James Lilley: Taiwan and China ... A U.S. Headache

Roundup: Media's Take

James Lilley, former ambassador to China, in the WSJ (April 19, 2004):

... Our experience tells us that Americans usually are not smart enough to master the intricacies of Chinese history. Our principles for shaping a framework have thus evolved from circumstances at the time: We supported One China because both Chinese sides wanted it in the 1970s when we first opened to China. Then, when China seemed to emphasize armed intervention if its demands were not met, we adopted the concept of peaceful resolution and we had the wherewithal to back this up. Later in the 1980s, we supported both sides working together to expand trade and exchanges. All of this has led to formidable progress in cross-Strait relations. In the 1950s, military action dominated; but by the 1990s millions of Chinese were crossing the Strait, investment was at an all-time high, and Chinese and Taiwan leaders were meeting and talking at the highest levels, both unofficially and through a formal arrangement worked out by them.

The implicit American premise was that a secure and stable Taiwan would be a more willing and successful partner in dealing with China. Judicious arms sales to Taiwan were part of this formula and in the past it has worked. The large arms sales package and President Reagan's personal support contributed to the breakthrough in 1987, when President Chiang Ching-kuo of Taiwan lifted martial law and agreed to the China opening. Our large arms sale to Taiwan in 1992 was followed quickly by the two sides agreeing to disagree on a One-China formula and then agreeing to meet in Singapore formally in April 1993 -- for the first time since the Chinese Communists took over the mainland in 1949.

If elements of this broader formula are disregarded by the current Taiwan authorities, however, then the successful historic pattern has been broken. U.S. military support and arms sales cannot be used by Taiwan to move away from China -- they were meant to make Taiwan feel secure enough to move toward accommodation with China. Our support should be conditional on upholding our successful pattern. The U.S. needs to continue to maintain a quiet deterrence to any mainland military action against Taiwan. But just as arms sales, deterrence and the Taiwan Relations Act are leverage for Taiwan, China has in its favor the Three Communiqués the U.S. signed with Beijing, military power and geographical advantage....


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