On June 3, 2015, President Ma Ying-Jeou held a video-conference with the Center of Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University. As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, Ma outlines the history of the Republic of China (ROC) and United States, and pinpoints his point of view regarding cross-strait relations. This article will go into understanding more about certain historical events and times mentioned by President Ma. Excerpts from the speech transcript are copied here and explained further. Transcript can be found here.
Taiwan – US Relations
Ma opened his speech stating:
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, as well as the ROC’s victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan. In July 1937, two years before WWII broke out, ROC forces began fighting against Japanese aggression alone, and for four long years, they continued with virtually no outside help. It wasn’t until the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 that the ROC joined forces with the Allies to declare war against Japan, Germany, and Italy.
Many people know of Taiwan as one of the few countries in East Asia to not only not hold a grudge against Japan, but attribute many of its advancements due to Japanese colonization. However, when Ma speaks of ROC, he is referring to the ROC that resided in Nanking, China, prior to 1947. Bringing up 70th anniversary is rather quite ironic as less than a week ago, there was a commemoration event marking the 70th anniversary of the Raid on Taipei by the United States. “Over 3,800 bombs were dropped on Taipei by 117 B-24 bombers in a three-hour attack that killed thousands of civilians.” (Examiner.com)
Ma continues to outline US support of ROC and it’s security. He cites President Eisenhower’s support of the Congressional Resolution, known as Formosa Resolution, which establishes the United States’ commitment to protect “territories in the West Pacific under the jurisdiction of the Republic of China” against invasion by the People’s Republic of China.
Since I came into office in 2008, mutual ROC-US trust has been restored at the highest levels of government. And over the past two years, there have been frequent, reciprocal visits by high-level officials.
From 2000 to 2008, prior to the Ma administration, President Chen was viewed by the US government as a troublemaker. Chen was very strong on Taiwan independence and acted upon it with actions such as applying to join the United Nations under the name “Taiwan”. These action caused US to view Taiwan as a pressure point in danger of causing instability in East Asia by provoking the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Wanting to avoid any trouble to destabilize East Asia, US started to agree with PRC and distance itself from Taiwan/ROC.
Ma concludes the talk about US-Taiwan relations:
So all of these things add up- Increased trust at the highest levels, and closer political, economic, and security cooperation show that over the last seven years- Taiwan-US ties are the best they have been in the 36 years since the Taiwan Relations Act was passed. Successive US Secretaries of State, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, have both publicly affirmed that “Taiwan is an important security and economic partner of the United States.” And that’s a pretty good summation of the current state of bilateral Taiwan-US relations.
“Let me now turn to cross-strait relations.”
Taiwan – China Relations
I have also remained committed, based on the 1992 Consensus, which is “one China, respective interpretations,” to promoting cross-strait peace and development. These policies have completely transformed the Taiwan Strait—so what was once a flashpoint for conflict is now a haven of peace.
The main point in this part of the speech was 1992 Consensus.
1992 Consensus is a meeting, whose existence is contested, between officials from ROC and officials from PRC. Those that claim such consensus happened said that officials from both sides agreed that there is one China and each has their own interpretation. In other words, they agreed to disagree. This ambiguity is what PRC says ROC must comply with in order to have any communication. However, the very existence of this consensus is denied by the past 2 presidents, Lee and Chen.
So this marks the first time since the beginning of the Cold War that the US need not choose sides in the cross-strait equation, and mainland China and Taiwan need not face this predicament either. This is now the very foundation of the status quo in Taiwan-US relations.
The US State Department’s official stance on the cross-strait equation is that the US government neither supports or rejects Taiwan’s claim for independence and that the fate of the island shall be decided by peaceful means determined by people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
President Ma attributes the 1992 Consensus as the key factor for the stability and increased communication across the Taiwan Strait. He also attributes the peace between the two warring parties to be the reason for improved Taiwan – US relations:
Another observation I want to make is that both Washington and Taipei agree that current Taiwan-US relationship is at its best in 36 years. What are the key reasons for that?
In my view, there are two key reasons beyond strong traditional friendship built since War World II: First of all, the successful handling of cross-strait relations based on the 1992 Consensus—namely, one China, respective interpretations. Second, the low-key and surprise-free approach to the conduct of our bilateral relations. The first one is even more critical than the second one. That is to say, without the 1992 Consensus, I doubt the current status quo can be maintained. I hope this invaluable model will continue well into the future even after I step down as president of the Republic of China.
President Ma’s speech walked through the history that formed the strong bond between ROC and USA and hopes for USA’s continued support in ROC. He also highlighted the importance of the 1992 Consensus in keeping the peace and security in the Taiwan Strait.
President Ma has normalized relations for ROC, both to the USA as well as to PRC, by changing ROC’s position on Taiwan sovereignty from hardcore independence movement to convenient ambiguity. This allows for Taiwan to form relations with other countries and have greater international exposure and involvement. However, many fear this is an issue that will be disastrous for Taiwan politically and socially if not publicly dealt with. On the other hand, this time created through the convenient ambiguity allows more time for Taiwan to better itself as a country and prove to the rest of the world that Taiwan’s freedom and democracy is pivotal to the world.