The relations between Taiwan, the US and China have given rise to many an academic analysis. This is understandable and even laudable: The network of relations is complex and is open to various interpretations and insights. Many past treatises have made valuable contributions to the understanding of developments between the three countries.
However, once every so often an academic publishes an analysis that is so far removed from reality that it would be dismissed out of hand for its lack of understanding and its outright naivite. Bruce Gilley’s article, titled “Not So Dire Straits” — published in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs (January/February 2010) — is such a work.
Gilley’s basic thesis is that the present “rapprochement” between Taiwan and China opens the way for the “Finlandization” of Taiwan, and for the US to allow Taiwan to move from the present US strategic orbit towards China’s sphere of influence. Gilley’s misplaced assumption is that this process will somehow lead to democratization in China.
Gilley’s misconceptions are multiple, so in a brief essay like this one can only touch on a few major points.
To start with, the perception that “Finlandization” enjoyed “wide support in Finland at the time.” The question is: did the Finnish people have much of a choice, with the Russian gun pointed at their head?
A second general point is one of historical accuracy: Gilley writes that in 1949 “Taiwan and mainland China became separate political entities.” The truth of the matter is that Taiwan — as a Japanese colony — had been a separate entity for some 50 years, while before that period the influence of the Chinese imperial governments on the island was minimal at best.
The problem arose when the defeated Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was driven out of China and landed in Taiwan, treating it like occupied territory. It is also incorrect to say “most of the international community came to accept Beijing’s claim to territorial sovereignty over Taiwan.” This was only the case for pro-Beijing regimes of the likes of Zimbabwe and the Sudan. The US and other Western nations only “noted” or “acknowledged” Beijing’s claims, but took the position that it remained an unresolved issue, and that the island’s future needed to be determined in accordance with the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
But the most serious fallacy of the article is that it posits that a Chamberlain-like appeasement of China on the Taiwan issue will somehow democratize and pacify a rising China rather than embolden it. That is a fundamental misconception: Repressive regimes are never mollified by concessions; it only increases their appetite.
It would be a fundamental error to sacrifice the hard-won achievements of a vibrant and democratic Taiwan and let it drift into an uncertain, fuzzy “principled neutrality.”
Gilley wants us to believe that there is a distinction between this “Finland-style” status and “cowering acquiescence” as he calls it. An authoritarian power like China is hardly likely to be bothered by such finessing, and will remove any opposition to its rule; Tibet and East Turkestan are rather illustrative examples.
Gilley also argues that China’s claims to Taiwan may be less motivated “nationalism and … a broader national discourse of humiliation and weakness,” and more by a geostrategic rationale: By virtue of its location, Taiwan has strategic importance, and by bringing it into its sphere of influence it could enhance its ability to project its naval power, and thereby exert its influence in the Western Pacific.
On this point he is correct: Taiwan has tremendous strategic importance, not only for Japan and South Korea, but also for US interests in the East Asia and Pacific region. And this is precisely the reason why it was most wise for the US to stand by Taiwan in recently offering it anti-missile technology.
From the perspective of the Taiwanese, a drift in China’s direction would mean a loss of the freedom and democracy they worked so hard to achieve. US credibility around the world — and particularly in East Asia — does depend on its adherence to the basic principles for which we stand. Allowing a free and democratic Taiwan to slide into the sphere of influence of an authoritarian China is not acceptable.
Thus, instead of “Finlandization” of Taiwan, the US should pursue a policy of stronger engagement with Taiwan by helping the country defend itself against a belligerent neighbor, and by signing a free-trade agreement to strengthen US economic and political ties with that democratic nation. Only by bringing Taiwan into the international family of nations, can real stability in East Asia be achieved.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
In September 2013, the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) quietly released an internal document entitled, “Coursebook on the Military Geography of the Taiwan Strait.” This sensitive, “military-use-only” coursebook explains why it is strategically vital that China “reunify” (annex) Taiwan. It then methodically analyzes various locations of interest to People’s Liberation Army (PLA) war planners. The coursebook highlights one future battlefield in particular: Fulong Beach, in New Taipei City’s Gongliao District, which it describes as “3,000 meters long, flat, and straight,” and located at “the head of Taiwan.” A black and white picture of Fulong’s sandy coastline occupies the
Early last month, China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), officially approved the country’s 14th Five-Year Plan. The strategy was supposed to demonstrate that China has a long-term economic vision that would enable it to thrive, despite its geopolitical contest with the US. However, before the ink on the NPC’s stamp could dry, China had already begun sabotaging the plan’s chances of success. The new plan’s centerpiece is the “dual-circulation” strategy, according to which China would aim to foster growth based on domestic demand and technological self-sufficiency. This would not only reduce China’s reliance on external demand; it would also
Interrupting the assimilation of Xinjiang’s Uighur population would result in an unmanageable national security threat to China. Numerous governments and civil society organizations around the world have accused China of massive human rights abuses in Xinjiang, and labeled Beijing’s inhumane and aggressive social re-engineering efforts in the region as “cultural genocide.” Extensive evidence shows that China’s forceful ethnic assimilation policies in Xinjiang are aimed at replacing Uighur ethnic and religious identity with a so-called scientific communist dogma and Han Chinese culture. The total assimilation of Uighurs into the larger “Chinese family” is also Beijing’s official, central purpose of its ethnic policies
In studies of Taiwan’s demographic changes, the Institute of Sociology at Academia Sinica has found that a mere 36.5 percent of men and 19.6 percent of women think getting married is an important life event. The institute also found that the government spending money or amending laws and regulations in order to encourage families to have children is having no impact on the birthrate. Opinions differ on whether this kind of change is a matter of national security, as Japan faces a similar situation, without having a negative impact on its economic strength. Fewer women are willing to marry and the divorce