Documents show U.S. pressure on Taiwan
Staff and agencies
15 June, 2007By PETER ENAV, Associated Press Writer Fri Jun 15, 3:10 PM ETTAIPEI, Taiwan – As Washington struggles to end nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea , startling details have emerged from declassified U.S. government documents regarding its success in halting Taiwan‘s budding nuclear project in the 1970s.
The pressure paid off — although not without setbacks — and the Taiwanese government abandoned its plans, according to the documents, which were obtained under Freedom of Information Act guidelines by a private group of researchers affiliated with George Washington University. The documents were shown to The Associated Press.
But William Burr, who coordinated the Taiwan project for GWU‘s privately funded National Security Archive, said the newly released documents give more insight into how Washington approached what it believed to be the danger of a nuclear-armed Taiwan.
Taiwanese leaders repeatedly denied the island was trying to build a nuclear weapon, according to the documents, although they also show that from as early as November 1972, the CIA thought otherwise.
The CIA speculated that why Taiwan began its alleged nuclear quest in response to anxiety over the budding U.S. relationship with China.
In February 1972, President Nixon visited the mainland, ending more than two decades of hostility between Washington and Beijing, and raising concerns in Taipei about the island‘s long-running defense pact with the United States.
The documents show U.S. concerns deepened in 1973 when the State Department learned that Taiwan had contacted French and Belgian companies to obtain a nuclear reprocessing plant — a step it saw as a clear intention to build a bomb.
In 1976, the documents show that U.S. Ambassador Leonard Unger met with Premier Chiang Ching-kuo to express concerns that Washington had “conclusive evidence” that a key Taiwanese nuclear facility was trying to acquire reprocessing technology.
The documents show that the Carter administration continued the policy of leaning on Taiwan, making it clear that nonproliferation was a top priority for the new president.
In a top secret memo to Carter, National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski said that a heavy water reactor project and hot laboratory at the Taiwanese Institute of Nuclear Research had been closed, removing a major U.S. worry about Taiwan‘s nuclear program.
“The American effort to crack down on this project clearly yielded its desired results,” Brzezinski wrote.
Still, the documents show, the U.S. remained concerned that elements in the Taiwanese leadership — including the military — were dedicated to leaving the nuclear weapons option open.
Unger kept pressing Chiang — now the Taiwanese president — to be more forthright on the nuclear issue.
In September 1978, the documents show, Chiang complained to Unger in a meeting that the U.S. was dealing with it “in a fashion which few other countries would tolerate.”
The U.S. switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979, but Washington continued to monitor Taiwan‘s nuclear program, the documents show.
In the absence of any new evidence, Burr believes that the U.S. pressure paid off, and that Taiwan has definitively renounced any nuclear weapons ambitions.
However, he said, that doesn‘t mean that Washington will have similar success with North Korea, which conducted a nuclear test last year, or Iran, which the U.S. says is working hard at building a nuclear bomb. Iran denies this, saying its program is aimed only at generating electricity.
“Taiwan was a U.S. ally heavily dependent on American good will,” Burr said. “But with North Korea and Iran, there is no security relationship and very little leverage.”
On the Net:
The National Security Archive: http://www.gwu.edu/nsarchiv/
It is interesting to learn how the Americans worked hard to undermine Taiwan Province’s nuclear weapons programme while at the same time opening up free trade with China proper. Both the Republican and Democratic administrations pressured Taiwan Province to remain nuclear-free when it was still run as the Republic of China under the Chiangs. I think the payoff is beneficial to the province seeing as the DPP is a party that cares about the environment and a nuclear-free Taiwan is great the for quality of life there. At the same time a nuclear-free province allows for more peaceful relationships to grow and reduce the means for the separatists to declare independence or even threaten the mainland.
It is unfortunate that the Americans are unable to keep North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons and prevent destabilising elements from taking power in Taiwan Province, much to the dismay of those who wish for local stability. Nonetheless, American pressure on the province has paid off with a nuclear-free island and a more conventional approach to keeping the status quo.