The Russian attack against Georgia on Aug. 6 — two days before the Beijing Olympics began — has led to a number of commentaries drawing parallels between Georgia’s relation with Russia and Taiwan’s with China.
In one article, “Events in Georgia bode ill for Taiwan,” published in The Weekly Standard on Aug. 25, Dan Blumenthal and Chris Griffin strongly criticize the administration of US President George W. Bush for its tepid response to Russia’s invasion. They see in Washington’s complicity in isolating Taiwan a temptation for China’s aggression. They argue for a clear signal that the US will defend Taiwan from attack.
In the article “From Georgia to Taiwan,” published in the Wall Street Journal on Sept. 16, Richard Bush and Jeff Bader blame the Bush administration for giving “mixed signals” to Georgia, thereby encouraging Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili to “provoke” the Russian bear. On the other hand, they laud Bush’s “more tempered approach” to Taiwan, which led to “a more nuanced American policy” that bolstered Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) election, and “hopeful initiatives to stabilize cross-Strait relations in ways that hold out the prospect for improving Taiwan’s economy, reducing the military threat from China, preserving Taiwan’s democratic system of governance.”
The two articles represent opposite sides of the US political spectrum: Blumenthal and Griffin are associated with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, while Bush and Bader are at the liberal Brookings Institution and are associated with the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
On the policy toward Georgia, we would actually disagree with both analyses: In our view, the Bush administration did a reasonably good job in its expressions of support for the newly democratic country. There may have been some tepid responses right before and after the invasion, but overall, the US did the right thing: Express clear support for Georgia, condemn the Russian invasion and get the NATO partners to form a united front in opposition to the Russian moves.
On the issue of US policy toward Taiwan, we would fully agree with Blumenthal and Griffin and strongly disagree with Bush and Bader: At least since the end of 2003, the policies of the Bush administration toward the democratic island have been abysmal. In 2001, Bush started out quite alright by declaring he would do “whatever it takes” to help defend Taiwan from aggressive moves by China.
However, in December 2003 he somehow got weak knees and started to oppose Taiwan’s evolution toward a full democracy. He opposed a referendum held in conjunction with the 2004 presidential election that expressed opposition to China’s missile buildup. In an infamous TV opportunity, Bush, standing next to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), didn’t say a word about China’s missiles aimed at Taiwan, but lambasted President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for wanting to let the people of Taiwan express themselves on this issue. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?
The Bush administration compounded its mistakes last year and this year when it launched a veritable campaign against Taiwan’s UN referendum — which was held concurrent with the presidential election in March — even with people like Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressing “opposition” to the referendum.