Fri, Jul 02, 2004 - Page 8 News List

US realism unsettling for Taiwan

By Li Thian-hok李天福

There are two schools of thought in the US foreign policy establishment -- realist and neoconservative.

The realists are represented by Henry Kissinger and Alexander Haig; both former secretaries of state; Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor; and academics such as David Shambaugh of George Washington University and Kenneth Lieberthal of the University of Michigan. The realists believe that foreign policy should be guided primarily by national interests, not idealistic goals such as advancement of human rights and expansion of democracy across the globe. In their view, China's rise to the status of a great economic and military power is unstoppable and the US must seek accommodation with China in order to keep the peace in Asia and beyond.

In the realists' view, Taiwan is a small nation. Its population is less than 2 percent that of China. China is determined to annex Taiwan and may be willing to bear whatever political, diplomatic, economic and military cost that is required to achieve that end, including a military conflict with the US. Therefore, it is in the US' interest to encourage cross-strait dialogue and economic integration, hopefully leading to a peaceful unification of the two sides.

The realists realize that the Taiwanese have striven hard to turn the nation into a democracy and it would be unseemly for the US to push democratic Taiwan into the arms of authoritarian China. This policy is thus sometimes justified with the argument that economic reform and globalization will inevitably lead to political liberation and democracy in China.

Besides, Taiwanese businesses and Taiwan's government appear amenable to eventual unification with China, as evidenced by cumulative direct investments in China that total over US$100 billion, and growing exports to China, which were 34.5 percent of total exports last year. Nearly 7,000 factories were shut down in Taiwan last year, while the number of Taiwanese living and working in China exceeds 500,000 and Chinese citizens legally residing in Taiwan number 300,000. So the realists do not see an independent Taiwan free from China's political control as a viable option in the long run.

The neocons differ from traditional conservatives in that they advocate pro-active US involvement in world affairs. Examples of prominent neoconservatives include Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defense secretary; Bill Kristol, the chief editor of the Weekly Standard; and scholars affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute such as Thomas Donnelly. The neocons believe that expansion of democracy -- a universal value -- is not only morally right, but also serves the US' national interests because democracies tend not to attack each other and are less likely to become breeding grounds for terrorists. In contrast to the realists, who stress commercial gains for multinational corporations, the neocons are more mindful of US geopolitical interests and national security.

The neocons worry about the growing US trade deficit with China (US$124 billion last year). They are also worried about China's rapid economic growth, which enables the People's Liberation Army to acquire advanced weapons from Russia and modernize itself with state-of-the-art military technology to help China achieve its objective of absorbing Taiwan, turning Japan and Korea into China's vassal states, replacing the US as the dominant power in Asia and eventually challenging the US' role as the sole superpower. The neocons therefore firmly support Taiwan's status as a de facto independent nation, at least until it becomes clear that a rising China will not threaten US strategic interests and national security with its imperial expansionism.

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