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Time US eschewed its faulty Taiwan policy
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By Tao Wenzhao 

Washington's Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) has been the biggest hurdle in the deepening of Sino-US ties.

The past year has seen the Chinese mainland and Taiwan take the peaceful development track across the Taiwan Straits. Sino-US ties, too, have seen a smooth transition after Barack Obama took over as the US president, and now seem to be on a robust development momentum.

But some scholars credit the TRA for the positive developments in Sino-US and cross-Straits ties. This is ridiculous, coming as it does on the 30th anniversary of the US Congress passing a controversial bill. The US Congress passed the TRA three months after the country normalized its diplomatic ties with the People's Republic of China (PRC) in January 1979. The TRA was aimed at continuing America's "official ties" with Taiwan even after breaking its ties with the island and establishing diplomatic relations with the mainland. The TRA says the US would fulfill its "security commitment" made to the island in case of emergency. The TRA was a big step backward for the US from its decision to normalize ties with the PRC. In passing the bill, the US not only interfered with China's internal affairs, but also infringed upon its sovereignty.

Even after the normalizing of Sino-US ties 30 years ago, the US has subjected its China policy to the dictates of the TRA - on the one hand, it is committed to improving Sino-US ties and, on the other, it has followed a containment policy against the mainland and maintained US interests in Taiwan.

So what are the US' strategic interests in Taiwan? After the resumption of Sino-US diplomatic ties, the US has not mentioned what strategic interests it has in the island. Some US scholars, however, have been more candid on the subject. In February 2008, the Taiwan Policy Working Group (TPWG) says that after assuming "control of the Taiwan Straits" the mainland would effectively stop the US and its allies from entering the important maritime passage. The report, "Strengthening Freedom in Asia: A 21st Century Agenda for US-Taiwan Partnership", says the People's Liberation Army could easily advance deep into the Asia-Pacific region once it "controls the island". The TPWG is spearheaded by Dan Blumenthal, Pentagon's senior director for the mainland, Taiwan and Mongolia till November 2004 and now resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and Randall Schriver, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the George W. Bush administration.

The mainland has adopted a range of policies and measures over the past few decades to ensure peaceful development of cross-Straits ties. But till last year, the designs of Taiwan separatist forces prevented cross-Straits ties from progressing in the direction people on both sides of the Straits wanted it to. The two tenures of the separatist Chen Shui-bian in Taiwan were especially detrimental to the development of peaceful cross-Straits ties. By pushing for "Taiwan independence", Chen took Taiwan and the mainland to the brink of a conflict on several occasions.

This is where the TRA comes in because, to a large extent, it emboldened Taiwan separatists. It was the TRA that encouraged Chen to declare: The US and Japan would pay enough attention to the region once a war breaks out across the Straits. The US would certainly come to Taiwan's aid in accordance with the spirit of the TRA.

Chen's words exposed Taiwan separatists' motive of using the TRA to draw the US, its biggest patron, into a military conflict with the Chinese mainland.

The TRA's arms sales clause has obstructed the development of Sino-US ties, especially bilateral military ties. And the US' weapons sales to Taiwan, especially last October's $6.463-billion arms deal, have hurt Sino-US relations.

But great changes have taken place across the world in the past 30 years. For instance, Sino-US ties have developed into one of the most important bilateral relations in the world. That was reflected in the first meeting between Presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama in London early last month and their defining of bilateral ties as being active, positive and all-round. That set a positive tone for the development of Sino-US ties. If that positive tone is to be turned into action what does the US still need the TRA for, especially after cross-Straits ties have seen a positive and peaceful development?

Sino-US ties have no doubt moved forward, but strategic misgivings still exist between the two sides. Washington is worried that Beijing could pose a threat to its dominant role in East Asia, and the world beyond, if it becomes more powerful. And the existence of the TRA makes Beijing justifiably fear Washington would play the Taiwan card to check its development.

The TRA has long been an obstacle in Sino-US ties, and it's time it was given its long due burial so that bilateral relations can be taken to a higher level.

The author is a researcher with the Institute of American Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

(China Daily May 14, 2009)

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