US National Security Council Indo-Pacific Coordinator Kurt Campbell earlier this month restated that the US administration does not support Taiwanese independence. Campbell’s statement greatly excited the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — which still identifies with the wrong “motherland” and harbors a desire for “unification”— and caused cheers that Washington had delivered a knockout blow to the Democratic Progressive Party.
In reality, Washington is just as opposed to “unification.”
The US has not said that it does not support “unification” because it does not believe most Taiwanese would accept it. It has said it does not support Taiwanese independence, but there are theoretical, factual, semantic and temporal differences. In practice, the US views Taiwan as a nation independent of China.
The US’ repudiation of “unification” predates its rejection of independence.
After the Korean War, measure for measure, the People’s Republic of China vowed to “liberate Taiwan,” and the Republic of China swore it would “retake the mainland.” The US Seventh Fleet deterred China from “liberating” Taiwan and used the Three Principles of the People (三民主義) to bind Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) hands, preventing him from using military force to “recover the mainland.”
Since Chiang was not prepared to surrender to the communists, and the US was not prepared to help Chiang launch a counterattack, the KMT’s policy of “recapturing the mainland” was reduced to hot air.
Similarly, the notion that the Chinese Communist Party could dispatch an army to cross the Taiwan Strait and “liberate Taiwan” was simply a fantasy.
Although the US never said it did not support “unification,” it opposed it in practice, and Washington never acknowledged that Chiang represented all of China.
When former US president Richard Nixon sought to prize open China’s door in the 1970s, the US demanded a peaceful solution to the Taiwan Strait situation.
Eager to fracture Taiwan’s undecided status, Beijing claimed that Taiwan had been handed over to China at the end of World War II and stipulated that the US should not engage in “two Chinas,” “one China, one Taiwan” or “one country, two governments,” but it did not demand that the US support “unification.”
The US’ rejection of Taiwanese independence dates back to 1971, when then-Chinese premier Zhou Enlai (周恩來) accused the US of supporting the “Taiwanese independence movement” — an oblique reference to the relationship between then-US national security adviser Henry Kissinger and Taiwanese independence movement leader Peng Ming-min (彭明敏). This prompted Kissinger to declare that the US government did not support the independence movement.
The 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty left Taiwan’s status unresolved. The wording simply stipulated that Japan renounced all right, title and claim over Taiwan, known at the time as Formosa and the Pescadores Islands. The matter was kicked into the long grass to be resolved by democratic means at a later date.
Today, Taiwan’s Constitution is different from China’s, and the Taiwanese have elected a different government. Legally and factually, there exists a solid foundation to argue that Taiwan is a sovereign nation.
That the international community does not recognize that Taiwan’s status stems from political considerations. The US government, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, opposes the use of military force to alter the “status quo.” It does not oppose democracy, it supports a peaceful resolution to the Taiwan-China problem.
James Wang is a media commentator.
Translated by Edward Jones
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