China Policy

In the Eisenhower-Dulles days, when Clare Boothe Luce was American Ambassador to Italy, a variety of apocryphal stories pictured her, a convert, lecturing the Pope on the faith; the punch line was His Holiness’ pained plea, “But Mrs. Luce, I already am a Catholic.” Now that even the Vatican has decided to attempt a reconciliation with Communist China, the question arises whether the Nixon Administration, heir to the moralism that has plagued American foreign policy, intends to pursue a China policy that is indeed holier than the Pope’s.

The Vatican, not to mention the hardheaded statesmen of Italy, Austria, Canada, Malaysia, and a number of other countries that have previously rejected official relations with Chairman Mao, has finally decided that it is neither sensible nor feasible to try to isolate the eight hundred million people of mainland China. Thus, the United States has found itself increasingly weakened in its efforts to keep Peking out of the UN and to minimize the number of countries that maintain diplomatic relations with the government of Mao Tse-tung rather than with that of Chiang Kai-shek on Taiwan.

That the United States cannot remain immune to events was recently demonstrated when an adverse voting pattern at the UN forced it to drop its uncompromising opposition to Communist China’s entry and to argue instead against the exclusion of Nationalist China. But this desperate gesture to keep Taipei in the world organization was designed neither to win friends in Peking nor to achieve Peking’s entry into the UN, for the Communists have maintained, ever since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, that they will not participate in the UN at the price of accepting a “two Chinas” policy.

The hard choices lie just ahead on China policy. What will the United States do in the General Assembly if, as appears likely, Peking continues to reject a compromise on the representation question and a solid majority of member-states come to support Peking’s position? In the Security Council, where China’s permanent seat as one of the five great powers is at stake, will the United States claim, as it has sometimes done in the past, that a negative American vote on representation constitutes a veto? Outside the UN, will Washington maintain the fiction that the Chiang Kai-shek regime is the legal government of all China, or will it follow most of its allies in establishing diplomatic relations with Peking, even though to do so requires breaking relations with Taipei? Finally, what position will we take with respect to the island of Taiwan itself— that it is Chinese territory, that it is independent, or that its status should be determined by a UN plebiscite or other means?

The signals emanating from Washington are ambiguous. On the one hand, the Nixon Administration has demonstrated more flexibility toward Peking than its Democratic predecessors would have dared. It has modified the long-standing prohibition against trade by permitting people in this country to import goods from the mainland for their personal use, by allowing foreign-based U.S. companies to enter the China market, and by relaxing restraints upon thirdcountry transactions with Peking. It has rescinded regulations that prevented American citizens from visiting China, and has demonstrated its willingness to revive the Sino-American ambassadorial talks. And it has pointedly reduced the presence of the Seventh Fleet in the strait that separates Taiwan from the mainland.

On the other hand, the Administration has repeatedly proclaimed its allegiance to Generalissimo Chiang, has sent Vice President Agnew to offer personal assurances, has given red-carpet receptions to both Chiang’s son and the Nationalist Vice President, has shipped “surplus” military aircraft to Taiwan, and has decided to build an impressive new embassy in Taipei. Chiang plainly continues to exert considerable influence in Washington. This was dramatically demonstrated to the State Department yet again last year when the Nationalists persuaded the White House to reject a Department recommendation to establish diplomatic relations with Mongolia. And White House Press Secretary Ronald Ziegler’s denial of a shift in our UN position provides a more recent illustration.

On the whole, the United States appears to be moving quietly away from its all-out support of the Nationalists. The glacial pace of change reflects many factors: Taiwan’s shortrun value to us as a refueling base for bombers heading for Vietnam, fear of stirring up right-wing feelings of old against an Administration that seeks accommodation with the Communists, and Peking’s ambivalent responses to our modest gestures.

The Peng case

Perhaps the most intriguing recent move in this game of Chinese checkers is the Administration’s decision to permit Peng Ming-min, a leader of the Taiwan independence movement, to take up residence in this country. Until 1964 Peng appeared to be a native Taiwanese who had “made it” in a society where political power was monopolized by Chinese who came to Taiwan after Chiang Kai-shek’s defeat on the China mainland. Sometime chairman of the political science department and a law professor at National Taiwan University, Peng had been the “kept Taiwanese” displayed on Nationalist China’s UN delegation. Nevertheless, just six years ago, the Nationalist regime announced that Peng and several of his students had been arrested on charges of “subversive activities.” They had advocated that the Nationalist regime be replaced by an independent Taiwanese government that would abandon the claim to be the government of all China and that would give political expression to the will of the Taiwanese people. The Taiwanese constitute 85 percent of the island’s population of fourteen million. The defendants were held incommunicado by the secret police, and under the martial law that has prevailed for over two decades, they were ultimately convicted, not by the regular courts, but by an unpublicized summary trial before a military tribunal.

Peng was sentenced to eight years in prison but was released within thirteen months of his arrest, after the case began to arouse public opinion in this country. Still, he was kept under house arrest, and removed from his university post. Persistent efforts by American universities and by Amnesty International, a private organization for the relief of political prisoners, failed to persuade Peng’s Nationalist captors to allow him to leave Taiwan. Then last January came the startling news that Peng had mysteriously escaped from the island and had turned up in Sweden. There, with the aid of Amnesty, he was awaiting permission to enter the United States so that he might accept the University of Michigan’s long-standing offer of a position as research scholar.

Peng’s visa application presented the State Department with a political hot potato. In order to placate Chiang Kai-shek, the United States had repeatedly refused to permit an earlier leader of the Taiwan independence movement, Thomas Liao, to come here from Japan; finally, severe Nationalist pressure upon Liao’s family forced him to return to Taiwan. Would the United States now incur the wrath of our Nationalist ally by admitting a prominent Taiwanese who has been convicted of advocating its overthrow, and who, it is thought, would be a strong presidential candidate if free elections ever became possible in Taiwan?

The problem grew even more difficult in April when two members of the Taiwan independence movement were implicated in a New York assassination attempt against Chiang Kai-shek’s son and heir apparent. Their organization had hailed Peng as its natural leader. And, although his own statements to the press indicated that he thought of himself as a scholar rather than a political leader, Peng did not deny that he hoped to come to America to influence opinion in favor of an independent Formosa.

But Nationalist feelings were far from the only obstacle to Peng’s admission to the United States. For a decade Communist China has steadfastly maintained that there can be no relaxation of Sino-American tensions until the United States recognizes the legitimacy not only of Mao Tse-tung’s government but also of its claim to Taiwan. A State Department that has been flexibly hinting at its willingness to modify our hostile policy toward Communist China was aware that Peking would view Peng’s admission here as dimly as Taipei would. Like the Nationalists, the Communists claim that the United States government engineered Peng’s escape from Taiwan, although no evidence has been offered to support the claim, and Peng firmly denies it. Ever since the outbreak of the Korean War, when the United States reversed its earlier position that Taiwan was part of China and claimed that the legal status of the island was undecided, both sides in the Chinese civil war have suspected Washington of moving toward a “one China, one Taiwan” policy designed to detach the island from the mainland and to convert it to an American-Japanese puppet. Mao and Chiang, who are both old enough to recall the effective manner in which Sun Yat-sen barnstormed the United States to raise support for overthrow of the Manchu dynasty, may fear that Peng could become the galvanizing agent that the Taiwan independence movement has always lacked in this country.

Why, then, did the United States decide to let Peng in? The reasons for the decision are both ideological and practical. Despite many restrictions in recent decades, freedom of access to the United States is still part of the American heritage. In the absence of some compelling reason, we have traditionally found it repugnant to exclude foreigners from at least visiting this country. But our tradition of freedom of access and our guarantee of freedom of speech notwithstanding, our government has for many years refused to permit Taiwan independence leaders to come here to exchange ideas on the vital issues of our China policy. Professor Peng is surely not a Communist. Convicted of a crime by the dictatorial regime on Taiwan, his “offense” was one that tends to make the American heart palpitate— the advocacy of self-determination for a long-suppressed people.

Moreover, there was a strong argument for Peng’s admission as an outstanding scholar and teacher who has been invited to engage in important research at a major American university, and who is sure to contribute further to our understanding of Chinese law and government. Peng holds degrees from McGill University and the University of Paris, is an expert in international law, and took part in Henry Kissinger’s summer seminar on world politics at Harvard some years ago. Recently, however, his enforced exposure to the Nationalist regime’s administration of justice has led him to turn his attention to domestic legal affairs. His anonymously authored article in the December, 1967, issue of the Progressive magazine, entitled “Tyranny in ‘Free’ Formosa” and written while under house arrest, is a classic study of the realities of criminal justice under Chiang Kai-shek.

In addition to his academic contribution, Peng can also be expected to play a role in the public re-examination that our China policy must soon undergo if the United States is to contribute to reconciliation in Asia. The Communist regime never tires of reiterating that the problem of Taiwan is the principal obstacle to the improvement of relations between the United States and mainland China. As Canada discovered during the two years it negotiated with Peking, Taiwan is intimately involved with virtually till of the issues that will have to be dealt with in the normalization of contacts with China, especially the shift of our Embassy from Taipei to Peking, the representation of Peking in the UN Security Council and General Assembly, and the determination of the legal status of the island itself. Although not the only factor in a complex situation, the people on Taiwan cannot be regarded as pawns on the diplomatic chessboard, to be disposed of as the authorities in Peking, Taipei, and Washington see fit. Professor Peng can be counted upon to help us understand the viewpoint of an important but suppressed segment of Taiwanese opinion.

And if one adopts a long-range perspective, it is not inconceivable that Peng may someday be helpful in negotiating an accommodation on the Taiwan question. For example, it is sometimes suggested that a solution may lie in an agreement that acknowledges China’s sovereignty over the island in principle, but that at least tacitly guarantees the islanders a substantial period of genuine autonomy —not the spurious type of autonomy that prevails in Tibet. Peng’s presence here could facilitate the exploration and implementation of such ideas.

In these circumstances one can understand why our government decided that the benefits of admitting Peng are likely to outweigh the costs. Government China specialists, closer now than in the past to the academic community, were told that refusal to admit Peng would trigger protest in the universities which would be led not by the radical fringe but by highly respected scholar-diplomats like Edwin O. Reischauer.

Of course, Peng will have to behave discreetly while in the United States. Not only does the State Department expect him to spend most of his time in the scholarly pursuits for which he has been admitted, but Peng must also be acutely sensitive to the plight of his wife, two children, and close associates, who remain in Taiwan and who have experienced continuing interrogation and surveillance since his escape. Should he prove too energetic, the Nationalist government could easily apply the same kinds of pressures against them as those that previously caused Thomas Liao to give up the struggle and return to Taiwan from Japan.

—JEROME ALAN COHEN