Thirty Year Journey by Ambassador Winston Lord
Thirty Year Journey
Ambassador Winston Lord
Taipei, April 12, 2009
I am honored to follow President Ma and address this conference.
Our gathering commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). It is also an occasion to salute the inspiring journey of Taiwan in the jaws of powerful headwinds. The Act helped to safeguard the journey, but the people of Taiwan, with skillful skippers, have mapped one of the world’s truly remarkable success stories.
The Past Thirty Years
The TRA of April 10, 1979 has proven to be one of America’s most important, effective and enduring legislative actions since World War II. It has preserved and enriched our bonds with a valued partner. It has helped maintain stability in the Western Pacific. And it has been vital for Taiwan’s security, prosperity and democratic evolution.
Others at this conference will cover the details of the Act’s provisions. The central purposes are well known. The Carter Administration had just transferred diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing, announced termination of our defense treaty with Taiwan, and committed to prompt withdrawal of all military personnel. But it wished to maintain robust non-governmental relations with Taiwan and pledged to continue selling defensive arms.
Understandably Taiwan staggered from this diplomatic, political and psychological blow. Hence the U.S. administration drafted legislation that was greatly strengthened by Congress to buttress Taiwan’s position and promote America’s interests.
The Act achieved two principal goals which have been met for three decades. With vision and ingenuity the U.S. created unprecedented entities and procedures which maintained de facto all the relations with Taiwan that existed before the shift in diplomatic ties. And with clear intent, combined with constructive ambiguity, we crafted American security assurances.
Such steps were necessary, but hardly sufficient. During these decades the island has faced a population more than fifty times larger; a growing economic giant that is a magnet for the world’s traders and investors; an increasingly hazardous military imbalance; and a severe shrinking of Taipei’s official presence in world capitals and international organizations.
Against these odds and pressures, the record of Taiwan is nothing short of astonishing.
Taiwan has been at the forefront of East Asia’s economic juggernaut. Yes, it is currently facing harsh problems. But what part of the world, including my own, is not? The essential strengths of Taiwan’s economy will resurface as the global crisis fades.
Taiwan’s security has been sustained. Yes, the military buildup on the mainland continues unabated. But one hundred miles, self-defense efforts, American credibility and the incalculable costs of aggression are reassuring realities.
Taiwan is a vibrant democracy. Its freedom, civil society and rule of law have helped to bury the myths of “Asian values” and “Chinese characteristics.” It shines as a beacon for those across the Strait. Yes, corruption has plagued both major parties here, and gridlock and partisanship sully the scene. But such familiar afflictions of a democracy pale in comparison to the smothering and secrecy of autocracy.
I do not mean to trivialize the challenges. There is a daunting agenda here as there is in America. Taiwan must dig out of economic holes and speed reforms. It must pull greater weight in its own defense, and further strengthen its democracy. But I believe that Taiwan can. My optimism rests on the record of the Taiwan Relations Act, the inherent virtues of this island’s systems, and the will of its people.
The American Balancing Act
The establishment of diplomatic relations with Beijing, and the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, were dramatic milestones of an American balancing act that has been pursued by seven – and now eight -- Presidents of both parties. Ever since President Nixon, the U.S. has forged positive relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) because they clearly serve our national interests. From that outset, I have actively participated, in various capacities, in this process. I believe this relationship is central for American security and prosperity, for regional and global welfare. To this end, I work without any illusions about ambiguities, tensions and pitfalls.
But I carry the conviction of successive American administrations to honor our historical, legal and moral commitments to Taiwan, as well as to cultivate our concrete interests. Good relations with Beijing need not harm Taiwan’s fortunes; indeed they can serve them. And thus I am here again this week to strengthen U.S. – Taiwan relations.
No doubt this balancing act has at times anguished U.S. policymakers. President Carter realized the pain he was inflicting on our old friends in 1979. So did President Nixon at the dawn of that decade. For me it was also personal. Certainly I was an enthusiastic proponent and actor in the opening to China, from the Kissinger secret trip, to the Shanghai Communiqué which I co-drafted, to subsequent evolutions.
I had my own reasons for angst, however. My parents were friends of President and Madame Chiang Kai-shek, who sent a pair of silver wedding cups to Bette and me. Our wedding reception was hosted by the then Chinese Ambassador at Twin Oaks in Washington. My father-in-law was the Taiwan Sugar Company’s representative in America. Our opening to China soon cost him his position as Taiwan’s envoy to the International Sugar Council. Permit me to hail my second parents, the late Dora and Sandys Bao, who always understood my views were never personal.
This American balancing act has often been precarious. Marked by some misjudgments, missteps and misunderstandings. Rattled by diplomatic dust-ups and military maneuvers. Nevertheless the overall performance by American presidents has been astute and sophisticated. We have kept faith with Taiwan -- and Taiwan, through its own efforts, has flourished. We have been forthcoming and firm with China – and our relations have advanced. Throughout, the stability and prosperity of this region have been enhanced.
Currently that stability – if not prosperity – applies to relations across the Taiwan Strait. As we meet, this situation is the most steady and promising in sixty years. We can thank the enlightened policies of all three major actors. We can credit the willingness to tolerate the status quo.
President Ma has boldly reached across the Strait, while avoiding provocations, to promote economic and personal links. President Hu has moderated Beijing’s rhetoric, and shifted from pressing reunification to deterring formal independence. The two sides have finessed the core issue of sovereignty by dancing around the “1992 consensus.” They have focused on the more tractable issues in the early stages to build trust and confidence. Meanwhile, President Bush encouraged this process by reassuring and deterring both parties. By virtue of President Obama’s pronouncements and personnel, I believe we can expect our 44th President to do the same.
A crucial factor for recent and indeed future progress is steady consultation and mutual trust between Taipei and Washington. In our relations we need sensitivity, not surprises.
For cross-strait relations, the results so far have been salutary, with easing tensions, expanding dialogue and pragmatic accords. Some of the economic steps have been impressive, although the worldwide economic crunch has obscured their significance and delayed their impact.
There is, of course, never room for complacency. Washington fathoms the delicacy for all concerned. The United States should continue to foster a positive environment for progress through a deft diplomacy of encouragement and admonition. We should adhere to our commitments to the Mainland and the Taiwan Relations Act.
We should not, however, mediate in any fashion, even in the highly unlikely event that the two sides sought to cast America in this role. To referee or to coach runs contrary to historical assurances and courts a slippery slope. As always, the future relationship between Taiwan and the PRC should be resolved between them directly, peacefully and with the support of the people.
As for future moves by Taipei and Beijing, I must practice the restraint which I preach. But clearly the immediate issue is international space for Taiwan. The Chinese have loosened up somewhat. They have observed a truce on diplomatic relations with third parties and seem to be entertaining flexibility on Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organization (WHO). Let us hope Beijing moves from halting, limited steps to a more forthcoming posture, there and elsewhere, consistent with Taiwan’s dignity and stature. This can be reconciled with Beijing’s principles if it has the will to do so. Progress on this issue is critical -- both on the merits of the case and to show the Taiwan people that President Ma’s initiatives are bearing fruit.
The other looming problem is security. One can hope that increasing economic ties, bilateral dialogue and general momentum will lead to progress here as well. So far the picture is not encouraging. Documented in the just released Pentagon report, China continues to build up its missile force and its general military capabilities. Fleeting references to confidence-building measures have not yielded concrete steps.
Meanwhile the two sides need to seek ways to continue obfuscating the sovereignty question. The future contours of the relationship, above all, do not lend themselves to American speculation. The Chinese have shown some patience, perhaps believing time is on their side. Surely they recognize that prudence, rather than pressures, serves their interests.
Here in democratic Taiwan, there is a clear popular consensus that drawing closer to the PRC can only be envisioned if the mainland’s political system becomes more open, pluralistic and free. That is one incentive for Beijing to proceed with political reforms. Others include economic growth, social and political stability, and standing in the world. Despite recent setbacks, I am hopeful that China will move toward greater transparency and liberty – not as a concession to the West but as the proven route to a brighter future.
Anniversaries are times for projection as well as reflection. As we look back for three decades, Taiwan and the United States celebrate sustained bonds. Language drafted in 1979 has supported relations rooted in mutual interests and progressively strengthened by this island’s embracing of democracy.
Looking forward, our immediate vision is clouded by an economic crisis that strains confidence and shakes societies – not only here and in America, but across the Strait and around the globe. Just as international contagion plunges us downward, so will international cooperation lift us up. It is in each of our self-interests to benefit, not beggar, our neighbors.
This will require strong, far-sighted leaders. It will test the fiber of peoples. Patriotism must supplant partisanship.
I believe that free societies, however messy and raucous, have inherent strengths. Their creativity and resilience help us not only to grapple with urgent problems but prosper over time.
This shared devotion to freedom binds Taiwan and America. It is the firmest guarantee that thirty year old words will continue to resonate in lasting partnership.