Vol. 1 Issue 6
Global Taiwan Brief – Volume 1, Issue 6
The Taiwan Policy Review at 22
By: Russell Hsiao
Options for Reviewing Taiwan Policy
By: Shirley Kan
Updating United States’ Taiwan Policy for 2016
By: Walter Lohman
The Taiwan Policy Review at 22
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and Chief Editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
On September 28, the Global Taiwan Institute held a public seminar commemorating the 22nd anniversary of the Clinton administration’s Taiwan Policy Review. The first and only Review was conducted 15 years after Washington de-recognized the Republic of China (ROC) and the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), and 12 years after President Ronald Reagan delivered the Six Assurances.
In this special issue of the Global Taiwan Brief, we invited several American experts on the United States’ Taiwan policy to share their views on whether the US government ought to conduct another Review. These articles are best considered as a supplement to GTI’s seminar on the TPR that covered the policy context for the 1994 Review. One of the articles solicited for this series will be released in a forthcoming issue.
The TPR laid out—among other proposals—nine policy changes to how the United States would conduct its relations with Taiwan (as published by the Formosan Association for Public Affairs). They include:
- Permit Taiwan’s top leadership to transit US territory for their travel convenience, for periods of time normal for transits, but without undertaking any public activities. We will consider each case individually.
- We are prepared to initiate, under AIT auspices, a sub-Cabinet economic dialogue (at the under-Secretary level) and TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) talks with Taiwan. We will be in touch with you with specific proposals in this regard.
- When we believe it is clearly appropriate, we will more actively support Taiwan’s membership in international organizations accepting non-states as members, and look for ways to have Taiwan’s voice heard in organizations of states where Taiwan’s membership is not possible.
- We will permit high level US Government officials, from economic and technical agencies to visit Taiwan, as well as more senior economic and technical officers from the Department of State. As we do this, we will make judgments as to what level of visitor best serve our interests.
- We will permit US government officials to travel to Taiwan to meet with your officials at whatever level.
- We will permit all AIT employees, including the Director and Deputy Director, access to your Foreign Affairs Ministry, if so desired.
- In the US we will permit US Cabinet-level officials from economic and technical departments to meet with Taiwan representatives and visitors in official settings. These meetings will be arranged through AIT.
- We will permit State Department Officials at the Under Secretary level and below, who handle economic and technical issues to meet Taiwan representatives but in unofficial settings.
While the Review noted several policies that were not affected by the review, it was meant as a prescriptive list, detailing what the executive branch proposed to do in order to enhance the conduct of relations between the United States and Taiwan. More importantly, the TPR was not a prohibitive list of what the executive branch cannot or will not do.
Yet, as it currently stands, how the US government conducts its unofficial relations with Taiwan runs in a labyrinth of self-imposed restrictions. It is, as the late US Ambassador Harvey Feldman aptly described in his 1999 Senate Foreign Relations testimony, an exercise in “having to operate a foreign policy which denies that Taiwan is a nation and its government is a government while both American law and manifest reality make clear that it indeed is both.”
In 2014, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Randy Schriver stated, in reference to limitations on contacts between US and Taiwan officials, that “[more] contacts are, in part, a recognition of what Taiwan deserves—the dignity aspects—but there’s also some real practical reasons to improve contact … [i]ncrementally changing that before we arrive at another crisis point would be to our advantage.”
The findings of the Senate version of the Taiwan Travel Act, which was sponsored by Senators Marco Rubio, James Inhofe, and Cory Gardener and introduced on September 27, 2016, make clear: “Since the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act, relations between the United States and Taiwan have suffered from a lack of communication due to the self-imposed restrictions that the United States maintains on high-level visits with Taiwan” [emphasis added].
Indeed, after 22 years, whether the US government should conduct another Review is ultimately for the American people to decide—and must be based on national interests. But this decision about whether to conduct a review, whether with a capital or lowercase “r,” should also take into consideration American values, the self-imposed nature of the restrictions that govern engagement with Taiwan, and ultimately the importance of soft-balancing for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
The main point: Whether the United States should conduct another review, capital “r” or otherwise, is ultimately for the American people to decide—and should be decided based on its interests, values, the self-imposed nature of restrictions on engagement with Taiwan, and the need for more soft-balancing in the Taiwan Strait.
 Russell Hsiao, “US-Taiwan Relations: Hobson’s Choice and the False Dilemma,” in Strategic Asia 2014–15: US Alliances and Partnerships at the Center of Global Power, ed. Ashley Tellis et al. (Seattle: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2014), 257-287.
Options for Reviewing Taiwan Policy
Shirley Kan is a retired Specialist in Asian Security Affairs who worked for Congress at the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and is a member of GTI’s Advisory Board. The following analysis is her personal view.
The Taiwan Policy Review (TPR) was unique, broad, and important for enhancing engagement with Taiwan. Yet, the review was not radical or perhaps even necessary. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord testified on the review at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 27, 1994. On its 20th anniversary, the Arlington-based think tank Project 2049 Institute held an event on the TPR on September 25, 2014 on Capitol Hill. There, Lord lamented that the TPR took an extended time of one year (due to inertia at the White House), which elevated expectations and prompted protests from both Beijing and Taipei.
Modest results of the TPR included a new name for Taiwan’s office in Washington, DC (Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office [TECRO]), guidelines for meetings and travel, a sub-cabinet level economic dialogue, support for Taiwan’s membership in international organizations where statehood is not a prerequisite, and opportunities for Taiwan’s voice to be heard in organizations where its membership is not possible. Though the review approved of Cabinet-rank visits, the US Trade Representative (USTR) had already visited Taiwan (in 1992), as the first US Cabinet official to do so after 1979, and a Taiwan Cabinet official attended the first APEC summit (in Seattle in 1993).
Nonetheless, an implicit yet important element of the TPR was demonstrating American leadership in showing more constructive communication with both Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to advance international interests of prosperity, security, and democratic values.
If the United States were to conduct a second TPR, particular principles are paramount. Policy should abide by the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), P.L. 96-8, of 1979 and consider the Six Assurances of 1982 and US-PRC Joint Communiques. The TRA governs specific policy on Taiwan and authorizes the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) as the focal point for contacts. Adjustments should proactively promote American interests and the rules-based, inclusive, international order. Another review should entail Congressional roles, coordination with Asian and European allies, and more substance than symbolism.
There are cautionary considerations. Some commentators advocate altering the US “one China” policy, but a shift to any side would be difficult. Also, Taipei could pocket gains and be unwilling or unable to follow through after Washington makes changes and Beijing fumes. Moreover, Beijing could influence opinions, desiring a review that results in “abandonment” of Taiwan. In late September, outgoing AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt said he did not think that suggestion “even qualifies as a minority view,” because only a few “obscure academics” hold that opinion. Nonetheless, in a report published at the University of Virginia in 2011, a group of retired senior US officials urged a fresh look at Taiwan. Retired Admiral Joseph Prueher, former commander of the Pacific Command (PACOM), and former ambassador to Beijing, led the group in blaming US arms sales for a vicious circle in tension between the United States and China.
Officials in the legislative and executive branches can draw lessons from the aftermath of the TPR. It has been feasible to implement important incremental improvements for a practical partnership with Taiwan. Policy has changed without unnecessary disruption to cooperation with the PRC. US policy has maintained ambiguity and the focus on the process (not outcome) of a resolution on Taiwan.
Important Incremental Improvements
It is significant to acknowledge that successive administrations have removed unnecessary obstacles to engagement with Taiwan. Improvements included the following:
- Taiwan’s military officers (including generals and admirals), diplomats, and national security officials may visit the United States; and on occasion, US civilian officials in national security roles have visited Taiwan.
- The two sides have held senior-level meetings in the United States on security, defense, and diplomacy.
- Arms sales are no longer subject to contrived calculations of decreasing values in annual “buckets.”
- Close to PACOM, the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS) has included Taiwan’s officials.
- Starting in 2002, the United States has allowed Taiwan’s defense minister to visit (not just transit).
- At the Bush Administration’s request in 2002, Congress passed legislation that authorized US government departments and agencies to assign personnel to AIT without their temporary resignations or retirements; officials have included diplomats and active-duty military personnel.
- The United States has welcomed Taiwan’s president to transit with visit-like stays and public events.
- The United States permitted Taiwan’s military aircraft to use US bases on the way to deliver aid to Haiti.
- The United States military has invited Taiwan to MAKANI PAHILI disaster-response exercises in Hawaii.
- In the strategic rebalance to Asia, the US has called Taiwan an “important security and economic partner.”
- On occasion, at congressional hearings, officials have reaffirmed the Six Assurances to Taiwan.
- The United States approved Taiwan joining the Visa Waiver Program.
- The United States has permitted TECRO to hold its public “Double Ten” reception (for National Day on October 10) at Twin Oaks in Washington, DC (former residence of the Republic of China’s ambassadors).
However, after some changes, Taipei and Washington have not always upheld enhanced engagement. After approval was given for Taiwan’s defense minister to visit the US, Taiwan has sent a defense minister only two times (in 2002 and 2008) and has declined to send a defense minister in other years to the annual defense industry conferences, while the US side has lowered the seniority of its officials who attend. The United States and Taiwan did not hold talks under the 1994 Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) for six years, resuming the TIFA Talks only in 2013 during a Deputy USTR’s visit to Taipei. After 2000, no Cabinet-rank official visited Taiwan for 14 years until the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency visited in 2014.
Options to Expand Engagement
In October 2014, the State Department replied to a letter on the 20th anniversary of the TPR from Members of Congress led by Chairman Ed Royce of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The department acknowledged that it continually reviews and improves interactions with Taiwan, without specifying how to expand engagement. Still, the Obama Administration is leaving a legacy of recognizing Taiwan’s global contributions and cooperating more closely with Taiwan in its own right and “not simply some sort of footnote to our relations with mainland China,” as Burghardt said in September.
This foundation makes it feasible to move forward. Options include the following:
- US officials could respect the reality of engagement with Taiwan’s officials and stop demeaning meetings as “unofficial.” The State Department incorrectly claims that the TRA is the legal framework for “unofficial” ties with Taiwan. Congress did not characterize the relationship as unofficial.
- Taiwan’s officials may visit the Pentagon and other military offices, but not the State Department or White House. The restriction for the State Department has been relaxed and could be removed.
- Taiwan’s defense and foreign ministers could visit the United States without a ban from Washington, D.C.
- US officials could reiterate (on top of reaffirming) the Six Assurances.
- The Presidents could meet in a third country, especially after Ma Ying-jeou and Xi Jinping’s meeting.
- Officials in the executive branch (in addition to AIT officials and Members of Congress) could meet with Taiwan’s president during transits (not only communicate via phone calls).
- The United States could allow visits by Taiwan’s president, vice president, premier, and vice premier.
- Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense and State or higher could be permitted to visit Taiwan.
- US flag and general officers could be permitted generally to visit Taiwan.
- US military personnel could wear uniforms on US territory without question (with Taiwan officials).
- To reflect Taiwan’s importance as our 9th largest trading partner, the USTR could lead the TIFA Talks, after the latest TIFA Talks between a Deputy USTR and Taiwan’s vice minister of economic affairs in Washington, DC, on October 4. The two sides could start a Security and Economic Dialogue.
- A Special Envoy for Taiwan could facilitate cross-Strait dialogue (without mediation or pressure).
- Navy ships could call at each other’s ports, including for emergencies, repairs, or replenishment.
- The US could increase military-to-military engagement, perhaps by engaging in more training, bilateral exercises, and allowing Taiwan to observe or participate in the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. As a Defense Department official stated at the US-Taiwan defense industry conference on October 3, “our common goal is to have a credible and visible deterrent to potential coercion and aggression against Taiwan.”
Another review could consider these options, but the priority should be to repair the arms sales process to one that adheres to the TRA and Arms Export Control Act. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama periodically have frozen major arms sales by holding up pending notifications to Congress. One option is to resurrect the annual arms sales talks that last took place in 2001, when Bush announced the end to those 20-year-old talks with Taiwan’s military in favor of regular, routine decision-making on its requests. Another option is for the White House to rectify this presidential policy. Other options include binding legislation to stipulate that the defense secretary “shall” report to Congress in advance of arms sales talks (if restored) or one of the national security, defense, or security cooperation talks; to require periodic, detailed briefings on the plan for military events and discussions of defense articles and services; and to devise a mechanism for Congressional input on security assistance.
Main point: The United States has many options to improve the robust relationship with Taiwan, but the priority should be to implement a more certain, credible arms sales process.
Updating United States’ Taiwan Policy for 2016
Walter Lohman is Director of The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a hearing on September 27, 1994 on the findings of the Clinton Administration’s Taiwan Policy Review. The Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Winston Lord testified on behalf of the executive branch and defined its results as “strik(ing) the right balance between Taipei and Beijing, laying the basis for further expanding relations with both while ensuring continued peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.” Today, 22 years removed from Secretary Lord’s remarks, both Taiwan and US-China relations have undergone remarkable change – change that must be better reflected in US policy towards Taiwan.
Taiwan is now a democratic republic. In 2000, 2008, and 2016, it experienced transfers of power between its two major parties. There has also been a shift in its identity. The number of people who identify as “Taiwanese” has tripled, while the number of those identifying as “Chinese” has collapsed. With regard to what this means for the future of cross-Strait relations, more than half of Taiwanese prefer the status quo, either indefinitely or to be decided at a later date. When grouped according to the choice between autonomy and unification with China, the numbers preferring autonomy today dwarf the numbers preferring unification 8 to 1. In 1994, the ratio was 3 to 1.
Another thing that has changed is the cross-Strait economic relationship. To say that trade between Taiwan and China has “boomed” since 1994 is an understatement. Today, 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports go to China. Taiwan’s investments there have also expanded exponentially.
There is nothing necessarily wrong with the economic ties between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Companies from all over the world are trying to make money in China. Why shouldn’t Taiwanese companies? The problem is that political constraints on Taiwan’s interaction with the rest of the world prevents its economic relationship with China from finding its natural, market-determined place in Taiwan’s economic life. Taiwan has an Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China. But although free trade agreements have blossomed all across the region, Taiwan is unable to negotiate its own agreements in the region without the blessing of Beijing. And although, the United States, and to some extent, Japan, are exceptions to this rule, if and when the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) is fully agreed upon, Taiwan will face a similar problem being admitted.
This points to a major constraint on Washington’s Taiwan policy, which is not created in a diplomatic vacuum. The United States requires an active, serviceable relationship with China. Yet, the maintenance of that relationship is a factor, whether justly or not, in the development of America’s relationship with Taiwan.
Except for its founding documents, the US-China relationship has changed beyond recognition since 1994. The two are one another’s largest trading partners. They are involved in dozens of bilateral official dialogues, including the Strategic & Economic Dialogue, the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, and the Defense Consultative Talks. They are engaged in addressing global issues, such as climate change and nuclear non-proliferation, and threats such as North Korea and Iran. A few years ago, a cottage industry emerged, devoted to speculation about the development of a “G-2,” stipulating spheres of influence and responsibilities in the Pacific. In the end, the idea fizzled. But it would have been inconceivable in 1994.
At the same time, the United States and China are potential adversaries. China’s decades-long, double-digit growth in defense spending, and increasingly aggressive assertion of its interests, particularly at sea, have introduced an element of risk to several aspects of the relationship, where there are now conflicting sets of interests. This and the equities discussed above have raised the premium on conflict avoidance and created a knee-jerk reaction in the US government to prevent anything that might increase tensions.
In 1994, Assistant Secretary Lord described the Taiwan Policy Review as a “lengthy … first of its kind … detailed interagency policy review … examining every facet of our unofficial ties, with a view to correcting their anomalies and strengthening their sinews.” Given the complexity of US-China relations today, that sort of re-evaluation would not be wise.
China occupies far too much mind-share among leaders in the US government and its bureaucracy to assure a favorable outcome for Taiwan. What the next US administration should do is conduct a much narrower review of the guidelines for unofficial interaction. This would mean taking a fresh look at the red tape that binds what should be routine contact with the Taiwanese government. The review should look at matters such as how, where, at what level and under what circumstances State Department officials may interact with representatives of the Taiwanese government, and the level of military officers and department of defense officials permitted to visit Taiwan.
More than simply matters of protocol, greater interaction between the US and Taiwanese foreign and defense ministries get at the capacity of the United States to effectively execute its commitments under the TRA. Issues that get at Taiwan’s autonomous identity and dignity – such as the circumstances under which it may display its flag – should also be addressed by the review.
Bigger issues should not be part of this formal review, but should be priority action items for the incoming administration. The new Asia team should hit the ground running with plans to make a cabinet level visit to Taiwan, help expand its participation in international organizations, make necessary arms sales – e.g., new fighter jets and assistance with a feasible domestic diesel submarine program – and get Taiwan into the TPP. Failing passage of a TPP, the United States should open negotiations for a bilateral FTA with Taiwan. In terms of policy doctrine, the administration should also make clear from the start that the Six Assurances are an explicit, core element of its Taiwan policy.
None of this is to advocate that America change its stance on the one-China policy, as founded on the three joint communiques. That policy has served well as a framework for peaceful development of US-China relations, as well as the security and liberty of Taiwan. US policy toward Taiwan, however, must be adjusted to account for how Taiwanese themselves see their identity and their future, and to account for the real circumstances Taiwan faces today in maintaining its autonomy.
The main point: US policy toward Taiwan must be adjusted to account for how Taiwanese themselves see their identity and their future, and the real circumstances Taiwan faces today in maintaining its autonomy.
 Syaru Shirley Lin, Taiwan’s China Dilemma: Contested Identities and Multiple Interests in Taiwan’s Cross-Strait Economic Policy (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2016), 32.