Washington, Tuesday, September 29,
If a day arises
when an unwilling Taiwan is snatched into
the grasp of China [the People's Republic
of China], it would be wholly accurate to
say that Taiwan was "shanghaied."
American Presidential visits to
Shanghai have never boded well for
Taiwanese aspirations of self-determination.
In his recent visit to China, President
Clinton chose the venue of a small
roundtable of academics in the Chinese
metropolis to state publicly for the
first time the "Three Noes"
which enunciate American unwillingness to
support (1) Taiwan independence, (2)'one
China, one Taiwan' and 'two Chinas', and
(3) Taiwanese entrance into international
Despite the gravity of this policy for
the Taiwanese and the ire it has drawn
among them, the significance of Clinton's
utterance can not match Nixon's 1972
Shanghai Communique in scope and effect.
This groundbreaking document is singly
responsible for having inextricably
changed US-Taiwan-China relations and for
unwittingly drawing the battlelines for
how the political war over Taiwan has
been waged ever since.
Within the Communique is an often
overlooked and seemingly innocuous
statement. The US declared that "it
reaffirms its interest in a peaceful
settlement of the Taiwan question by the
Chinese themselves." Subtle, but far-reaching,
the opinion that the "Chinese
themselves" should resolve the
conflict suggests two critical
misconceptions of this highly charged
First, the statement insinuates that
Taiwan is wholly composed of people of
Chinese identity. Although in 1972, those
heading Taiwan's authoritarian government
considered themselves Chinese and the
legitimate Chinese government, the
statement implicitly disempowers and
ignores all those living in Taiwan who
don't consider themselves Chinese. In
fact, polls currently show that only 16%
identify themselves as strictly Chinese.
Moreover, in the late 1940's, when the
Kuomintang began rule in Taiwan, roughly
only one-quarter of the 8 million people
were "Chinese" i.e. those who
themselves came from mainland China,
while the rest were natives.
That the China-Taiwan conflict
involves more than the Chinese but also
the Taiwanese people is imperative to
remember in the forum for debate of
American policy even if it still adheres
to the "One China" policy.
Second, the Communique language of "Chinese
themselves" implies the conflict is
[to use the language of the Chinese] an
Peering through these faulty lenses,
the visions of American policy makers
have been blurred from realizing that
primarily a universal, not an internal
issue is at stake in the Taiwan-China
discord. That elusive issue is human
rights which Taiwan's alliterative and
subjected counterparts: Tibet and
Tiananmen, receive much attention for,
but which in discussion of Taiwan is
Often forgotten is the Taiwanese
people's entitlement to choose their own
nation free from fear of force. This
concept is succinctly stated in Article
15 [excerpt] of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights: "No one shall be
arbitrarily deprived of his nationality."
If the Taiwanese people do not have a
say in the possible unification with
China, the Taiwanese would be suffering a
deprivation of their nationality and a
violation of their human right. Though
seemingly obvious, the belief that the 21
million Taiwanese people should
ultimately decide their own fate is not
entrenched in the current framework for
Instead, the two aforementioned
misconceptions continue to be pervasive.
A prime example lies in President
Clinton's reply to a question at Beijing
University where he said, "United
States policy is not an obstacle to the
peaceful reunification of China and
Taiwan ... we have encouraged the cross-strait
dialogue to achieve that." The
prefix "re" in reunification
suggests that Taiwan and its people were
in some way unified with China before.
Although this concept may apply for
the two million Kuomintang supporters who
came over from China by 1949, it is false
for the six million who were already
living on the island at that time and the
84% of the people today who do not
consider themselves "Chinese."
President Clinton speaks as if no
Taiwanese people live in Taiwan.
Furthermore, President Clinton's
naming of "cross-strait dialogue"
as the means to "reunification"
undermines the human right of the
Taiwanese to choose their nationality and
their leaders. Ultimately, neither Jiang
Zemin, Lee Teng-Hui, nor their respective
circles should solely decide for or
against unification, but the Taiwanese
people themselves should wield that power.
In the current forum surrounding the
China-Taiwan conflict, little is ever
said about empowering the Taiwanese
people to make the choice of nationality.
President Clinton has not been the
only American official maintaining these
misconceptions. Supporters of the
Taiwanese cause and well-meaning
Congressmen and Senators have been
equally as susceptible in believing that
the China-Taiwan conflict is purely a
Chinese disagreement and an internal, not
Only last year, a bill introduced in
the Senate read: "Taiwan reached a
historic turning point in the development
of Chinese democracy ... when it
conducted the first ... popular election
... in over 4,000 years of recorded
Chinese history." Linking the
Taiwanese election to Chinese history
assumes that the people in Taiwan are
Chinese, a premise that is at least 84%
A survey of every bill introduced in
the 105th Congress thus far shows that
not one mentions the Taiwanese people's
entitlement to decide their own
nationality as an universal or human
right. Legislation has invariably focused
on trade, security, and international
recognition, issues of utmost importance,
but has missed the underlining point: the
Taiwanese people and their human right to
choose their nationality.
Even legislation that explicitly
supports Taiwanese sovereignty often
fails to emphasize the Taiwanese
people's, not its government's, power to
decide its own fate. To this end, the US
should back its ubiquitous democracy and
human rights rhetoric and support a
resolution by national referendum. The
Taiwanese people themselves, not strictly
the Kuomintang nor the Democratic
Progressive Party leaders, ought to
choose their own leaders and country.
The Chinese should be told that the
referendum is the only way the US will
support unification and that China must
renounce the use of force. To prevent the
referendum from being an absurd choice
between authoritarianism and democracy,
the referendum may not occur until the
Chinese demonstrate significant steps in
By this method the US simultaneously
encourages democracy in China and
sustains human rights in Taiwan. It
allows a scenario for China to unify with
Taiwan while also permitting the latter
to completely disassociate itself with
the former also.
Additionally, the US finally removes
itself from the zero sum characteristic
of American relations toward China and
Taiwan and grounds American policy in
concrete, worthwhile principles:
democracy and human rights. In the
meantime, the US should support Taiwanese
bids to join international organizations.
Critics will charge that a strong
American support for a Taiwanese
referendum may lead to a potentially
catastrophic end game. However, they fail
to see that the status quo offers a
greater chance for this scenario. Low
level talks are scheduled to resume
between Taiwan and China with no likely
or viable scenario for Taiwan to unify
with China in sight. At current pace,
China's drive toward unification will
only reach frustration.
At least, the referendum offers a
peaceful script where Taiwan may unify
with China, but of more importance the
power of decision is rightfully placed
within the hands of the Taiwanese.
Furthermore, while American policy can
stand firm in support of human rights for
the people of Tibet and Tiananmen, it
never does so for their sister "T".
Human rights should be extended to all.
Don't forget the Taiwanese people.