"The pen is mightier than the sword." For nearly a decade, Brahm has used newspaper articles, magazines and authored over 20 books to explain current affairs, reshape stalled negotiations, and provide a communication platform to Asian leaders and policymakers. His writings reveal underlying central challenges facing Asia over the past decades.

Frozen in Time

Written by Laurence Brahm - Published by South China Morning Post on 08/10/2004

When University of Michigan professor Kenneth Lieberthal proposed this summer a “framework for stability” to maintain the status quo between Beijing and Taiwan for 50 years, one might have wondered if it was actually a framework for instability. Or is something happening in Washington that we in Asia do not see?

It is implausible that Beijing would agree to freeze the status quo for so long. The scheme seems even more far-fetched, as it calls for the establishment of a “secret communications channel”, facilitated by the US government, for both sides of the strait to talk. And it adds, as preconditions, Beijing dropping its insistence on reunification under its “one-China” policy, and Taiwan being given international status and allowed to join international organizations. Professor Lieberthal’s credentials are impeccable. Arguably America’s most senior China expert, he served as special on national security to former president Bill Clinton. So could somebody with so much expertise actually think that Beijing might consider such a scheme? Perhaps he knows more than we do about what is going on in Washington.

His comments to Beijing’s Foreign Correspondent’s Club coincidentally coincided with the declassification on June 15 of a report to the US Congress, which was prepared by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. It sets out an overall assessment of economic and security challenges, covering everything from pressuring China to revalue its currency, to forcing it to raise worker’s wages to become less competitive.

Not surprisingly, Taiwan features prominently. In fact, it is one of the most provocative sections. Part of it says: “The commission recommends that Congress and the administration conduct a fresh assessment of the ‘one-China’ policy, given the changing realities in China and Taiwan.” This policy is the very pillar of China-US relations, embodied in three communiqués. But the assessment goes on to question, and request a review of, “the policy’s successes, failures and continued viability”.

It asks “whether changes may be needed in the way the US government co-ordinates its defense assistance to Taiwan, including the need for an enhanced operating relationship…and the establishment of a US-Taiwan hotline for dealing with crisis situations”. This flouts the principles in the three communiqués, which call for a reduction and eventual elimination of US military support for the island.

The commission also asks how US policy can “better support Taiwan’s breaking out of the international economic isolation that [Beijing] seems to impose on it”. This ignores the fact that Taiwan is a major investor in mainland China. This hardly seems like “economic isolation”.

So, what is going on? Perhaps professor Lieberthal does have the inside track. Sure enough, the commission proposes “that Congress consult the administration on developing appropriate ways for the United States to facilitate actively cross-strait dialogue”.

With more than 50 years of underground liaison, it seems improbable that China would turn over its communications with Taiwan to the US as an intermediary. The commission says: “In particular, recent developments across the strait are putting increasing stress on the US ‘one-China’ policy, demonstrating the need for a new assessment of this policy that takes into consideration current realities.”

If the commission really is calling for a reassessment of the policy, one would have thought that China experts in the US would have offered better advice. This assessment sees China through cold war blinkers, calling for new US internationalism to be applied to a delicate relationship. Some troublingly dangerous ideas are emerging from Washington these days.


Laurence Brahm is a global activist, international mediator, political columnist and author. He is the leading advocate of a fresh development paradigm - The Himalayan Consensus - an innovative approach to development.

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