Diplomacy, Lobbyists, And The Strait Of Formosa

As I’ve pointed out several times, I tend to keep tabs on what is going on between China and Taiwan. The Washington Post is currently doing a long series on lobbyists, and I came across a chapter regarding the lobbying effort to allow Taiwanese President Lee to visit the US in 1994-5.

The Republic of China on Taiwan confirmed this new status in 1994 when it picked Cassidy for a sensitive and lucrative assignment — to persuade the United States government to change its policy toward the leader of Taiwan, and allow him to visit the United States.

The story began in April 1994, at a time when Cassidy knew almost nothing of Taiwan, and the Taiwanese knew absolutely nothing about Cassidy. That month the fiery and determined Taiwanese president, Lee Teng-hui, sought permission to land his plane in Hawaii and spend a night in Honolulu on his way from Taiwan to South America. But the U.S. government said Lee could stop only to refuel, and could not visit Hawaii. The Clinton administration was adhering to rules established after the United States formally recognized China’s mainland government in Beijing in 1979. That agreement required Washington to break off “official” relations with Taiwan, which subsequent U.S. administrations had interpreted as meaning no visits by Taiwanese officials to the United States.

Now, the lobbying aspect doesn’t really interest me. It’s a good read, so you might want to check it out. What does interest me most is the relationship between the US, China, and Taiwan. To allow Lee to visit would be a violation of common understanding of the “One China” policy, even if it was not a diplomatic visit to the US. Any allowance of a visit would be sure to infuriate the Chinese, and Warren Christopher had personally assured his Chinese contacts that such a visit wouldn’t occur. But with some deft lobbying, the public and Congress were on Lee’s side, and a political battle ensued. To make a long story short, the political dance and lobbying eventually forced Clinton to allow the visit (over the strident objections of the State Department), and Lee came to give a speech at Cornell University, his alma mater.

It’s what happened next that was interesting:

In June 1995, Lee spoke at Cornell. The communist authorities in Beijing were livid; their relations with Taiwan deteriorated rapidly. A year later, they were firing missiles over Taiwan in a show of strength that prompted the United States to send two aircraft carriers into the Taiwan Strait, between Taiwan and the mainland. Taiwan’s currency and its stock market both tumbled in the crisis. Taiwanese had been thrilled when Lee went to Cornell, but in the aftermath the benefits of the visit were less clear.

In my heart, I hope for a true Taiwanese independence, formally recognized by the world community. My pragmatic side thinks a declaration of independence, however, would result in near-immediate war, a bad outcome for all parties involved, including the US. When I read this story, I was struck with validation of my prediction. If China was willing to fire missiles over the island in response to their President simply giving a speech at an American university, is there any doubt that a declaration of independence would result in war?

  • walter

    No doubt war would happen, and I agree with most of your statements in this article however, I think you should note Taiwan’s view as well. You did well in stating that your heart was basically “for Taiwan”. The way China has built up its military lately obviously indicates that is the direction we are heading. Plus not to mention the satellite testing, that was something serious. On top of that a Chinese sub stalked a US aircraft carrier.

    Taiwan hasn’t declared independence. Taiwan’s president in particular, has merely stated a fact: Taiwan is not a part of China, and unification is not the only choice for Taiwan. President Chen of Taiwan has repeatedly stressed that there is a growing Taiwanese identity and that it can not be held down for long regardless of U.S. or China’s pressure. In the long run, Taiwan’s democracy will be its greatest weapon against potential Chinese aggression or to put it more accurately, the CCP’s aggression towards Taiwan.

    Also war isn’t of benefit to anyone, but then again China doesn’t seem to get the message that it doesn’t rule Taiwan and Taiwan isn’t a part of China. The CCP cares more about Taiwan than its own Chinese citizens, Tibeteans, and other peoples within China. I have a feeling that the chances for war are pretty high at this point regardless of assurances that it’s not. To underestimate China’s insane obessesion with Taiwan would be a mistake on the part of the U.S. The U.S. must be prepared to defend Taiwan and judging from various U.S. military officals: Timothy Keatings and General Pace, that is what the U.S. military is doing now.

  • http://michaelturton.blogspot.com/ js290


    For those interested, the above blog is written by an American living in Taiwan that gives a relatively accurate account of Taiwanese (as opposed to the Chinese KMT) sentiment over various political issues.

    The CCP’s biggest fear over Taiwan is likely the loss of control over the provinces it actually does control.