A few weeks ago there was an article by George Washington University professor Charles Glaser suggesting that the US should consider backing away from its commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. I wrote earlier why I didn’t agree with that proposition at all (“Charles Glaser’s fallacious arguments,” March 7, page 8).
Now comes a new report from the University of Virginia, titled A Way Ahead with China, outlining a number of conciliatory measures the US should consider in order to improve relations with China. The report is the product of a January conference at the university’s Miller Center of Public Affairs, which was chaired by Joseph Prueher, former US ambassador to China and a former commander of the US Pacific Command.
In the report, the authors say the US should take a “fresh look” at relations with Taiwan. Of course one should always be willing to take a “fresh look” at sensitive issues, but when we read further, this “fresh look” boils down to rethinking US arms sales and re-examining the complex relationship “in the layers of economy, politics and culture.”
The problem with this kind of thinking is that it puts the onus for the existing tensions on the US (for offering the arms to Taiwan) and on Taiwan (for wanting the arms to protect itself). The mistake the authors make is similar to that of Glaser: The idea that if we remove arms sales to Taiwan as an irritant in the US-China relations, then all will be well.
The authors of the report, like Glaser, fail to see that diminishing US support for Taiwan will only make China more aggressive toward the nation. Arms sales to Taiwan are not the real irritant to the Chinese. Taiwan’s existence as a free and democratic nation is what really bothers the authoritarian rulers in Beijing. It is a clear example that Asian people can live freely in a vibrant, multiparty political system.
“Democracy” is the real threat to Beijing, and we need to keep Taiwan free and democratic if we ever want China itself to make a transition to democracy.
So if we want to take a “fresh look” at relations with Taiwan, I would have a few different suggestions. We need to fully maintain our defense commitments to the nation and its people, but we need to upgrade our relations — and here I borrow a phrase from the Virginia report — “in the layers of economy, politics and culture.”
In terms of economic ties, there is an obvious opportunity: Let us start negotiating with Taiwan on a free-trade agreement. This has been in discussion for almost a decade, but no administration — Democrat or Republican — has had the political will to move forward on it. Taiwan is at the forefront of innovation, particularly in the information-technology industry. In its importance to the world economy, Taiwan ranks up there with Japan and South Korea.
However, the clearest need for a fresh look is at the political level. Owing to unfortunate events in history, Taiwan and its people ended up in the present limbo of political isolation. This isolation will not end if we continue to cling to an outdated status quo or if we succumb to Chinese pressure.
A peaceful resolution can only be found if we work toward normalization of relations with the nation and its people, so they can find their niche in the family of nations. The US and its West European allies need to be much more creative in helping to find a way forward for Taiwan to find its rightful place in the international community as a free and democratic nation. That would really be “a way ahead with Taiwan.”
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.
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