In his speech at the Brookings Institution on July 13, titled "Some Reflections on My Time in Taiwan," former American Institute in Taiwan director Douglas Paal said that China's intent to restrain Taiwan lay behind its rapid military buildup. He also said that the main reason was then president Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) 1995 visit to Cornell University, and his later definition of the relationship between Taiwan and China as "special state-to-state relations."
Paal seems to feel that the policies of the US and China regarding Taiwan, although articulated differently, are essentially the same in terms of maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. The common meaning of these policies is "clear," he said.
With deep regret, I must conclude that Paal's assessment of cross-strait circumstances is far removed from reality.
Taiwan is constantly under the threat of invasion by China because of its pursuit of peace and democracy and its attempts to establish itself in the international arena. China has never renounced its ambition to attack Taiwan. This was the reality for decades before Lee's Cornell visit. Beijing's goal is to become a hegemonic power, supplanting the US in East Asia.
I find it regrettable that only six months after leaving Taiwan, Paal seems to have forgotten that China's rise is not founded on peace and democracy. Moreover, the alarming speed of its military buildup poses a threat not only to Taiwan but to the entire region. And in this age of dwindling energy resources, it is quite likely that conflicts will break out between China and its neighbors who have territorial disputes with Beijing, like Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and India. This is a scenario that I think most analysts would agree with.
The US Department of Defense's report regarding the Chinese military points out that since 1990, China's official defense budget has increased by more than 10 percent yearly, but the official budget is far less than Beijing's actual military spending. The speed with which China's military build-up is expanding is prompting even high-level officials in the White House to wonder which of China's neighbors are its enemies.
I disagree with Paal's mentioning the democratic US and the dictatorial China together against a background of military expansion and understanding of peace and democracy.
Paal also mentioned China's "Anti-Secession" Law, saying that it created maneuvering room for President Hu Jintao (
I also disagree with Paal's understanding that Taiwan's longtime wish to ink a free trade agreement (FTA) with the US as soon as possible stems from political considerations alone. Although China is growing stronger economically, the US is still the world's leading economy, and its domestic demand is the strongest of all the world's consumer markets. This one point makes one wonder whether export-oriented Taiwan's pursuit of an FTA with the US could be the result of political considerations alone.
Global economic and trade integration is an unstoppable trend, and FTAs are becoming par for the course. Politically isolated by China, Taiwan's economic and trade competitiveness are its only avenues of development.