Clinton Backs China on Issue of Free Taiwan


President Clinton today went further than any president has gone before in publicly opposing the independence of Taiwan, giving Beijing the visible commitment it has long sought that America will not support Taiwan’s quest for international recognition or its readmission to the United Nations.

In a meeting with Shanghai community leaders, Clinton for the first time uttered on Chinese soil what are commonly called the “three noes” demanded by Beijing concerning Taiwan, which it views as a dependent province: He flatly and explicitly declared that the United States will not support the creation of two Chinas, the independence of Taiwan or Taiwan’s reentry to the United Nations.

U.S. policy “is that we don’t support independence for Taiwan or two Chinas or one Taiwan, one China,” Clinton declared. Referring to the United Nations, he said, “We don’t believe that Taiwan should be a member in any organization for which statehood is a requirement.”

While Clinton has sounded broadly similar themes before, these explicit assurances have been sought intensely by Chinese officials over the past few years, as Taiwan has become a functioning democracy and begun a lobbying campaign to regain a U.N. seat along with the People’s Republic of China.


Taiwan’s Nationalist government originally held a U.N. seat but was replaced by the Beijing government in 1971.

Administration officials argue that the “three noes” flow directly from the approach worked out for Taiwan during President Nixon’s historic visit to China in 1972. But in fact, the United States did not fully embrace a “one China” policy then. Instead, Nixon merely “acknowledged” that leaders in both Beijing and Taipei considered Taiwan to be part of China--thus deferring to these views but stopping short of ratifying them explicitly.

Since that time, Taiwan’s elected leaders have abandoned their claim to ruling the Chinese mainland but have clung to their goal of preserving national sovereignty.

Never Before in Public

The promises Clinton gave in public today have in the past been given in private talks between American and Chinese officials and have been aired in public by lower-level U.S. officials over the past eight months.

Some senior U.S. officials, obviously conscious of Taiwanese sensitivities on the matter, insisted that Clinton had not broken new ground on U.S. policy.

“What the president was doing was part of what we have been saying all along,” Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said. The difference, however, was that this time it was the president himself speaking.

No president had ever expressed such language in public. During the Air Force One flight from Beijing to Shanghai, one White House aide had predicted that Clinton would underscore U.S. policy on Taiwan in the near future.


After the president spoke, a State Department official, who declined to be identified by name, said the presidential statement was purposely made in an informal setting, outside the capital.

“The whole thing was done in a low-key, informal way,” the official said.

Chinese officials sought to win Clinton’s commitment to these promises during Chinese President Jiang Zemin’s visit to Washington last October but were turned down at that time.

“I think we have a consistent policy . . . and I think eventually it will bear fruit,” Clinton said today, alluding to the goal of a peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the rest of China.


The president’s striking comments on Taiwan came as he began a new, more business-oriented phase of his nine-day China trip.

With high-profile summitry behind them, U.S. officials today began to switch their focus to another China altogether, a fast-emerging economic giant better symbolized by booming Shanghai, the business capital of a nation increasingly able to affect the global financial system and environment for better or worse.

As one example, U.S. officials discussed their plans to help establish the rule of law in China. In their statement, the two nations agreed to increased visits by U.S. judicial experts to help strengthen Chinese legal institutions.

Such efforts will pay off, not only in protecting the rights of ordinary people, but in paving the way for greater financial ties between the two nations, said Paul Gerwirtz, a State Department official.


Improved legal institutions “promote steady economic growth and promote business investment, including the business investments by American companies, for the simple reason that investment in economic activity depends for its thriving on predictable rules of the game,” he told reporters.

During the Beijing summit, a series of U.S. companies signed commercial agreements, most of them modest. The largest single deal involved Los Angeles-based Arco, which agreed to a $70-million contract to explore coal-bed methane sites in China. If the sites prove commercially viable, the deal could be worth as much as $1.7 billion, U.S. officials said.

Still, as American officials prepare to announce more business agreements in coming days, serious issues have blocked greater progress.

When American and Chinese negotiators reached a nuclear energy agreement at October’s summit in the U.S., nuclear power companies such as Westinghouse Electric Corp. looked forward to signing new contracts during Clinton’s visit this week. But recent nuclear tests by India and Pakistan have revived concerns that China had passed on nuclear technology to Pakistan, chilling prospects for U.S. firms.


Deals ‘Too Sensitive’

Though Washington formally certified China in January as meeting nonproliferation requirements, nuclear power deals during the summit were just “too politically sensitive,” said a Westinghouse executive in Beijing.

Further, companies such as Hughes Electronics Corp. and Loral Space & Communications Ltd. had hoped that bans on technology with military uses might be lifted during the summit; the sanctions were slapped on China after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

But congressional investigations of whether Loral leaked missile technology to China changed the atmosphere altogether and have prompted the U.S. Congress to consider reinforcing such restrictions.


At one point, White House advance teams had discussed a visit to the General Motors Corp. plant in Shanghai. But that idea faded when GM workers began a strike at home--protesting in part about losing jobs to factories overseas.

The summit also failed to yield any real movement in negotiating new market-opening accords that would make it easier for U.S. companies to export products to China and help reduce a trade deficit now running at an annual rate of $50 billion and expected to hit $60 billion by the end of this year.

Such arrangements, which include reducing tariffs and other barriers to those trying to sell products or services to the Chinese, also are essential before China can join the World Trade Organization, the Geneva-based body that sets and regulates the rules of global trade.

Clearly, Chinese economic policies still consign it to the margins of the modern, global trading system in key ways.


While China reversed an earlier summit position, tabling its first market-access offer in the field of telecommunications and revising its offer in the potentially lucrative financial services field, U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshevsky described both actions as “very weak.”

The differences between what the Chinese offered and what the U.S. considers acceptable “are huge, but the fact they made the offers was important,” she said.

It is widely accepted that the international community, in the long term, cannot keep a major trading nation such as China out of the World Trade Organization. Still, there is similar acceptance that Beijing cannot join on terms so lenient that other nations--especially Third World member countries--are disadvantaged.

But Barshevsky suggested that one significant plus came from the failed negotiations: It underscored a consistent American message that China could not bargain its way into the trade organization using political leverage. “The summit has shown them they can’t do that,” she said.


Human Rights Issues

China’s heated economic growth of recent years is affecting Clinton’s agenda on the environment as well. Later in the week, he plans to visit the picturesque river town of Guilin, where he will seek to persuade China to develop its economy in an environmentally conscious manner.

Still, the economic phase of the trip is not eclipsing passionate concerns related to human rights, Taiwan and other political issues. And U.S. officials continued to mull the remarkably open behavior of President Jiang Zemin in Beijing.

Chinese leaders “made a conscious decision to open. That is not an easy decision, and it’s fraught with great risk,” said Mike McCurry, the White House press secretary, alluding to Jiang’s wide-ranging, televised news conference with Clinton. “It will take weeks to unravel the meaning of all this.”


U.S. specialists on China contended that the event may have changed China. “Taboo subjects that had not been discussed previously, such as Tiananmen and Tibet, were discussed,” said Susan Shirk, an Asia specialist in the State Department. “It’s not going to be possible to bury those subjects again.”

Times staff writer Maggie Farley contributed to this report. To hear Times correspondents’ audio reports from China on The Times’ Web site, go to: