The Nelson Report, the well-known Washington insider report from Chris Nelson, on the US, Taiwan, and arms purchases. I’ve highlighted certain sections, and left comments after others. This is a long piece, well-written, and insightful from someone with an involvement in Taiwan affairs that dates back some thirty years……

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TAIWAN ARMS…the debate over selling arms to Taiwan is an old one, and it’s constantly under the surface of both US-Taiwan and US-China relations. We looked at this in some depth twice last week.

The immediate cause was Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee debate, and a unanimous voice vote approving a Republican-sponsored resolution urging the Administration to approve F-16’s for Taiwan.

And we noted, Friday, that it’s The White House, under the direction of President Bush himself, holding up even the consideration of F-16’s…and that charges that the delay comes from State, or even DOD, are simply mistaken.

(In fact, “simple” is the wrong word here. To not understand the power realities bearing on US-Taiwan relations at this late date in the Bush Presidency is to risk increasingly dangerous disconnects between policy-makers on both sides.)[MT: in other words, the grim harvest of Iraq is impaired strategic flexibility in Asia.]

We did not mention last week a critical document of the early Reagan 1980’s, the so-called “Six Assurances” to Taiwan, which have since their negotiation provided endless internal debate in Washington, Taipei, and Beijing.

Today there is rising pressure by many here that it’s time for a “revised” 6 Assurances, given the DPP’s UN membership campaign, and the continued arms sale questions…the topic of a very timely seminar this coming Wednesday morning at The Heritage Foundation.

The relevance to last week’s debate…”assurance #3″, that the US won’t “consult” with the PRC about arms sales to Taiwan…an obviously not entirely fact-based promise, witness current concerns.

Our Reports of Sept. 26 and 28 went into some detail, but we were not able to give you the full text of Asia Subc. chair Eni Faleomavaega’s official statement opposing any such sale.

We do so now, because in it, the chairman makes one remark which is both wrong, and goes to underscore the difficulties even deeply involved players have in sorting out US promises and obligations to Taiwan.

Faleomavaega states that it is US policy to agree to “one China”, and he states it in ways which track the PRC position. In fact, the official US position does not accept China’s definition, but, rather, straddles the issue with deliberate ambiguity.

(It’s a Report for another day to note that you don’t have to be a partisan of any particular argument to be concerned that “one China” is a concept increasingly out of alignment with reality. But that’s not for tonite.)

Chairman Faleomavaega is not alone in offering an incorrect paraphrase of various US positions on Taiwan which may be critical, if they are accepted without nuance or challenge, but which are wrong, especially in terms of legal obligation.

For example, when Deputy Secretary of State Negroponte “sent a signal” on opposing the DPP’s UN membership, by granting an interview to Hong Kong’s Phoenix TV, he apparently tried to offer some balance by saying the US is obligated to sell arms to Taiwan.

The correct answer is…maybe, but under certain circumstances.

That goes to the heart of the debate last week, and in hopes of providing at least some of the fundamentals, in terms of what the Taiwan Relations Act really means as interpreted by US policy in the 6 Assurances, we present a selection tonite from Alan Romberg’s indispensable book on the subject, “Rein-in At The Precipice”.

A final example (for now) of knowledgeable commentators mis-stating the US-Taiwan situation came this Sunday, in the form of a Washington Post book review by former Beijing bureau chief John Pomfret of Clinton-NSC China expert Susan Shirk’s just-published “China: Fragile Superpower”.

This may be picking too much of a nit, but Pomfret states that Shirk’s study is critically important for many reasons, including that the US “is obligated to defend Taiwan”.

In fact, the US is not obligated to defend Taiwan by law, and in the post-9/11 world, senior Republican offcials and military brass have cast considerable doubt on the US moral obligation, if President Bush were to conclude that hostilities were the result of actions by Taiwan.[MT: Chris is pointing to a very common problem here. If I had a nickel for everyone who said the US was obligated to defend Taiwan....]

In fact, although the TRA includes language designed to discourage the use of force by the PRC against Taiwan, the TRA only obligates the US to consider arms sales under certain circumstances, period.

Take our word for it, as a junior staff-participant, even this language was extracted very reluctantly from the State Department at the cost of considerable blood on both sides.[MT: Nelson was a Dem staffer at the time the Taiwan Relations Act was put together.]

The strongest language Congressional friends of Taiwan were able to add talks about a “grave threat” to US interests in the event of an upset in the peaceful status quo. That’s it…not exactly a mutual defense treaty.

So you add it all up, and not even at the beginning did the TRA mandate that the US defend Taiwan under any circumstance, nor that arms must be sold, simply because of requests by Taiwan.

Every aspect of this is subject to US political will, judgement and discretion…the everlasting frustration of both China and Taiwan, duly noted.
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STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
REGARDING H. RES. 676, September 26, 2007

Mr. Chairman:

I want to commend the gentle lady from Florida, our senior Ranking Member of this Committee for her authorship of H. Res. 676, just as I commend you also and other Members of this Committee who are supporting this Resolution. My question is, is it necessary?

I have serious concerns about H. Res. 676 which declares that is should continue to be the policy of the United States, consistent with the Taiwan Relations Act, to make available to Taiwan such defense articles and services as may be necessary for Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.

The Taiwan Relations Act of 1978 has always been the basis of how our country has defined its relationship with Taiwan, and there has been no change in the provisions of this Act. The Act allows for the sale of arms to assist Taiwan with its defense capabilities against its enemies which it considers to be the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Knowing this, I question the need for H. Res. 676. I also question H. Res. 676 being put forward at a time when all of us know that the situation between Taiwan and China has been extremely tense for weeks and months. While I respect my colleagues’ view on H. Res. 676, I disagree with this course of action. We all know that H. Res. 676 is a non-binding resolution that does not oblige our government to act but only serves to add fuel to the fire, or exacerbate already tense relations between Taiwan and Beijing. Again, I ask, is this Resolution necessary?

Some 15 times now, Taiwan has sought and failed to be formally recognized by the United Nations, and this has caused a heated exchange of responses even among Members of this body. I just returned from Taiwan where I met with Taiwan’s President, and the opposition party. I also recently visited China where I met with the Vice President, and other government officials. When I say that relations are tense, I mean it. From both sides, the situation between Taiwan and Beijing is quickly becoming a confrontation which may lead to an outcome none of us wants.

I am certain that all of us are committed to a course of action which will avert a crisis, and bring about a peaceful solution in the Taiwan Straits. But I do not believe H. Res. 676 gets us where we want to go. H. Res. 676 is just a reminder that an arms deal is still pending and it is pending because the Administration is having difficulties persuading Taiwan not to seek membership with the UN. Obviously, Taiwan is not listening and does not care what this may mean for the US and our important, strategic relationship with Beijing.[MT: US policymakers commonly complain of this. Whatever you may say, Taiwan really needs to step down on the UN referendum and repair its relations with the US. A little groveling and pleading would go a long way here.]

The fact is there is a difference of opinion among the people and leaders of Taiwan about what position Taiwan should take towards Beijing. One of the two major parties advocates peaceful coexistence with the PRC. The other major party and its leaders keep pushing the envelope to the point of forcing Beijing’s hand which led to President Clinton having to send two naval battle groups to the Taiwan Straits and almost led to a nuclear confrontation with Beijing. I wonder if my colleagues want to go through this again. [MT: I guess Google isn't known in Washington offices. First, the KMT does not want "peaceful co-existence"; it wants to annex the island to China. I suppose that's "peaceful," in the way that rape is peaceful if the victim complies. Second, his facts are totally wrong. President Clinton sent two carrier battlegroups to the Straits under the KMT's President Lee Teng-hui because China was angry that Taiwan was having an election, not because of something the DPP did. Finally, it is the DPP that wants "peaceful co-existence" in the form of two nations on either side of the Strait. I think the good Congressman will be getting a gentle letter from me today.]

Last time, Beijing backed off. But will Beijing back off again? With implications as serious as this, I am hopeful that we will not move forward with this resolution until we have had time to consider a more thoughtful approach, and until Taiwan has time to hold its elections next March.

For now, H. Res. 626 can potentially influence the outcome of those elections, as could the sale of F-16s. I suspect this is probably one of the reasons the Administration has been reluctant to proceed with the sale of F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan because the Administration also recognizes we should give the people of Taiwan time to determine their future status before acting in ways that could set off a chain reaction in this volatile region of the world.

All of us, including Taiwan, know that our US foreign policy has always been to accept the One-China concept whereby Beijing and Taiwan are to work out their political differences through peaceful means. This said, Taiwan has made significant progress towards a pluralistic and democratic form of government. Taiwan enjoys a free market system and economy that ranks among the top fifteen economies in the world. Taiwan also enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Currently, Taiwan conducts over $100 billion in unofficial trade with Beijing. Over the years, millions of Taiwanese have also been able to freely travel to Beijing to be reunited with their families and friends. [MT: "millions?"]

Beijing is also moving towards a more free market system. China has become one of the top five economies in the world, despite its Socialist Marxist ideology that puts a limitation on greater freedom for its citizens and transparency in government. Beijing is doing its best to feed more than 1 billion people, and we must also credit Beijing for bringing North Korea to the negotiating table, thwarting North Korea’s efforts to produce nuclear weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Chairman, do we want to build on the positive? Do we want to avert a crisis? Or, do we want to add fuel to the fire? I submit that H. Res. 626 tilts favorably towards Taiwan, and I suggest to my colleagues that we ought not to pursue this course of action anymore than we should adopt legislation or resolutions that favor China over Taiwan.

Having said this, I will not oppose this resolution but I will again ask if it is necessary and, in closing, I will suggest that it is not. I will also suggest that it is in our interest to work collectively and bilaterally with both Taiwan and China to prevent another standoff in the Taiwan Straits.

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And now, from The Bible on these matters, Alan Romberg’s “Rein-In At The Brink of the Precipice”, pgs. 134-37, with Alan’s original footnoting:

KEEPING FAITH WITH TAIWAN: THE “SIX ASSURANCES”

As negotiations with Beijing moved toward conclusion, Gaston Sigur, then Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council, phoned Mark Mohr on the Taiwan desk at the State Department and asked him to draft something that would “ease the shock” of the communiqué on Taiwan, alleviating Taipei’s feeling that it was being “sold out.”55 This exercise yielded the so-called “six assurances,” transmitted to Taipei in mid-July 1982, only weeks before the issuance of the August 17 Communiqué.

As the U.S.-PRC communiqué was being issued, the Reagan Administration informed Foreign Minister Frederick Chien that Taipei could make public the following version of the “six assurances.” They were to say that it was “their understanding” that the U.S.:

1. Has not set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan.

2. Has not agreed to consult with the PRC on arms sales to Taiwan.

3. Will not play any mediation role between Taipei and Beijing.

4. Has not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act.

5. Has not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan.56

6. Will not exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC. 57

Not agreeing to a “date certain” for ending arms sales was central to the U.S. position. Declining to play a mediating role seemed as much a matter of self-protection as anything else, as American officials had warned for years about the pitfalls of any such involvement. But it was also consistent with the point about not pressuring Taipei to negotiate with Beijing. Moreover, the U.S. took the occasion to reiterate: “The U.S. does not take a position on the issue of reunification.”58 The assurance on the TRA reflected a rebuff of earlier PRC insistence that the Act be rescinded or at least amended in major ways.

Of the assurances, the two that have been most frequently the subject of later discussion are the ban on prior consultations with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan and the statement of U.S. policy consistency on the question of sovereignty.

As to the “prior consultation” issue, while some have argued that this assurance strictly precluded any discussion with Beijing about arms sales to Taiwan, this appears to be an overreading. First of all, it was a statement that the United States had not agreed with Beijing to hold such consultations; it did not say there could never be such consultations. For years-before and after 1982-the United States made clear to Beijing that the nature of arms sales to Taiwan, including the quantity and the capabilities, was directly related to the “threat” the island faced. Logically, the point was not only that if the “threat” went up so, too, would arms sales, but, conversely, that if the threat were reduced, arms sales would follow suit. Reagan had, as we have seen, made that very point in his April letter to Zhao Ziyang.

What was more reasonably implied by the assurance was that the United States would not consult with Beijing on specific sales, nor would it allow Beijing to dictate which sales were “acceptable” and which were not. As the FX saga demonstrated, the United States was willing to take account of PRC views, but it would not negotiate with Beijing before taking decisions.

The assurance on sovereignty has been interpreted in a number of different ways. One interpretation is that the U.S. “would continue to regard Taiwan as part of China,” but that the question of reunification was left to “the Chinese themselves” as long as it was peaceful.59

More likely, and a view supported by the drafter of the assurances, is that, as in the Shanghai Communiqué, it skirted the issue of whether or not Taiwan was “part of China” and simply meant the United States would not force Taipei to accept the PRC position on sovereignty -in a sense, a response to Taipei’s criticism, noted earlier, that Reagan’s “endorsement” of the PRC’s nine-point proposal implied U.S. acceptance of ultimate unification on PRC terms. In the words of the message Lilley was asked to convey to Chiang Ching-kuo on the eve of its issuance, the communiqué…will not refer, either through language or by implication, to a U.S. position with regard to sovereignty over Taiwan. We take no position on that matter.61

Footnotes:

54 Haig, Caveat, pp. 213-215.

55 Mark Mohr, interview by author. The origin of the six assurances has been the subject of some controversy. John Holdridge, then-Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, wrote that he was given them by a Taiwan source (Crossing the Divide, pp. 231-232). Harvey J. Feldman, head of the ROC office at the time of normalization and a frequent writer on Taiwan issues, did some sleuthing on this question and concluded that Holdridge’s memory misserved him, and that the six assurances indeed originated with the United States as Mohr states-not in Taiwan; see Feldman’s “Taiwan, Arms Sales, and the Reagan Assurances, American Asian Review XIX, no. 3 (fall 2001), pp. 75-101.

56 There is some difference of recollections about the origins of the assurance regarding sovereignty. David Dean, Chairman of AIT in 1982, happened to be in Mohr’s office while Mohr was drafting the assurances, and Dean made inputs to the points. Dean had the impression that a senior foreign ministry official in Taipei might have played a role in the addition of the sovereignty point to five original points. Mohr’s recollection is that he drafted all six. In any event, they agree that there was nothing very complicated or mysterious about the process; the points, many of which, as we have noted, had already surfaced in one way or another, were simply logical statements addressing the problematic aspects of the communiqué from Taipei’s point of view. (All drawn from interviews by
author.)

57 State 3160, “Assurances for Taiwan,” August 17, 1982, FOIA. Holdridge
testified about the communiqué before Congress and, while not identifying them as “six assurances,” made public their substance (”Opening Statement Made Before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, August 18, 1982,” carried in full in State 243116, “Briefings and Press Guidance on US-PRC Communiqué,” August 28, 1982, FOIA).

58 State 230951, “Press Materials: US-China Joint Communiqué,” August 18, 1982, conveying guidance prepared for John Holdridge’s “background briefing” of the press the previous day.

59 Holdridge, Crossing the Divide, p. 232.

60 Mark Mohr, interview by author.

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Key point, as the Taipei Times noted yesterday, is simple: the Bush Administration itself is blocking the sale of F-16s to Taiwan. Not State as the newspapers claim. Not DoD. The Great Decider himself.

This raises the issue of what exactly Bush Administration goals are. As I’ve repeatedly noted, structural features of Taiwan’s electoral politics drive DPP behavior — since both sides need to get out their base, and swing voters are not common, there are no “middle ground” voters to appeal to. Hence, if it were not the referendum, it would be some other move. The current policy, which appeases China, also encourages it to think that the US approves of its annexation of Taiwan. Certain commentators have complained that the Taiwan governments “provocations” of China, coupled with Taipei’s failure to purchase more weapons, is an invitation to war. Back at ya, guys: a US policy that appeases China and suppresses Taiwan while weakening Taiwan’s defense is a recipe for war. Simple as that. Sell us the F-16s!