There has been considerable talk in the US recently to the effect that Washington will, and even should, end its role as Taiwan’s protector. A lot of the talk is serious.
There is good reason for this. In 2009, when US President Barack Obama visited China, he concurred that Taiwan is a Chinese “core interest” and has subsequently delayed and limited arms sales to Taiwan. The US Congress seems to have no interest in Taiwan these days with so many other issues to deal with. The US public does not want another war. A number of former top officials have suggested the country let China have Taiwan.
The central concern is that the US is suffering from strategic overstretching and debilitating debt. Thus, Washington finds it impossible to sustain its role as the world’s policeman. Many say cut back now. In fact, Obama has already sliced the US defense budget considerably.
In contrast, China has trillions of US dollars in foreign exchange and its economy is roaring ahead with a 9 or 10 percent growth rate, compared with the US’ 1 or 2 percent. The US will go broke if it engages in an arms race with China. In fact, some say China could cause the US to collapse as the US did to the Soviet Union a couple of decades ago.
Anyway, some in the US say the government and ruling party in Taiwan want unification with China, while the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) would pick a fight with China to suit its own objectives and draw the Washington into another war. Taiwan’s supporters in the US are understandably perplexed.
However, is this really the situation?
Starting with Taiwan, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) hardly wants to trade his position as head of state of what is for all intents and purposes a sovereign country for a lesser position in China.
Most of the top leaders of his Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) would prefer to be where they are and cannot be optimistic about their future in a Chinese government. Hence, they do not really want unification except as an ideal or in the distant future.
DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is not supporting independence, at least not as former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) did, which angered Washington. Chen is in prison and his influence in the party is almost gone. Tsai is the DPP’s candidate for the presidential election next year and has an agenda that focuses on other issues.
Then there is the question of whether China wants to incorporate Taiwan. Of course it does. But now? China’s paramount foreign policy objective is to keep its economic expansion on track. Taiwan contributes to that. Incorporation would not improve the situation; in fact it would likely have the opposite effect as it would anger and/or scare many of China’s commercial partners.
Another reason China probably does not want Taiwan immediately is that unification would likely be seen as a victory for the military; civilian leaders want to keep the military under control. (Many think it has become a loose cannon of late.) Chinese leaders feel that Taiwan will eventually want unification because of China’s economic attraction and that would be a better way of solving the problem.
Though some say Taiwan has no real value to the US in today’s new strategic climate, this is not the case. In control of Taiwan, China would use its west coast ports, especially Suao (蘇澳), as a submarine base. Its subs would enter deep water where they could not be tracked and could appear without warning off the coast of California where US cities would be in range of its missiles.