213. Editorial Note

Following the announcement on December 15, 1978, that the United States would break diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, the United States sought means to protect its interests relating to Taiwan and to safeguard the well-being of the residents of the island. As a result, the administration of President Jimmy Carter sought “Taiwan omnibus legislation” that would allow the U.S.–ROC relationship to continue on a non-official basis. A January 3, 1979, memorandum from Richard Holbrooke, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Herbert Hansell, Legal Adviser of the Department of State, contains “draft ‘omnibus’ legislation to facilitate the maintenance of commercial, cultural and other relations with the people of Taiwan on an unofficial basis,” as well as “draft Articles of Incorporation and By-Laws for the American Institute in Taiwan.” (Memorandum from Holbrooke and Hansell to Aaron; Carter Library, Staff Office Files, Counsel, Lipshutz, Box 7, China [1/4/79 Ad Hoc SCC China Working Group Meeting], 1/79) On January 26, President Carter transmitted the proposed legislation to Congress to continue commercial, cultural, and other unofficial relations with the people on Taiwan. For the text of his transmittal message, see Public Papers: Carter, 1979, pages 165–166.

To get this legislation passed, the Carter administration required the support of Congress on an issue about which many Senators and Representatives felt they had been inadequately consulted, due to the secrecy surrounding the Sino-American negotiations on normalization. Furthermore, the administration’s request for legislation provided an opportunity for the many supporters of Taiwan within Congress to challenge Carter’s decision. In particular, supporters of Taiwan sought to restore at least an element of government-to-government relations between the United States and Taiwan. On February 3, Madeleine Albright, a National Security Council Staff member working in the Press and Congressional Liaison Office, discussed this issue in the “Weekly Legislative Report” that she sent to Zbigniew Brzezinski, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs: “The China Omnibus Bill has been formally introduced by Senator Church (S. 245) and Congressman Zablocki (H.R. 1614) and both Houses have scheduled hearings on the Bill.” Albright further noted, “At this moment, Congressional concerns are focused on three main areas:

“1. Guarantees for the future security of Taiwan. It is virtually certain that some language will be added to the Bill on this issue, but we believe it can be kept consistent with our agreement with the PRC. At this point it is still important not to endorse any resolutions.

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“2. The question of privileges and immunities for representatives of the people of Taiwan. Here we also face the likelihood of an amendment.

“3. There are moves to make the instrumentality on Taiwan into a Liaison Office—i.e., reverting to government-to-government relations.” (Memorandum from Albright to Brzezinski, February 3; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Press and Congressional Relations, NSC Weekly Legislative Reports, Box 1, 1–2/79)

On February 17, a large military force of the People’s Republic of China attacked northern Vietnam. Albright’s February 18 “NSC Weekly Legislative Report” to Brzezinski stated, “Until Saturday morning [February 17] there was general Hill support for the fundamental act of normalization. It is hard to tell what the effect of Chinese actions in Vietnam will have on the omnibus legislation. There may be a general feeling that we should not confirm Woodcock as ambassador at this moment. Even before the recent events Congress remained frustrated and uncomfortable about our handling of Taiwan. They are afraid ‘abandonment of Taiwan’ contributes to a general decline of US prestige and security in the world; as lawyers they are frustrated by having to cope legislatively with the fiction that Taiwan is not a foreign country. They suspect we could have pushed harder in our negotiations for a pledge on Taiwan’s security, and miss no opportunity to complain about lack of consultation. In the House committee [the House International Relations Committee], particularly, there will be an effort to write into law the pledges made by Deng regarding Taiwan’s future. The bottom line is that we are likely to get a piece of legislation just barely within the limits of what the President can sign.” (Ibid.) For examples of Deng’s statements regarding Taiwan, see Documents 191 and 208.

At a Special Coordination Committee meeting on February 18 to discuss the Sino-Vietnamese conflict, “Holbrooke asked about the situation on the Hill with respect to normalization legislation.” Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher “reported that conversations with Javits and Church revealed no indications that the recent events would affect either the Omnibus Legislation or the resolutions to be attached to it.” Later in the meeting, “Holbrooke reported that the most immediate and troublesome issue is securing funds for the American Institute on Taiwan. Reprogramming is being held up by Senator Hollings, who chairs a committee consisting of DeConcini, Garn, and Weicker. There is no chance to secure reprogramming prior to passage of the Omnibus Legislation. This means that all operations on Taiwan may close down on March 2.” (Minutes of a Special Coordination Committee meeting, February 18; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Office, Meetings File, Box 14, Folder 19, SCC Meeting #140 Held 2/18/79, 2/79) This indeed happened. Hollings refused to [Page 795] allow the Department of State to transfer funds that had been budgeted for the Embassy in Taipei to the American Institute in Taiwan, a private agency incorporated on January 16 to manage U.S. relations with Taiwan after the closure of the Embassy. Hollings did not release the funds until Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act and Carter signed it on April 10. (Congress and the Nation: 1977–1980, volume 5, pp. 65–67) The Summary of Conclusions of the February 18 SCC meeting is Document 218.

On March 3, Albright notified Brzezinski that the House and Senate versions of the Taiwan omnibus legislation was on the verge of leaving Congressional committees for the House and Senate floor, where they would be debated and voted upon. She warned, “Although there are problems with both bills, they can only get worse through floor amendment. We therefore anticipate supporting the Chairmen in both cases, but alerting them that we will need to clean up the legislation in conference. Thus, the word in both Houses is to pass the bill as reported from Committee.” (Weekly Legislative Report from Albright to Brzezinski, March 3; Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, Press and Congressional Relations, Chron File, Box 3, 3/79)