The Hypothesis of Abandoning Taiwan: TPP trumps Arms Sales
The Hypothesis of Abandoning Taiwan: TPP trumps Arms Sales
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 17, 2012
The hypothesis of "Abandoning Taiwan" has periodically appeared in Washington." This may be a non-mainstream view. But it shows that such a hypothesis persists. Therefore, it cannot be completely ignored. AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt said the United States is willing to support Taiwan's accession to the TPP. He said that President Ma has already shortened the TPP waiting time from ten years to eight years. But he said the wait could be even shorter.
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The hypothesis of "Abandoning Taiwan" has periodically appeared in Washington." This may be a non-mainstream view. But it shows that such a hypothesis persists. Therefore, it cannot be completely ignored.
The reason cited for the alleged abandonment is that Taipei is an obstacle to improved Washington-Beijing relations. A reduced commitment to Taipei means Washington has more freedom and latitude regarding Washington-Beijing relations. This argument is expressed in various forms. Some say Washington is abandoning Taipei in exchange for Beijing forgiving Washington's 1.14 trillion dollars in debt to Beijing. Some say Taiwan should be "Finlandized," and Washington no longer supports Taipei's challenges toward Beijing.
The "Abandon Taiwan Hypothesis" has a blind spot. It sees the relationship between Taipei and Washington as all or nothing. But Taipei-Washington relations is not a choice between "total coverage" and "total abandonment." This was not Taipei's relationship to Washington yesterday. It is not its relationship today. And it will not be its relationship in the future.
Even the Sino-US Mutual Defense Treaty, in force between 1954 and 1980, had conditions. It only covered defense and containment. It did not cover Taiwan retaking the Mainland. The Chen Shui-bian government incited Taiwan independence. It provoked conflict between the two sides. The Bush administration said Taiwan independence elements were butting their heads up against a wall. They contributed nothing to Taiwan's democracy. Instead, they undermined Taiwan's larger interests. As we can see, the US is not about to defend Taiwan unconditionally. Conversely, it is unlikely to sever relations with Taiwan totally and "abandon" it.
The global situation and the cross-Strait atmosphere have changed, dramatically. Taipei-Washington relations have changed as well. In the 1950s, Taiwan was seen as an "unsinkable aircraft carrier," in the first chain of defense. Washington formed a military alliance with Taipei against the threat from Beijing. This gradually changed. Today, Washington supports Taipei because of its free economy and democratic politics. It helps Taipei use peaceful and democratic means to deal with Beijing. Taipei-Washington relations have diminished military significance. But they have increased ideological significance. Taipei and Washington uphold the same democratic values. This ideological significance is greater than the military significance.
Washington's cross-Strait policy is a "one-China policy." It has two bottom lines. It will not allow Beijing to destroy Taiwan's free economy and democratic politics by force. To wit, its intervention during the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. Two. It will not allow Taiwan independence elements to undermine cross-Strait peace. To wit, its labeling of Chen Shui-bian as a "troublemaker."
To focus solely on the military significance of Taipei-Washington relations misses the point. Taiwan independence elements cannot achieve Taiwan independence through war. If Taiwan independence elements do not implement de jure Taiwan independence, Beijing has no reason to use force against Taiwan. Even if Beijing succeeded in occupying Taiwan, it would find it difficult to justify itself in the annals of Chinese history, and in the eyes of world. Washington is treading a middle way between "no Taiwan independence" and "no Mainland use of force." It has no reason to stir up cross-Strait enmity. Taipei-Washington military relations, including arms sales, are ideological in nature, and not the real focus.
Will Washington "return to Asia?" Beijing has not been "exporting revolution." Instead, it has stressed "peaceful development." It is fully integrated into the world trade system. If Washington uses force against Beijing, it will lack a just cause. This is true even for the recent altercations in the South China Sea and surrounding the Diaoyutai Islands. Each of the parties claiming sovereignty has spoken his piece. Would Washington really risk war and intervene? From a global perspective, the chances that Washington would provoke a war with nuclear armed Beijing are nearly zero.
Under these international and cross-Strait circumstances, Washington no longer views Taiwan as an anti-Communist outpost in a showdown with Beijing. It is doing its utmost to prevent Taiwan from becoming a fuse that ignites conflict in the region. Taipei should have no illusions that in a conflict between Washington and Beijing, it would be Washington's vanguard. It should have no illusions that it can drag Washington and Beijing into a war and profit from the conflict.
The US "one China policy" offers Taipei some maneuvering room. Taipei must work at remaining economically free and politically democratic. This will enable it to stand its ground. This will enable it to remain independent and interact with Beijing. This will enable it to establish a peaceful win/win relationship. The US cannot "abandon Taiwan." Conversely, Taiwan independence elements must not entertain fantasies. They must not assume the U.S. will continue to see Taiwan as an anti-Communist outpost. They must not assume the U.S. will sympathize with the Taiwan independence movement. They must not assume the U.S. will "return to Asia," and therefore need Taiwan as a military leverage. That would be naive in the extreme. That is a check the US would not be likely to honor.
Consider the prospects for Washington-Taipei relations. The TPP (Trans-Pacific Economic Partnership Agreement) is actually more important than arms sales. Arms sales involve battlefield weapons that cannot be used. Their sole purpose is ideological. If they are actually used, it would mean mutual destruction for both sides. If Taipei can join the US-led TPP, it can integrate itself into the international community. It can then enjoy both economic and political security.
AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt said the United States is willing to support Taiwan's accession to the TPP. He said that President Ma has already shortened the TPP waiting time from ten years to eight years. But he said the wait could be even shorter.
(Courtesy of United Daily News)