Fri, Aug 14, 2009 - Page 8 News List

Risks of Obama giving in to China

By Li Thian-hok 李天福

At the G20 meeting in London in April, Beijing persuaded Washington to engage in a serious discussion of Taiwan’s future at the next meeting between Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and US President Barack Obama. Earlier press reports said Hu might visit the US to attend the opening of the UN General Assembly next month and call on Obama at the White House. However, the latest report from Washington is that Obama will visit Beijing in November.

The change of venue for the Obama-Hu summit does not augur well for the US. It smacks of the past tradition of a “barbarian king” trekking to the imperial court to pay tribute. As an invited guest, Obama may find it harder to stand firm in protecting the interests of the US and its allies.

Last month, Taiwanese communities abroad launched a “10,000 letters to Obama to save Taiwan” campaign. The urgency of that campaign has not been diminished by the change in the timing of the summit between Obama and Hu.

The negotiations at the Cabinet and sub-Cabinet levels will take place next month and in October, and it is important that Taiwan’s message reaches Obama and his foreign policy team before then.

Developments in the international community have made Taiwan’s survival as a democratic nation increasingly challenging. The economies of the US and China are interdependent: The US looks to China to fund its economic recovery efforts, while China’s export-dependent economy needs access to the US market.

The two nations need to cooperate in managing global economic recovery and climate change. Washington expects Beijing’s assistance in dealing with the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. The US owes China nearly US$1 trillion, causing then presidential candidate Obama to warn that it is “hard to say no to your banker.”

After the end of the Cold War, then US president Bill Clinton drastically reduced the size of the US armed forces. Then came the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the US and the prolonged wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Pakistan. The US military is stretched thin, especially in East Asia. High priority is thus placed on deterring a conflict in the Taiwan Strait. However, when avoidance of any confrontation with China becomes the overriding goal, the US becomes susceptible to overt or implied intimidation by China’s People’s Liberation Army.

During a conference at George Washington University on May 19, luncheon speaker Henry Nau said Obama had swung the pendulum too far away from the policies of his predecessor, former US president George W. Bush. The Obama administration has cut the military budget and stressed counterinsurgency at the expense of conventional sea and air power. But diplomacy without leverage won’t work.

In his June 4 speech in Cairo, Obama eloquently extolled the virtues of democracy, then followed with a caveat that “there is no straight line to realize this promise ... Each action gives life to this principle (that governments should reflect the will of the people) in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone.”

This language sounds like the excuses made by many authoritarian regimes (see “The abandonment of democracy,” by Joshua Muravchik, published in the July/August issue of the Commentary).

The de-emphasis on promoting democracy, unfortunately, could also mean that the Obama administration may not place much value on Taiwan’s democracy serving as a model for autocratic China.

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