Tue, Dec 17, 2002 - Page 8 News List

Jiang's proposal a lesson in realism

By Lee Wen-Chung 李文忠 and Su Tzu-Yun 蘇紫雲

During the summit between US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), Jiang proposed the removal of missiles from the Taiwan Strait in exchange for a decrease in arms sales to Taipei. Although Bush disarmed him simply by saying, "We are not that naive," the repercussions are still reverberating. What's more, according to former US State Department officials, the ball may soon be knocked into Tai-wan's court, where it could become hard to play.

Beijing's security policies have become more adaptable and flexible in recent years, mainly because those policies are still centered on "stabilizing the periphery and developing the economy." This is to highlight the fact that China is attempting the mature handling of international issues to show that it is sensible and capable of cooperation. We outline below, on the basis of Jiang's reasoning, a number of issues that arise from his offer and the responses that we would recommend.

First, it may have been a propaganda exercise to test the reactions of US and international media. China used the format and location of the APEC summit in Mexico to propose this way of reducing the risk of a military stand-off. It could be said that guided missiles have a high propaganda value and Jiang's proposal naturally provides several advantages in terms of public opinion.

To this, Minister of Foreign Affairs Eugene Chien (簡又新) used the analogy of "apples and oranges," saying that China's "missiles for arms sales" proposal is not a balanced one. There is some truth to this statement and the Ministry of National Defense believes that China's verbal goodwill is of no substantive value, but debate on the matter continues. To ensure that Taipei's point of view is heard, the two ministries should intensify their discussion on measures that could make for a good balance, in terms of both propaganda and substance.

Second, it is worth watching to see if Washington's China policies are changing. When the Bush administration took office, its statements and policies were clearly biased toward Taiwan, but this situation changed after the Sept. 11 attacks. The main reason was that terrorist activities had become a real threat to the US and so it became important to win China's cooperation.

Of course, from a strategic point of view, even if deals are made under the table between Beijing and Washington, the US cannot accept unequal deals like Jiang's "missiles for arms sales" offer. The problem is, however, that if Taiwan cannot propose a constructive response, US strategy in the Taiwan Strait will tip toward the other side, marginalizing Taipei.

Finally, China may have been proposing to adopt formal disarmament measures controlling the total number of missiles, perhaps even destroying them. Of course, it is employing diplomatic pressure, military threats and economic unification against Taiwan, objectives which this possibility would not appear to serve. But if China really were to disarm along the Taiwan Strait, Taipei could consider responding by means of declarations or track-two dialogue in an attempt to put an early end to the arms race.

It may be that the future will see a never-ending stream of more flexible policies from Beijing. For Taiwan, Jiang's offer provides a lesson in realism. Only with the close integration of national security, national defense, diplomacy and the China affairs network will an effective national security team be developed, with the ability to generate comprehensive strategies to meet the range of challenges that Taiwan faces on these fronts.

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