What caught this Bystander’s eye in the otherwise pro-forma congratulatory messages from the Chinese leadership to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama was the prominence given to the importance of the Three Communiques.
For younger readers, those are the three joint statements by China and the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s that provided a framework for normalizing relations between the two countries. Obama was 9-years old, incidentally, at the time the first one was written.
All three address the contentious Taiwan issue and collectively provide the One-China doctrine by which the U.S. recognizes the PRC as the sole legal government of China. With a deft bit of diplomatic drafting, Washington declared that it would end formal political relations with the people of Taiwan while preserving economic and cultural ties.
Relations between Beijing and Taipei are warming. This week’s visit by Chen Yunlin, the highest ranking Chinese official to visit the island since 1949, has already resulted in a slew of groundbreaking agreements to improve trade and communications across the Taiwan Straits (see: “Beijing And Taipei Sign Suite Of Trade Deals“). Taiwan’s new president Ma Ying-jeou, wants closer relations with the mainland, a contrast to his hard-line predecessor. Regardless of the pro-independence protests that have accompanied Chen’s visit, Beijing may be sensing a window of opportunity. It was restrained in its criticism of the Bush administration’s $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan announced in October (see “Taiwan Arms Sales A Storm In A Teacup“). A new president always offers the chance of a fresh start.
While Obama has frequently talked about China, he has said little about Taiwan. He only seems to have mentioned it once in Congress and his campaign position papers give over only one paragraph to it.
Barack Obama and Joe Biden recognize the importance of maintaining the One China policy, as laid out in the Three Communiqués, and they also underscore that the Taiwan Relations Act, an act of the U.S. Congress passed on March 29, 1979, undergirds our relations with Taiwan. They will work to ensure that a military conflict across the Taiwan Strait never arises – by maintaining good relations with China and Taiwan and by making clear that we expect them to resolve their differences peacefully and through dialogue. While Barack Obama and Joe Biden oppose the use of force to resolve the issue, he will act to ensure that Taiwan, a thriving democracy, is not coerced into accepting a change in its status against its will. As Obama said in May 2007, “This means maintaining our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening our alliances, and making clear to both Beijing and Taipei that a unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is unacceptable.”
All very measured, in the Obama way. Change might be coming to America, but not , this Bystander would hazard, to U.S. Taiwan policy anytime soon.