There has been an increased focus on how the triangular relationship between Taiwan, China and the US will develop after president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) takes office on May 20. Although warming cross-strait relations may lead to positive developments for the economy and an opportunity for more cultural exchange, there may also be spillover effects with regard to security across the Taiwan Strait, US arms sales to Taiwan and the US’ Asia-Pacific security policy.
On the eve of Taiwan’s presidential election, the US emphasized its “one China” policy and issued increasingly authoritative statements on the US’ unequivocal opposition to Taiwan holding a referendum on applying for UN membership.
But at the same time, the US strengthened its resolve in enforcing the security of the Taiwan Strait through actions such as sending the Japan-based USS Kitty Hawk carrier to the Taiwan Strait on March 17. On March 21, the US not only officially confirmed the Kitty Hawk’s movement, but also said that the USS Nimitz performed naval exercises in a region near the Taiwan Strait. Admiral Timothy Keating of the US Pacific Command said that these actions were meant as a warning against any inappropriate military maneuvers. This shows that the US was not only taking preventive military action with regard to Taiwan, but that Washington is also concerned about China’s uncertain nature. There was a strategic element to the display of military might, which aimed at reminding the two sides of the Strait to exercise self-restraint.
Although there was no instability in the Taiwan Strait after the presidential election, the US still has not withdrawn its carrier battle group from the area. According to an April 17 report in the Washington Times, the Kitty Hawk and the Nimitz will stay put until after May 20 to respond to any situations that could affect the security of the Taiwan Strait.
In addition, American Institute in Taiwan Director Stephen Young participated in the Yushan military exercise on April 22, triggering speculation on the significance of his presence. While he was ostensibly an observer, it is possible that the exercise was meant to simulate how US officials would be protected and evacuated in case of war. These events show that expectations for cross-strait relations and security across the Taiwan Strait do not necessarily match the recently popular “economic peace theory.”
The nature and hopes of the “economic peace theory” both comply with and contradict the US’ “grand strategy” toward Asia. It is also closely related to the rise of China and its effect on Asian regional security and the structure of global power allocation. On the surface, China appears to have chosen a peaceful and gradual strategy for its rise. For example, in January, Beijing published its China Modernization Report in which it mentioned its “peace dove” strategy. Its purpose is allegedly to market the diplomatic strategy for its peaceful rise, but China also seeks to prevent other countries from interfering with what it sees as its “internal affairs.”
Chinese military reports say that when vice president-elect Vincent Siew (蕭萬長) and Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) met during the Boao forum, Hu had recently inspected the navy’s Nanhai fleet and called for an all-out effort to increase combat readiness and a strengthening of the military. For its part, the US has kept the two carrier battle groups in the Taiwan Strait region on standby. Washington doesn’t say whether it is out of concern over internal developments in Taiwan, a preventative safeguard against any unusual movements from China, or to react to any action Beijing might take in response to the effect of the problems in Tibet on the Olympic Games. Neither the US nor China has made their intentions clear.