FLASHBACK From John Bolton: February 18, 2000Congressional Republicans Stand Up for Taiwan

[This article originally appeared in the February 18, 2000, issue of HUMAN EVENTS.] On February 1, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly adopted the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act (TSEA), despite loud objections by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The TSEA fundamentally seeks to forge stronger military bonds between Taiwan and the United States, and to upgrade Taiwan’s defense capabilities in response to the PRC’s alarming buildup. Precisely because the TSEA would significantly augment U.S.-Taiwan ties, the House’s action has alarmed both the White House and Beijing. Indeed, the bill’s original author, Sen. Jesse Helms (R.-N.C.), said last October: “Some are going to say that this is provocative. They will claim that doing these things will upset the United States’ relationship with China. This is true. The Red Chinese won’t like this bill.” American foreign policy frequently evolves from the clash between Congress and the President, and perhaps nowhere is that more demonstrably true in the last several decades than in the case of U.S. policy toward Taiwan. President Carter’s 1979 decision to derecognize the Republic of China in favor of Beijing produced a volcanic reaction in Congress that led to the Taiwan Relations Act. More recently, President Clinton’s endorsement of the PRC’s “Three Noes” policy produced a similar reaction in Congress, resulting in the TSEA, which would go well beyond the more general provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act. Now that the House of Representatives has acted, the action will shift to the Senate, and quite possibly to the presidential campaigns, where the Clinton Administration’s policy toward China has already come under strong criticism by prospective Republican nominees. The real argument here is a basic philosophical debate about how to deal with international threats to U.S. national interests and those of our friends. President Clinton has consistently attempted to avert controversy and confrontation in foreign affairs by deferring to assertive powers, or, when he does resort to force, by restraining the use of American power in ways many consider unnecessary and unwise. He has, for example, uniformly attempted to satisfy the PRC’s concerns–on trade issues, on WTO membership, on religious freedom, and on Taiwan–rather than assert legitimate American interests. Many in Congress, almost certainly a majority, have a radically different view of how best to protect and advance U.S. interests. This difference explains the overwhelming Senate defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which completely surprised the Clinton Administration and the international arms-control priesthood. And it is why the stakes in the struggle over the TSEA are so high. President Clinton is trying hard to obtain congressional approval for permanent “Normal Trade Relations” with China, as a precursor to its entry into the World Trade Organization. He worries that TSEA, if enacted, would jeopardize China’s prospects. Thus, the administration has tried to persuade American businesses interested in the PRC market to lobby against TSEA. That strategy was also reflected in PRC Prime Minister Zhu Rhongji’s intemperate remarks to U.S. business leaders in Shanghai during the PRC’s 50th Anniversary celebrations. Unfortunately for President Clinton, however, it is the PRC that is posturing most vocally about Taiwan’s future status, threatening “instability” in the region, or even threatening the use of military force if things do not go its way. Whether because of internal policy disagreements in Beijing or because of behind-the-scenes power struggles within the Communist Party, China’s clumsy approach both to the WTO and the TSEA makes it its own worst enemy on these issues in Washington. Moreover, in a presidential election year, all predictions about congressional politics become more difficult. Democratic Party strategists are concerned that a full-scale Senate debate on TSEA during the 2000 presidential nomination contest will reflect adversely on Vice President Gore, because of his important role in helping formulate the Clinton Administration’s foreign policy. Similarly, however, Republicans are sensitive to the risk that they will be assailed as reckless and irresponsible, especially if the PRC steps up its saber rattling during the same period. Senate Sequel At this point, however, the odds favor Senate consideration and even passage of the TSEA, although perhaps with further modifications. The Democratic Party is not likely to stand behind the President, and there have already been significant defections, such as TSEA co-sponsors Barney Frank (D.-Mass.) in the House of Representatives and Robert Torricelli (D.-N. J.) in the Senate. Particularly because Republicans see foreign policy issues working in their favor in the presidential campaign, there is little doubt that they will now press hard for the TSEA in the Senate. If it is adopted, President Clinton would be very hard-pressed to veto the bill during the campaign for fear of reopening the debate over his foreign policy. That at least is the strategy of TSEA advocates, and it has proven correct so far.