U.S.-Chinese Relations Strained over Taiwan

By Boese, Wade | Arms Control Today, March 2000 | Go to article overview

U.S.-Chinese Relations Strained over Taiwan


Boese, Wade, Arms Control Today


IN A MOVE that prompted U.S. warnings that any military action would cause "grave concern," Beijing issued a white paper February 21 expanding the circumstances under which it would use force to reunify Taiwan with China. Couched amid statements promoting peaceful reunification, Beijing's new threat caught U.S. officials off-guard because U.S.-Chinese relations had appeared to be on the mend after military ties between the two countries resumed in January. The timing of the paper precedes Taiwan's upcoming presidential election and follows the passage of proTaiwan legislation in the U.S. Congress.

Released by China's State Council just days after the visit of a high-level U.S. delegation, the white paper warned that China would use force if Taiwan indefinitely postponed reunification negotiations. In the past, China had threatened force only if Taiwan, which Beijing considers a part of China, declared independence or if a foreign power occupied the island. China did not attach a time frame to its new threat. According to a State Department official, China had previously stated in private that it would not wait indefinitely for reunification, but this was the first time China had explicitly linked that sentiment to the use of force.

However, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen denied on February 29 that the white paper signaled a change in China's Taiwan policy and claimed the paper was aimed at "urging the Taiwan authorities to sit down to hold talks and negotiations." The white paper said China would do "its best" to achieve peaceful reunification and that force would be the "last choice made under compelled circumstances." China pledged that Taiwan would "enjoy a high degree of autonomy" after reunification and that troops and administrative personnel would not be "stationed" in Taiwan.

The white paper described Taiwan as the "most crucial and most sensitive" issue between the United States and China. While U.S. officials reiterated long-standing U.S. policy that the content of the crossstrait dialogue is a matter for the two parties involved, State Department spokesman James Rubin described the new formulation as "unhelpful" and "counterproductive." Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to China in 1979 and acknowledges Beijing's position that Taiwan is part of China.

U.S.-Chinese relations further deteriorated last May following NATO's bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, leading China to suspend relations with the U.S. military. With a January 2526 visit by Chinese Lieutenant General Xiong Guangkai to Washington, those ties were resumed. The two sides agreed on a tentative program for renewing highlevel visits and confidence-building measures, such as talks to prevent incidents at sea.

Military Balance in the Strait

According to the white paper, no country that has diplomatic relations with China should provide arms to Taiwan. Specifically, China attacked the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed on February 1, as "gross interference" in China's internal affairs. …

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