Tue, Jan 09, 2007 - Page 8 News List

US policies drive nation's isolation

By Dan Blumenthal

Why did the Bush administration change its attitude toward Taiwan? One can venture that perhaps Washington has convinced itself that the price of China's cooperation on North Korea is a freeze in US-Taiwan relations.

Unlike president Bush's meetings with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, no high level government official has met President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Taipei's policies are thus provided to the president and his top advisers through the interpretive lenses of sometimes hostile bureaucrats.

Another explanation reflects pure anxiety -- China's military threat to Taiwan is indeed formidable. Should China take military action against Taiwan, the costs of US intervention would be several times higher than they would have been a decade ago.

It is true that the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has had its share of difficulties as it grows into its role as the governing party. But how different has the DPP's experience been from that of parties in Hungary or Romania?

There is a generic set of experiences that formerly dissident parties such as the DPP undergo as they transform into governing parties. The freedom agenda of the US should include an understanding that democratic transformation is an unruly process.

It is convenient to blame Taiwan for the weakened tie. If only it would be quiet about its aspirations for a greater international personality, the thinking goes, the problem would go away.

Yet the problem lies in Beijing's growing military threat to Taiwan. China's latest white paper justifies its military build-up as a means to "deter" the "separatist forces" in Taiwan.

Really? Just how many hun-dreds of missiles and attack aircraft, dozens of submarines, and destroyers are needed to deter an unlikely "threat?" It is next to impossible for Taiwan to declare independence: two thirds of the legislature would have to vote for it before it was put before the public in a referendum.

The fact is that China's military policy is simply a convenient rhetorical device to continue its military expansion.

Every year that China grows stronger is a lost opportunity for Washington to make clear that the Taiwan issue will be settled by mutual consent, not by coercion.

Until China's Taiwan policy conforms to 21st century norms of negotiation informed by consent of the governed, Washington would be wise to help end Taiwan's isolation.

Taipei has much to offer in the realm of regional and international security.

As Chen recently stated in his new year's address, Taiwan is prepared to share its experiences and soothe the growing pains of other new democracies.

Washington behaved admirably toward the new democracies in Ukraine and Georgia despite Russia's resurgent strength.

The US can still do the same with Taiwan.

Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow in Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

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