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Managing the Triangular Relationship: The U.S., China & Taiwan

Senator Dianne Feinstein (www.feinstein.senate.gov)

Senator Dianne Feinstein (www.feinstein.senate.gov)

Speech by Senator Dianne Feinstein, U.S. Senate.

Washington, D.C.
May 11, 2005

In June 1979, as a new Mayor of San Francisco, I led a delegation to Shanghai. It was sort of a race between Los Angeles and San Francisco to establish a Sister City relationship with Shanghai and of course San Francisco won – and it was the first such Sister City relationship between an American city and a Chinese city.

It turned out that Wang Daohan, who was then Mayor became the chief negotiator for the Mainland in cross-Strait talks with Taiwan during the 1990s and the second mayor who came to office during my tenure in San Francisco was Jiang Zemin, who has partnered with three American Presidents to make U.S.-China relations the best they had ever been; and the next mayor was Zhu Rongji, who I believe is the individual most responsible for China’s economic turnaround.

So I have had an opportunity to get to know three of them rather well. I went to Shanghai one year, and the Mayor of Shanghai went the next year to San Francisco. We had 50 ongoing educational, cultural, medical exchanges. It was the most active Sister City relationship in the world. And as I watched China come out of the cultural revolution and begin to change, I saw the rapidity of that change.

As early as 1979, I perceived how dedicated the leadership was to two things: stability and economic growth – both within a socialist institution. And I watched over the nine years I was Mayor and the subsequent years and have seen no large country on earth change more than China.

At the same time, we had a Sister City relationship with Taipei. You might think that might present some problems. Strangely enough it did not. I was able to make several trips to Taiwan and see various groups in Taiwan.

One of the interesting things to me since I became a U.S. Senator is to see how much the official Washington looks East. That contrasts with how little Washington looks West. Well, on the Pacific Coast, we are part of the Century of the Pacific, we are part of the largest trading basin in the world. We have a very strong belief that we can evolve into a community of trade and peace – and with the increasing developments in telecommunications shrink that vast Pacific Ocean.

During this period of time, China’s growing political, military, and economic ascension in Asia presents a major challenge to American interests in the region – and our response to this challenge will shape Sino-American relations for years to come.

In particular, more than any other issue, the “Taiwan Question” – as the Chinese call it – has the potential to rapidly erode the progress that has been made in U.S.-China relations over the past three decades and bring us into direct confrontation with a rising China. In fact, during my most recent trip to Beijing in August, Jiang Zemin told me that the Mainland was willing to give up everything, including its “economic growth” to prevent Taiwan independence.

I have never seen an issue that has so galvanized the Chinese leadership and the Chinese people as does the Taiwanese issue – it truly cannot be underestimated.

This morning, I will offer some personal thoughts on how to address the differences between the Mainland and Taiwan, along with strategies for defusing tensions – both rhetorical and real – in the Taiwan Strait.

This topic is especially timely if we consider a number of key events that have recently occurred including:

  • Visits to the Mainland by Taiwan’s opposition party leaders,
  • The passage of the Anti-Secession Law, and prior to that,
  • A series of conciliatory gestures that many hoped were a signal of cooling tensions between the two sides such as the direct charter flights that took place over the New Year’s holidays.

Protecting and Shaping the Status Quo

In my view, the most important factor in managing this triangular relationship is to protect and shape the “status quo.” From a U.S. policy standpoint, this means that China cannot use force or coercion to retake Taiwan, and that Taiwan cannot pursue outright independence or take actions that contribute to its secession from the Mainland.

As both the economic and military dynamics continue to shift across the Taiwan Strait in China’s favor, I believe it is vital that the U.S. play the role of a “balancing wheel” in the region, while shaping and defining the “status quo” accordingly.

That is why the U.S. must continue to communicate to both Beijing and Taipei on a consistent basis that it will not tolerate actions by either side which would unilaterally alter the status quo.

In particular, I have noticed the trend by some political leaders in Taiwan to use provocative rhetoric in the run-up to elections and employ the China card to secure votes. These actions risk unintended consequences, and if misinterpreted by China could quickly lead to conflict.