If the Presidential Office is to be believed, everyone inside “the Beltway” — US political speak for Washington — is over the moon about the progress in relations between Taiwan and China since the change of government last May.
Over the last few weeks, a steady succession of US establishment figures and academics — most notably former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton — have landed in Taipei to file through the Presidential Office turnstiles and slap President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) on the back while commending him for the recent cross-strait detente. Ma, meanwhile, has taken every opportunity to detail how happy the world is with his management of relations with China.
The reason, no doubt, for the US’ glee is that the warming of cross-strait relations means it is less likely that war will break out in the Taiwan Strait, in which case US soldiers would likely have to put their lives on the line to defend Taiwan.
In fact, the only dissenting voice of late has come from Pentagon officials, who have expressed worries that Taiwan’s headlong tilt toward China could eventually see advanced US weapons technology falling into the “wrong hands.”
At home, another dissenting voice — and one that seems to be having trouble making itself heard — is that of the growing number of Taiwanese alarmed at the pace and scope of the cross-strait rapprochement.
So far, because Ma was elected with a large majority less than 12 months ago, these dissenting voices have been written off as disappointed opposition supporters.
But these, and many more people who voted for Ma’s moderate pre-election promises, did so in the belief that the Presidential Office — not the KMT — would be in charge of cross-strait policy.
And while Ma touted the idea of a peace agreement with China during his election campaign, it is safe to assume that voters believed any agreement would not touch on political relations, as Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) seemed to suggest in a recent Xinhua article and which now seems increasingly likely.
Any such move would be deeply distressing to the majority in Taiwan, which has time and again shown support for maintaining the current cross-strait state of affairs.
Another consideration for those praising the new atmosphere in the Strait is that the closer democratic Taiwan gets to authoritarian Beijing, the bigger the threat China poses to the nation’s democratic system and the rights of Taiwanese to determine their future.
Washington must understand that the two are not mutually exclusive.
Although the Taiwan Relations Act — the guiding principle on US-Taiwan relations — states that the future of Taiwan should be settled by peaceful means, any “peace deal” between Taipei and Beijing, despite Beijing’s best guarantees, would inevitably result in a deterioration in human rights, the rule of law and democracy in the same manner witnessed in Hong Kong since 1997.
While the US is quite right in wanting a peaceful settlement to the Taiwan issue, it is hard to believe that the country that for so long served as Taiwan’s protector is prepared to turn its back on one of Asia’s freest societies as it is slowly swallowed by its giant, authoritarian neighbor.