The United States continues to position itself on the losing side in the increasingly heated Taiwan name game—which appears to be approaching a resolution that Washington and Beijing will dislike, but be at a loss to handle.
Reports by Agence France Presse indicate that the U.S.’s de facto Ambassador to Taipei, Stephen Young, has reiterated Washington’s opposition to the UN referendum to be held in March of next year. Although Washington is coy about its reasons for opposition, they rest on the long-standing assumption that whatever anyone else does, the Taiwan government will insist its island is part of China, by using the official name “Republic of China.” The referendum would call for the name “Taiwan” to be used in applying for UN membership, which suggests no connection to China. Therefore Washington is dead set against it—and, even as it encourages the island to improve its defenses, is withholding sales of necessary F-16’s in an attempt to exert pressure.
Washington has always relied on the (formerly dictatorial) party of Chiang Kai-shek, officially known as “The Chinese Kuomintang,” but now a democratic player in Taiwan politics, to hold the line on Taiwan’s Chineseness. But that party is now reconsidering its position, for the simple reason that to be pro-China in democratic Taiwan is electoral poison. Thus, the China Post, a pro-China paper, has just run an editorial suggesting that voters will ask Kuomintang candidates, “If you love Taiwan and are loyal to it, why do you have the name China in your party’s title?” Calling this an “Achilles’ heel,” the newspaper urges that presidential candidate Ma Ying-jeou might do well to change that name to “Taiwan” Kuomintang before the elections (in November and March). Otherwise, they argue, the China issue could lead the party to yet another loss.
Sooner or later, we may be certain, the Kuomintang will heed that advice and remake itself as a purely Taiwanese party. When that happens, the basic plank of U.S. China policy will collapse. As was stated in the Shanghai Communique of February 28, 1972, published after Richard Nixon’s pathbreaking visit to China:
The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.
This was clever wording at a time when the dictatorship in Taipei insisted that Taiwan was part of China. But under a less repressive regime Taiwanese are expressing their true feelings, and even the party that ran the dictatorship is on track to go Taiwanese. The United States will soon find no one on the Taiwan side of the strait to “maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.” Washington and Beijing will have to adjust to this new situation. But neither has any idea how.