As Barack Obama and John McCain received the formal nomination as candidates for the presidency, the National Convention's curtain for both parties fell. This officially begins the 2008 election for President of the United States.

U.S. policy toward China, especially the policy toward China’s Taiwan Strait has always been an indispensable issue in American presidential campaigns. This year is no exception. Taiwan’s two political parties pay close attention to the Taiwan Strait policy proposed by the Democrats and Republicans: Kuomintang sent Wu Po-hsiung, the Vice-Chairman and Board Chairman of the Strait Exchange Foundation, and several legislators (including Lifa Weiyuan) to the United States; DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen launched a 15 day-visit to the U.S., which was aimed at understanding the United States presidential candidate’s positions on the Taiwan Straight Policy.

What are the similarities and differences between the presidential candidates’ Taiwan Strait Policies? And will they stick by their statements regarding the Taiwan issue after either of them enters the White House? Regarding this issue, we interviewed Professor George W. Tsai from the Taiwan Chinese Culture University, and Wang Jiaying, a research coordinator from the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party put forth their platforms, which state Obama and McCain’s proposed policies for after they become the President of the United States. Professor Tsai, who was invited to a videoconference to discuss the Taiwan Strait Policy with experts and officials during the national conventions, claims that according to the statements that have been made public by the two parties, they generally do not differ, but the Republican’s policy does seem more detailed and thoughtful.

The Democratic platform said they encourage an increasingly prosperous China to play a responsible role. It says that the Democratic Party adheres to the “One China Policy” and the Taiwan Relation Act, and will continue supporting a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences in a manner that is acceptable to the Taiwanese people and does not hurt their interests. Compared to the 2004 Democratic Convention, this time the Democrats mentioned “the Taiwan Relation Act.” In other places, the Democratic platform mentions that China has nothing to do with the Taiwan Straight Policy.

In contrast, the Republican’s platform has detailed and thoughtful discourse on its cross-Strait policy. It stressed that Taiwan is a sound example of democracy and economics for mainland China. The United States must continue developing the U.S.-Taiwan relationship according to the Taiwan Relations Act. Republicans oppose any side-taking action to change the status quo across the strait. Taiwan's future must be solved peacefully through dialogue, under the agreement of Taiwan people.

It is noticeable that the Republican party did not refer to the "one China" policy throughout the whole platform. And it also warned that if mainland China violates these principles, the United States will help Taiwan defend itself under the "Taiwan Relations Act." The Republican platform emphasized that the U.S. should sell defensive weapons to Taiwan over time and help Taiwan participate in the World Health Organization and other international agencies.

Concerning the difference between the two parties' Taiwan Strait policies, Wan Jiaying said that the Democrats are more likely to accept China through history: the normalization of the Sino-U.S. relationship was realized during a Democratic government. And the Sino-U.S. relationship is indeed friendlier. This new platform of 2008 is still a continuity of a consistent policy.

Professor George W. Tsai said that of all time, Taiwan thinks the Republicans are more favorable to Taiwan. The Republicans indeed have some particularly friendly words towards Taiwan. However, that is basically political language and should be taken with a grain of salt. Now there is a "pendulum effect" facing the growing economic strength of mainland China, and many former critics in Republican Party have lost their voice. Weapon sales and assistance in defense are just lip service. President Regan promised in his election that he would resume the formal diplomatic relationship with Taiwan, but everybody knows the result. President G.W. Bush said he would protect Taiwan at his best, but he also changed thereafter.

Similarity: Respect Taiwan's peoples' wishes

The similarity between the two parties’ platforms is that they will both abide by “the Taiwan Relation Act.” And they emphasized that the Taiwan issue should be resolved to "respect the wishes of the people of Taiwan" and opposed any actions to change the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.

According to the party platform that has already been published, the Democratic Party's statement is, "[the] cross-strait problem must be resolved peacefully in a manner that is acceptable to the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait." And the Republican Party says, "Taiwan's future must be decided under the agreement of Taiwan people, and resolved peacefully through dialogue."

A notable point is that both the Clinton and Bush administrations once mentioned respecting the wishes of “people from both sides of the Taiwan Strait.” However, both Obama and McCain emphasized only the wishes of “Taiwan people.” On this difference, professor Tsai expressed that he discussed this saying with American experts in video conference, and feels that there exists controversy in the use of “Taiwan people,” and that there is also space for future discussion. Despite this, the Taiwan Strait policies found in both platforms are basically in accord with their traditions and tendencies, and they also show the continuity of the U.S. policy.

However, Wang Jiaying believe that neither platform has mentioned “the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques”; instead both emphasized the adherence to “the Taiwan Relation Act”. This shows the United States has some concerns on the warming relationship cross the Taiwan Strait after Ma Ying-jeou took office.

“This actually reflects the United States' conflicts of interest. Facing a rising mainland China, the U.S. on the one hand stands alert, and tries to gain mutual benefits by developing friendship. However, Taiwan has always been an important chip in Sina-U.S. relationship and in order to restrict mainland China, it must help and even control Taiwan. This will not change,” said Wang Jiaying.

Professor Tsai also agreed with Wang’s point. He said that no matter how bad the U.S.-Taiwan relationship is, the U.S. will not sell Taiwan; and Taiwan will not be at a disadvantaged position. No matter how good the Sino-U.S. relationship is, there is still potential competition between these two, and the U.S. still needs to use Taiwan to contain China.

Future Policy: The Platforms May Not Indicate Specific Policies

George W. Tsai thinks that Taiwan does not need to worry too much since U.S. policy is based on the greater and higher the level of national interests, despite China’s rising. He expressed that basically the main issues in this election are the mortgage crisis, the economic recession and the Iraq problem. The Sino-U.S. relationship does not attracted a lot of attention. This may reflect the increasing complexity of the Sino-U.S. relationship as China’s comprehensive national strength and international influence boosts. This complexity can not be settled by political language or debate. Both sides should face problems frankly and practically due to the complexity, and solve problems by dialogues. “Frankly speaking, I never worry about Sino-U.S. relationship too much, nor the problem between the U.S. and Taiwan.”, said Tsai.

Wang believes that no matter who finally gets in to the White House, there will not be much difference on Taiwan Strait Policy. There are always some critiques due to the campaign strategy, but historically speaking, the platforms of the two parties do not have sanction over them and they usually will not turn into specific policies. The Taiwan Strait policy is a common policy between two parties and it is of continuity.

Wang also stressed that America has thought highly about the prosperity of China. The Taiwan issue is one of China’s core interests. Sino-U.S. relations will not develop without appropriate solutions. And there will not be conflict between China and the U.S., as long as Taiwan's problems receive appropriate treatment. He said, “By now, China and the United States have reached clear agreement on the Taiwan issue.”