Thu, Jan 18, 2007 - Page 8 News List

John Tkacik on Taiwan: The US stake in Asian democracy

By John Tkacik

As the US started this year with a Congress controlled by the Democrats, I wrote an opinion piece for the Heritage Foundation on "America's Stake in Taiwan" to help new congressmen and senators put Taiwan into a global perspective. Now that the Legislative Yuan in Taipei is contemplating this year's defense budget, I thought I would share my observations on the relationship between the US and Taiwan.

In a nutshell, I want our new representatives in Washington, Democrats and Republicans alike, to focus on one fact: Taiwan is one of the most important nations in democratic Asia. After all, its population is bigger than Australia's, its GDP larger than Indonesia's and its technology base second only to Japan's.

Taiwan is the US' eighth-largest trading partner -- with two-way trade at US$60 billion last year -- and its sixth-largest agricultural customer. For more than half a century, the nation has been one of the US' important defense and intelligence partners, first as a bulwark against the former alliance between the Soviet Union and China, later in support of forces resisting communism in Southeast Asia and now as a partner monitoring China's expanding strategic presence in the Pacific.

But it is a partnership in peril as Washington is distracted by Iraq and the Middle East and as Taiwanese politicians and voters sense -- rightly or wrongly -- that US commitment to their democracy is wavering.

In a vicious circle, an uncertain US commitment undermines Taiwan's consensus on its own defense, which, in turn, annoys US leaders and policymakers. Complicating matters further is the vast expanse of business networks that have intertwined the US, Taiwan and China.

This has widened the gulf between national security interests and business interests in the US and Taiwan about China.

Conventional wisdom in Washington -- and perhaps Taipei as well -- holds that economic freedoms are inextricably tied to political reforms and hence China will become democratic because its economy is liberalizing.

While there was evidence for this in the 1980s as China's political and economic freedoms blossomed together, the exact opposite has been the case since the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989. China's political and human rights are far more repressed now than they were in 1990, while the economy is far more open.

Yet, China's economy cannot be called "free." It remains a mercantilist structure with sole authority vested in the state -- and ultimately the Communist Party.

Taiwan's export economy is now caught within China's orbit.

Taiwanese politicians must also consider a future in which responsibility for Taiwan's defense, like Hong Kong's, rests in Beijing's hands.

This would become inevitable if Taiwan declines to keep its own defenses strong.

And Taipei could save a lot of money if it would let Beijing assume the responsibility for defending it from any other power in the region. Some in Taiwan may find it perfectly benign to rely on Beijing for security but most, I suspect, do not.

In 2005, People First Party Chairman James Soong (宋楚瑜) issued a joint communique with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) declaring that "military conflicts shall be effectively avoided so long as there is no possibility that Taiwan moves toward Taiwan independence."

Soong later indicated that Hu's pledge meant that Taiwan needs no defenses from China.

This story has been viewed 3847 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top