Summary: This is a big show on big moves in the US-Taiwan relationship. Up first: US talks ending strategic ambiguity and declassified documents. A memorial message to Taiwan, and China. A State official’s speech clarifies direction of ties. Trade talks with the US are set to begin as the US, EU, Japan and Taiwan call for co-operation in rebuilding global supply chains. The next show will catch you up on the visit by the Czech delegation, which was very consequential.
US talks ending strategic ambiguity and declassified documents
The US has been rapidly adding to the number of ways it supports Taiwan, but doing so in a piecemeal way that makes it hard for China to respond to.
For example, AIT this week posted up pictures of Taiwanese F-16s practicing in flight refueling in the US.
That is important as it shows the militaries are cooperating in learning how to operate together in a battle situation as Taiwan doesn’t have in-flight refueling capabilities, but the US does.
That’s a clear message to China.
So was the video posted a couple of months ago showing US marines training with Taiwanese in Taiwan.
Also, the Taiwan News reported that for the first time ever uniformed Taiwanese military officers visited AIT.
This week the US declassified some key documents related to Taiwan.
Here is what the statement by AIT says:
The first declassified cable below, sent on July 10, 1982, from then U.S. Under Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to then AIT Director James Lilley, provides the U.S. interpretation of the 1982 Communiqué as it relates to ongoing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
The cable explains that the U.S. willingness to reduce its arms sales to Taiwan is conditioned upon the continued commitment of the PRC to a peaceful solution of cross-Strait differences.
Further, if the PRC were to become more hostile, then the United States would increase arms sales to Taiwan.
The directive indicates that the United States’ chief concern was maintaining peace across the Taiwan Strait, and thus, the quantity and quality of arms provided to Taiwan would be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC.
The memo ends by offering “this final assurance: U.S. arms sales to Taiwan will continue.”
These same ideas are echoed in an internal presidential memo drafted by President Ronald Reagan on August 17, 1982, which serves as guidelines for U.S. interpretation of the 1982 Communiqué.
The second cable, sent on August 17, 1982, from then U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz to then AIT Director Lilley, offers six assurances to Taiwan, reinforcing the message above.
First, the United States has set no date for ending arms sales to Taiwan.
Second, the United States has not agreed to prior consultation with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.
Third, the United States has not agreed on any mediation role between Beijing and Taipei.
Fourth, the United States has not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act.
Fifth, the United States has not agreed to take any position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.
And sixth, the United States will never pressure Taiwan to negotiate with Beijing.
The contents of these documents have been described as an “open secret” and the Chinese have been aware of them.
That’s not why this is huge news, it’s the reason why they were released that is the bombshell: They’re a warning to the Chinese Communists.
There are two lines that jump right out:
First, “quantity and quality of arms provided to Taiwan would be conditioned entirely on the threat posed by the PRC.”
That’s clearly a warning.
The second isn’t new and was US policy in the 1950s, went dormant in the Nixon years when he reportedly privately told the Chinese he considered Taiwan to be part of China, but returned under Reagan: that the US does not take a position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.
The US position is that Taiwan’s status is undetermined following the Treaty of San Francisco, which went into effect in 1952.
In it, Japan renounced their claim to Taiwan–but there was nothing in the treaty about who they were renouncing Taiwan’s sovereignty to.
That’s not new news to China, but this is a forceful reminder that it has guided US policy behind the scenes.
But what about the US “One China” policy!?
The US policy, and many other major nations policies are similar, merely acknowledges that China claims Taiwan–not that it is part of China.
But the real bombshell is what was reported in the Financial Times:
“Two US officials told the Financial Times that there were discussions within the administration on the future of “strategic ambiguity”, Washington’s traditional policy of not making clear how far it would go in helping Taiwan defend itself.
People briefed on the discussions said the US would emphasise more clearly its commitments to Taiwan and the country’s significance for US interests, but would steer clear of moves that could be construed by Beijing as a pretext for an attack on Taiwan.
One of the people briefed on the discussions said Washington would highlight its belief that Beijing, by stepping up military threats against Taiwan, was violating its pledges to seek a peaceful resolution of the issue.”
The end of strategic ambiguity would be huge.
At one time, it made some sense.
The idea was that by not committing, it both created uncertainty in Beijing, and restrained the Taiwanese side from doing anything rash.
That made sense in the 1950s, but not today.
Taiwan is a free, open society today that wants nothing to do with China other than get along peacefully with its neighbour.
China, on the other hand, has been rapidly escalating the situation.
The concern now is that China may conclude the US won’t come to Taiwan’s aid and launch an invasion confident in that assumption.
Removing the ambiguity would act as a deterrent, and would also strengthen the motivation for allies, such as Japan, to also join in.
Speaking on the declassification of the documents, President Tsai said that it “clarified” the US security commitment to Taiwan.
A memorial message to Taiwan, and China
Those were not the only messages sent to Taiwan and China by AIT, though this message was more for Taiwan.
AIT last week hosted a commemorative ceremony to unveil a memorial in its new Neihu compound in Taipei to honor the 126 U.S. service members who lost their lives defending Taiwan since 1949.
The memorial includes medals and two framed certificates of the Republic of China Commemorative Medals of the Operations of Defending Taiwan conferred posthumously to Lt. Col. Alfred Medendorp and Lt. Col. Frank Lynn in February 2016 by former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九).
This memorial is a clear message of solidarity with Taiwan, reminding everyone that American blood has been shed in Taiwan’s defence.
At its peak, the US military presence in Taiwan reached 30,000 stationed here.
AIT Director Brent Christensen at the ceremony reiterated his priorities for his tenure as AIT director, which are promoting U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation, promoting U.S.-Taiwan economic and commercial ties, promoting Taiwan’s participation in the international community, and promoting U.S.-Taiwan people-to-people ties.
He said the progress on security cooperation is particularly noteworthy.
Christensen also said something very profoundly true: “When we discuss our security relationship with Taiwan, we tend to focus on arms sales, but it is the people-to-people ties that are the real foundation of our security relationship.”
He’s right, everything flows from those people-to-people ties, including arms sales.
Taiwan has done a good job recently making key friends around the world, especially in Washington.
A group of friends of Taiwan have been promoting Taiwan’s cause in Congress, while Mike Pompeo and others have championed Taiwan’s cause from the Executive branch.
President Tsai is clearly acutely aware of this, as is Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
State official’s speech clarifies direction of ties
In a speech to the Heritage Foundation, David R. Stilwell, US Assistant Secretary Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs has clarified the direction of American diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and why.
He starts the speech with a lot of praise for Taiwan, with lines like: “It is for these reasons that we Americans focus so much on Taiwan, and why we admire its leaders and its people and its institutions and its symbolism in world affairs.”
However, he avoided referring to Taiwan as a country, and had some annoying lines like this: “For such mainland visitors, a visit to Taiwan was a reminder that no one person, no one party, can monopolize the minds and thoughts of all ethnic Chinese people.”
He then moved on to a description of all the recent advances and breakthroughs in US-Taiwan relations.
He then starts the next section with these lines: “Given these various actions, you may wonder whether the United States is trying to signal a policy change.
The truth is, what I have just outlined is entirely consistent with our longstanding policy.”
He then explains what that longstanding policy is, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the various agreements with China and Taiwan over the years.
Then he says:
“We have changed nothing about these longstanding policies.
What we are doing, though, is making some important updates to our engagement with Taiwan to better reflect these policies and respond to changing circumstances.
The adjustments are significant, but still well within the boundaries of our one-China policy.
We feel compelled to make these adjustments for two reasons.
First, because of the increasing threat posed by Beijing to peace and stability in the region, which is a vital interest of the United States.
In recent years, the Chinese Communist Party has targeted Taiwan with diplomatic isolation, bellicose military threats and actions, cyber hacks, economic pressure, “United Front” interference activities – you name it.
These actions challenge the peace and stability of the Western Pacific.
Let’s be clear: These destabilizing actions come from Beijing, not from Taipei or Washington.
We support the longtime status quo across the Taiwan Strait.
Beijing has unilaterally altered it, through flipping of diplomatic partners, pushing Taiwan out of international organizations, stepped up military maneuvers, and other activities.
So we must act to restore balance.
Other peace-loving countries should do the same.”
This is very good, it shows that the State Department is very clear-eyed on the situation, unlike in the past.
In the past the Chinese Communist Party’s actions were ignored and Taipei was stuck having to live with it.
Now the US side is clear on what China is up to.
He continues further down:
“The second reason we have been focusing on our engagement with Taiwan is simply to reflect the growing and deepening ties of friendship, trade, and productivity between the United States and Taiwan.
While they may be interrelated, our relationship with Taiwan is not a subset of our bilateral relationship with the PRC.
Our friendship and cooperation with Taiwan stands on its own, fed from the wellsprings of shared values, cultural affinity, and commercial and economic ties.”
I got chills down my spine when I read this.
For decades Taiwan has been viewed through the prism of China, encouraged to do so not just by China, but also by the KMT.
Both share a vision of a so-called unified China, and both view Taiwan as a part of that.
Of course the majority of Taiwanese don’t see it that way.
It’s good to see the US has finally thrown off those shackles and is seeing Taiwan for what it is: Taiwan.
Unfortunately, though–he did call Taiwan a “Chinese society” and used the term “mainland”, so they’re not all the way there yet.
Still, it is progress.
Trade talks with the US are set to begin
Now that President Tsai has dropped Taiwan opposition to importing US pork and expanding the types of beef allowed in, the US side has reciprocated by announcing that trade talks will be taking place.
The newly announced Economic and Commercial Dialogue between Taiwan and the United States will be held by the end of this year, with September or October being the earliest.
Topics to be discussed will include semiconductors and 5G, as well as strategies in the Indo-Pacific region and supply chain restructuring.
The two sides are still discussing when and how to launch the dialogue.
The dialogue will be launched before formal talks are held under the existing bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) framework.
The last time such talks took place was in October 2016.
The Department of State’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy and Environment Keith Krach will head the dialogue, according to the statement.
Notice that this is taking place under the auspices of the State Department, not the office of the US Trade Representative which is usually in charge of trade talks.
This is likely because they are in negotiations with China, and don’t want this to interfere.
In related news, officials from the US, EU, Japan and Taiwan have called for co-operation in rebuilding global supply chains after the US-China trade war and the coronavirus pandemic exposed the risks of relying on China.
Speaking at a conference in Taipei on Friday, AIT Director Brent Christensen, urged democracies with shared values to build more secure supply chains together elsewhere.
“This is going to require a co-ordinated effort from all of us,” he said.
Mr Christensen added that the question of reorganising supply chains was “on top of the list” for a new economic dialogue the US was initiating with Taiwan.
Image courtesy of AIT’s Facebook page