Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

US policies drive nation's isolation

By Dan Blumenthal

US policy toward Taiwan is riddled with peculiarities. Taiwan is a liberal democracy with a prosperous, free-market economy and is the very model of the kind of "responsible stakeholder" Washington hopes China will be in the future.

Despite its exclusion from donor conferences, Taipei has provided material support to the war on terrorism and reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In addition, it has supported US counter-proliferation efforts such as the Proliferation Security Initiative. If Taiwan is a model of freedom at home and responsibility abroad, why is Washington's attitude toward Taipei so sour?

It wasn't supposed to be this way.

The administration of US President George W. Bush came to power determined to change the perceived Beijing tilt of former US president Bill Clinton. Bush offered Taiwan a generous arms package and made Taiwan a "normal" security partner, allowing Taipei to make arms requests according to its own timeline as it sought to fill its defense needs.

The president said that the US would "do whatever it takes" to help Taiwan defend itself.

Moreover, after Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the US, Bush formulated a "freedom agenda" to advance freedom worldwide. In that spirit, he has supported Georgia, Ukraine and other countries formerly under Soviet control, despite Russian protests.

Given the thrust of Bush's policies, it is indeed odd that Washington treats Taiwan as a virtual pariah: humiliating Taipei by micromanaging transit stops by its president and publicly warning that "independence means war," as if any responsible leader in Taiwan were pushing for formal independence. The US has also denied Taiwan a Free Trade Agreement, despite granting them to less economically capable countries such as Morocco, Jordan and Oman.

The truth is that there is practically no positive agenda between Taipei and Washington. The US engages in only half-hearted efforts to help Taiwan gain oberver status in the World Health Assembly. It has denied Taiwan requests for upgraded F-16s despite a clear need for them.

There has been little effort to include Taiwan in the "freedom agenda" or the global community of democracies that the Bush administration has touted. Including countries like Egypt and excluding Taiwan from that community damages the very idea it is built on.

Despite a growing need for Washington and Taipei to coordinate their military plans, the security relationship has not fared much better. Military relations are still governed by restrictions on visits by US general officers that began during the administration of former US president Jimmy Carter.

The defense relationship largely rests on decisions made in the late years of the Clinton administration -- when US Department of Defense officials woke up to the reality of China's increased military power.

Washington's weak support for Taiwan will have serious consequences, especially as Beijing actively undermines Taiwan's de facto independent status. As China works to isolate Taiwan internationally and intimidate it militarily, Taiwan's options are dwindling. Either it will lash out or it will "Finlandize," that is, become a China-compliant neutral power.

Neither option serves US interests. The former could provoke China into starting a war, while the latter would result in a second South Korea-like democracy, which is no longer willing to support US policy in Asia.

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