” in print and emphasized its importance. Its aim is to back up the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and activate the dormant piece.

Since the Annenberg meeting between President Xi Jinping and President Obama in June 2013, China and the U.S. have forged ahead steadily to achieve a new type of major-country relationship, especially the new type of military-to-military relationship. High-level visits occur more frequently, institutional dialogues expand, bilateral military training and exercises increase, and confidence-building measures make progress. However, it is regrettable that some anti-China forces cannot bear the harmony, and always play up some dissonance. Another example is that upon the staging of the RIMPAC 2016 exercise, some Congressman required the Pentagon withdraw the invitation to the Chinese navy. As some American scholars have suggested, in the process of growing up, China should get used to such kind of jarring sounds, since it is one of the costs a big power has to pay.

Similarly, every year the U.S. Congress passes numerous resolutions, which reflect the viewpoints of different interest groups. We might get used to them as well. Since HCR 88 is a concurrent resolution, even if the Senate passes it later, it only represents the attitude and standpoint of the Congress, and will have no legal effect. We do hope the U.S. government would take the correct path and play the role of a stabilizer instead of a trouble-maker.

The more the U.S. emphasizes “rebalance”, the more it shows that the most awkward balance is between White House and Congress, between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, and between U.S. allies and China.

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