Tue, Mar 05, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Better US-China ties help Taiwan

By Garry Klintworth

US President George W. Bush's visit to Beijing last month clearly signaled that Sino-US relations are back on track toward a constructive, cooperative relationship.

Bush met President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) and his successor, Vice President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Bush reassured China on the Taiwan issue. He also said he wanted Jiang to convey a message of dialogue to North Korea and said that the US would consult with China about Iraq.

Notwithstanding media reports to the contrary, the Bush-Jiang exchange -- their second in five months -- opens the door to a much improved and more predic-table relationship between the two most important countries in the Asia-Pacific region. This is a significant achievement, with positive implications for Taiwan, the global war on terrorism, non-proliferation, a renewal of dialogue in the Korean peninsula and for security and stability in south Asia and the Asia-Pacific regions.

Bush was commendably well-briefed on what to say and how to say it while in China. His speech at Tsinghua University was well received.

After the EP-3 incident off Hainan island in April last year, many columnists forecast a coming war between the US, the world's only superpower, and China, a rising one.

Some strategists in Canberra argued that the biggest risk to Australia's security in the foreseeable future was a conflict between China and the US over Taiwan.

Both scenarios, however, are way too pessimistic.

China's future depends on a constructive, cooperative relationship with the US. China needs the US economically. As Mao Zedong (毛澤東) remarked, the US was the only country in the world that could save China from its treadmill of poverty and overpopulation.

The US has the economic pow-er, the technology, the finance, the markets and the managerial wherewithal that China needs. US aid and ideas fuelled Taiwan's economic take-off, and, ironically, its political transformation to a fully-fledged democratic society. One can envisage a similar process occurring, ineluctably, in China over the next 50 years -- provided the US remains a willing partner. This in turn requires patient and persistent effort by China to maintain a cooperative constructive relationship, not only with the US, but also with its neighbors in the Asia-Pacific region. Those neighbors include Taiwan.

China also requires US support for a one-China policy that precludes Taiwan's independence.

Any Chinese threat against Taiwan would only spur on Tai-wanese independence. It would challenge the US commitment, reaffirmed unequivocally by Bush on several occasions, most re-cently in Beijing on Feb. 22.

Chinese strategists, moreover, are acutely aware of America's military might, demonstrated most recently and spectacularly in Afghanistan. Taiwan's armed forces also demand respect, such that the People's Liberation Army might lose a war across the Tai-wan Strait, thereby precipitating the demise of the Chinese Communist Party.

Any serious attempt to use force in the Strait would dislocate China's fragile economy. It would interrupt the foreign trade on which China is now increasingly dependent. It would cut China off from its most important market in the US and its most important sources of foreign investment, namely, the US and Taiwan.

A successful Olympics in 2008 is another constraint on a Chinese military solution in the Strait. There are also many pressing domestic priorities -- the environment, fixing the financial and banking systems, digesting WTO entry, reform of state enterprises, infrastructure and energy development and building a sustainable social welfare system.

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