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Bush Shakes Free From the State Dept. on Taiwan

April 27, 2001|BRUCE HERSCHENSOHN | Bruce Herschensohn is a fellow at the Claremont Institute. Web site:

During the presidential campaign the candidate said, "I believe that we should defend Formosa [Taiwan]. We should come to its defense. To leave this in the air--that we will defend it under some conditions but not under another--I think is a mistake." John F. Kennedy went on to be elected president.

Move the calendar forward 40 years to President Bush saying he would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself." It was a Kennedyesque statement, but the foreign policy establishment of the U.S. State Department was jolted, shocked and angry.

It must be understood that presidents of the United States are nuisances to the bureaucracy of the State Department. And worst of all are new presidents who think they can get away with saying things without State Department permission. Happily for State, this was one in a series of interviews, so the bureaucrats could get to Bush before the next one and, it was hoped, repair some of the damage.

What happened between interviews has not been revealed but it is obvious that something happened in that time, influencing the president to add some State Department "balance" to his earlier statement. Unhappily for the State Department, Bush did not retract what he said earlier. He meant it and repeated it. But what he did add was a warning to Taipei as well as Beijing, saying, "at the same time, we support the one-China policy," and a declaration of independence by Taiwan "is not part of the one-China policy."

The foreign policy establishment of the State Department was still angry. Although it was relieved that the president had added some balance, they continued to feel he had no business speaking out on his own in the first place. After all, the president of the United States shouldn't think, even for a moment, that he is the president of the United States. They are. And they want balance.

Why? What would be wrong with independence for Taiwan? "War," is what the State Department answers. "That's what's wrong with Taiwan independence. Beijing has warned there could be a military response if Taiwan should choose independence." And so the State Department policy continues to be based on fear, not morality.

The entire "one-China policy" came about from an intentional State Department misinterpretation of President Nixon's Shanghai Communique of 1972. The State Department's foreign policy establishment was angry that it had not been given a chief role in the president's trip to China and they took revenge.

Nixon did not mean to initiate a one-China policy for the United States. He was careful in the communique's wording by stating only what all Chinese believed (at the time), without U.S. agreement or disagreement. The communique said that "the United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is one China, and that Taiwan is part of China."

That was true in 1972. The dispute in those days was which of the two governments was the legitimate government of China. But that was 29 years ago. Now the State Department wants President Bush to dismantle his own strategic thinking and adopt the policy that was articulated by President Clinton in 1998 when he said, "We don't support independence for Taiwan, or two Chinas, or one Taiwan and one China. And we don't believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement."

It was President Bush's father who was our ambassador to the United Nations when the Republic of China on Taiwan was expelled in 1971, and who referred to the ouster of Taiwan as a "moment of infamy."

The infamy lives on. And the State Department's infamous policy has a powerful ally in much of the business community, which froths at the mouth over 1 billion potential customers in China. (They don't think of them as 1 billion human beings.) They, of course, argue that an abundance of trade with China will provide a reduction in China's human rights violations and bring about an impetus to democracy.

There is no historical precedent to guarantee such prophecies. If the Soviet Union had to give up its totalitarianism because of economic collapse, why should China give up its totalitarianism because of economic good health? In a half-century, China has not stopped threatening Taiwan, but has increased those threats. Therefore, knowing that China will be an economic and military superpower some time within the next half-century, why subdue our dialogue until such time as it has that superpower status?

Our other choice is even worse. It is to accept reunification while the mainland government remains nondemocratic, endorsing the proposition that the 22 million people of Taiwan who live under an elected leadership and democratic institutions, should choose totalitarianism. We can't do that.

The moral instincts of President Bush became clear on the morning of April 25, 2001. Free men and women everywhere should give thanks.

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