Date: Thu, 5 Aug 1999
Subject: China Update
TO: Washington State China Relations Council Members & Friends
FROM: Joseph J. Borich, Executive Director
The following e-mail message, sent by former U.S. Foreign Service officer and China specialist Joe Borich, address directly the topic under discussion in this special section of American Diplomacy. A separate urgent message appeals for help for the victims of the recent earthquake in Taiwan; please give it your generous consideration. The author here provides his estimate of the late-summer state of U.S.-China relations: Ice Beginning to Melt.Ed.
Since mid-June, there have been several signs that bilateral relationswhich hit close to rock bottom in April/Maymay be gradually improving.
The resumption of high level contacts signaled that Beijing is beginning to emerge from its funk engendered by events in April and May Washingtons rejection of Zhu Rongjis WTO accession offer; the embassy bombing; and the release of the Cox Report. Still missing for the time being at least are any hints that China is ready to resume other equally important dialogs on international security, military-to-military contacts, and human rights. For that matter, it is still not clear when or if Beijing will be ready to conclude a bilateral agreement on its accession to the WTO.
PROSPECTS FOR WTO
If recent high level meetings and the promise of a summit next month point to a healing of damaged relations, they do not necessarily portend a quick and desirable outcome for U.S.-China negotiations on WTO. When Premier Zhu came to the U.S. in April, he wanted a deal on WTO and threw virtually all of Chinas cards on the table (including many that were bound to draw strong resistance in China) in order to get one. Events since then have weakened Zhus position and strengthened those of economic and ideological conservatives. Meanwhile, China signed bilateral agreements with Japan and Australia in July. Though details are not known, both agreements are believed to contain fewer concessions than those offered to the U.S. by Zhu.
Although China has denied it would walk back any of the terms in Zhus offer, it will be politically difficult to sustain them and nearly impossible to offer more to the U.S. Zhu has been attacked vociferously for the offer, and some in the leadership are even questioning the value to China of rushing headlong into the global market. Even those who are not troubled by the ideological shift toward a fully marketized, open economy (and there are many who are) worry about a short-term but substantial increase in Chinas already high unemployment and the added strain on social and political stability that would bring. The cleavage between those calling for faster, deeper economic restructuring and those arguing for stability at all cost has no doubt been broadened by the twin challenges of Fanlungong and Lee Teng-huis latest push at the one-China envelope. In any event, State Councilor (and former Minister of MOFTEC) Wu Yi felt constrained recently to offer a public reminder that the decision to seek WTO membership was made by no less an authority the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
However, Foreign Minister Tang reportedly said at a press conference in Singapore that China would only meet WTO entry conditions for developing countries. This would appear to contradict Zhu Rongjis commitment to phase Chinas accession to the WTO in the same period of time and to the same level as other major parties to the WTO, including industrialized countries. Adding to the concern, MOFTEC Vice Minister (and Chinas chief WTO negotiator) Long Yongtu reportedly said in Beijing in early August he was not confident China could enter the WTO even if negotiations with the U.S. were resumed immediately. He apparently also sought to play down the importance of the WTO, claiming that bilateralrather than multilateralrelations were the key element to global trade.
Undoubtedly much of the recent Chinese commentary is directly aimed at improving Chinas bargaining position should WTO negotiations resume soon. But, these comments could also foreshadow a retreat and perhaps a substantial one from Zhus sweeping offer last April. Chinas leaders are currently on their annual retreat at the seaside resort of Beidaihe, where they are discussing this and other major issues. Their return to Beijing may occasion an authoritative signal on when China will resume WTO negotiations, and how far it is still prepared to go.
TAIWAN-CHINA: NO SYSTEM, TWO COUNTRIES?
During a July 10 interview with a German radio service, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui advocated that Taiwan and the mainland have at least a special state-to-state relationship, implying there were two separate, sovereign states of China that should treat each other and be treated by the rest of the world on an equal basis. In late July, the chairman of Taiwans unofficial Strait Exchange Foundation, Koo Chen-fu, sent to his counterpart organization on the mainland a detailed explanation of Lees comment. The explanation reads in part: In the five decades since the PRC was established in 1949, China has been divided into two parts across the Taiwan Strait and ruled separately by two sovereign states. This has naturally resulted in a divided China characterized by a special relationship across the strait.
Koo went on to cite the cultural and ethnic bond between the two sides, and the already-established dialog on civil and commercial affairs. Koo continued that the mainlands one-China policy denied Taiwans existence and suggested that China is already unified. From Taiwans perspective, he added, one China is something for the future since China at present is divided and ruled separately by two equal sovereign states, requiring a special state-to-state relationship with each other. He called for both sides to pursue a unified China in the future by engaging in negotiations on the basis of parity.
Beijing reacted quickly and angrily to Lees formulation, and rejected Koos explanation. Beijing reminded Taiwan that while it sought reunification by peaceful means, it would resort to force if necessary to quell any Taiwan bid for independence. The U.S. government moved quickly to distance itself from Lees statement while warning Beijing against using force. President Clinton publicly reaffirmed the U.S. one-China policy, and conveyed his message personally to President Jiang via telephone. He also called on both sides to continue their dialog and to act with restraint.
Other than lambasting Lee, the PRC thus far has taken no stronger measures to convey its disapproval as it did in 1995, following Lees visit to the U.S. The scheduled visit to Taiwan in October of the Chairman of Chinas unofficial Association for relations across the Taiwan Strait, Wang Daohan, is on hold pending a satisfactory explanation of Lees comments. Wangs visit to Taiwan would be a benchmark in the cross-Strait dialog, and would reciprocate Koo Chen-fus visit to the mainland last year.
What inspired Lees comments, and why have they stirred a hornets nest in Beijing?
Until this decade, Taiwan was governed by a Leninist-style party with mainland origins that regarded Taiwan as a temporary haven until it could regain control of the mainland. The long-term mission of the pre-1990 Kuomintang (KMT) Party on Taiwan made it politically plausible, if logically inconsistent, to maintain that there was only one China and that Taiwan was a part of it. The issue of sovereignty never arose; the only question was whether the KMT or the Communists should be ruling all of China. Thus, there was no basis for challenging the statement in the Shanghai Communique (1972), establishing partial relations between the U.S. and China, that: The U.S. acknowledges the position of Chinese on both sides of the Taiwan Strait that there is only one China and Taiwan is a part of it. The essence of this statement was repeated without serious challenge in the 1979 Communique establishing full diplomatic relations, and in the 1982 Communique limiting U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
In 1990, Taiwan held its first-ever popular election of its president. The winner, Taiwan-born Lee Teng-hui, initiated constitutional changes in 1990-91 that strengthened democratic institutions there and abandoned the KMTs irredentist claims. Lee also formally recognized the legitimacy of Beijings rule over the mainland. It was in that same period that the two sides established unofficial organizations to open a channel for direct dialog and negotiations. It was also in this period that Taiwan began to insist that the two sides deal with each other as equals, and that reunification be effected through a three-step process to be concluded only when the two sides had achieved rough economic and political parity. Beijing never accepted these terms, nor any other conditions implying it had less than full sovereignty over Taiwan.
Taiwans authorities continue to insist that reunification is their eventual goal, but that in the interim, the mainland and the rest of the world should treat the two sides as separate, equal, and sovereign political entities. To that end, Taiwan over the past several years has tried by numerous means to gain wider and more formal recognition for itself, including: admission to multilateral organizations, especially those that admit only internationally recognized states; highly politicized international travel by its president and premier; and economic assistance and private investment often targeted to maximize political/diplomatic gains. None of these efforts has enjoyed measurable success. It has also tried on various occasions to refine the definition of its relations with the mainland (e.g., Lees comments in July) to create as much political space as possible between the two.
Beijing has refused to be moved from its one-China position, and no other country has realigned its China policy based on Taiwans definitions. Beijing profoundly distrusts Lee and believes he is seeking nothing less than a complete break from the mainland and international acceptance of Taiwan as a separate and fully independent state.
Whatever Lees longer-term intentions, an intractable contradiction exists between Beijing and Taipei regarding Taiwans current status. For Beijing, the only issue for consideration is formal resolution of its sovereignty over all of Chinas territory, including Taiwan. This is so deeply ingrained in mainland consciousness after nearly two centuries of foreign colonization that it has taken on the trappings of a sacred mission, one that Beijing cannot abandon or negotiate away. Nevertheless, Beijing has promised complete autonomy for a Taiwan reunited with the mainland, including retention of its own armed forces, in exchange for Taiwans acceptance of PRC sovereignty. It has also signaled willingness not to force the issue, as long as Taiwan refrains from challenging the mainlands sovereignty and seeking independence. However, it is precisely there that the fault line is located.
For Taipei, the issue is more complex. Although most (but not all) on Taiwan accept a cultural and linguistic affinity even a strong bond among people on both sides of the Strait, they are also painfully conscious of the discrepancies: a population one-sixtieth of the mainlands; a per capita income 13 times larger than that on the mainland; a thriving, multi-party democracy vs. an autocracy that brooks no political competition. From the perspective of people on Taiwan the mainland presents a huge challenge which they cannot escape. Their great fear is that Taiwan will be swallowed up economically and politically. It will take years or even decades of further development on the mainland before their fears are assuaged. In the meantime, they are perforce consigned to a political and diplomatic twilight zone, neither country nor province. From their sense of vulnerability comes political support for maintaining space from the mainland which no political party in Taiwan can ignore. On the issue of separate political identities, the question in Taiwan is not yes or no, but how much and for how long.
From the standpoint of the U.S., this contradiction is also complex, and compelling. Acting in our own interests, we helped create the situation that obtains today. For the past 20 years, administrations of both parties have held steadfastly to a one-China policy, according full diplomatic recognition to Beijing while maintaining an unofficial but robust relationship with Taipei. By now our cultural and commercial ties to both sides of the Strait have grown strong. We are uneasy with the contradiction existing between the two sides and would like to see it fixed somehow, through our own efforts if all else fails.
At one extreme are those who see Taiwan as the little engine that could an unmitigated political and economic success as measured by U.S. standards, one that deserves our full political and military support even at the expense of relations with the mainland, if necessary. At the other extreme are those who believe the support we are giving Taiwan now has already jeopardized our larger interests in the mainland, and we should thus adopt a strict constructionist interpretation of the three joint communiqués, even if this imperils Taiwans security.
The only argument for our strange, inelegant, and often disquieting China policy is that it has worked and served U.S. interests very well. On Taiwan, it created the conditions for the maturation of democratic institutions and a market economy. On the mainland, it ended the adversarial relationship between the U.S. and China, giving Beijing the sense of security it needed to unleash the forces of reform and opening. The past two decades mark the longest period of peace and political stability in China in two centuries and a growth of personal freedom and prosperity unrivaled in Chinas entire history. In that period, China has also changed from a rogue state promoting world revolution, to a positive stabilizing force in the Asian region.
We may be forced to accept that for the time being that there are no simple, elegant solutions that will serve U.S. interests as well. We should continue to urge both sides to talk and to refrain from provocations. We should also continue to insist to both sides that any resolution must be peaceful. Like it or not, we may have to live with the status quo for some time to come.
Minxin Pei asks, Is China Unstable? China... will face rising instability if the regime fails to undertake significant political reform in the next decade.
Carl Fritz on China in 1945: One Man's Experience. My unit was an air service group, and when the war ended members of the unit were widely scattered all over China.
Ralph D. Sawyer on Chinese Warfare: The Paradox of the Unlearned Lesson. From any reasonable perspective Chinas continuity has been cultural rather than political, its heritage throughout one of incessant conflict as different peoples, states, and popular movements fought to control its populace and resources.
Thomas D. Grant on Taiwan Trouble. Taiwan had almost all the traits of a separate state, except that it never claimed to be a separate state.
Elsewhere in this issue:
Also by Joe Borich in American Diplomacy:
On U.S. relations with a Changing China:
Commentary in this issue:
Barry Ryland-Holmes on Waging Peace in Kosovo: "Western intervention, however civilized it may appear, runs the risk of replacing the economic imperialism of the nineteenth century with a cultural imperialism for the twenty-first."
Lawyers Harry Inman and Walter Gary Sharp on Revising the UN Trusteeship System Will it Work?: "The international community has all the legal authority it needs to solve humanitarian crises and armed conflicts around the world. The real difficulty is gaining a consensus on what should be done and how resources will be provided."