The possibility of a peace agreement with China is a hot topic in Taiwan these days. The US Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) recently held a symposium, titled “Assessing the US-Taiwan Security Partnership.” Following suggestions that the US should “abandon Taiwan,” the question of whether it is possible to defend Taiwan anymore has become a concern for those who closely follow Taiwan-US relations.
Those who say that the US should stop supporting Taiwan and that it is no longer possible to defend Taiwan do not represent mainstream opinion and such views are unlikely to become official policy in the near future. However, there are many signs indicating that Taiwan is being overlooked and marginalized in US policy regarding the Asia-Pacific region. Taiwanese would be ill-advised to take this lightly.
The latest sign of how Taiwan’s position in Washington’s Asia-Pacific policy may be slipping emerged from what US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said recently at a press conference he gave while visiting Indonesia. Referring to the US’ decision to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/B aircraft, Panetta said the US had given China a “heads-up” before announcing the upgrade plan and he praised China for its measured response. Panetta’s statement immediately provoked a reaction from the US Congress, with some members saying that it contradicted one of the “six assurances” conveyed to Taiwan by then-US president Ronald Reagan in 1982, namely that the US would not consult China before selling arms to Taiwan. Some members of Congress are said to be planning to write to Panetta expressing their concern and asking him to give a clear explanation.
Another matter for concern is that, although the balance of military power across the Taiwan Strait is already clearly tilted in China’s favor, Taiwan’s desire to buy F-16C/D aircraft from the US has not been fulfilled. When US President Barack Obama visited China two years ago, he did not mention the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and there was no mention of the act in the joint statement released at the end of his visit. When Obama met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) in Washington at the beginning of this year, he mentioned the TRA only at a press conference. Over the past few months, statements coming from the Obama administration, including US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, regarding its Asia policy, have increasingly tended to gloss over Taiwan. It is rare nowadays to hear things like former US president George W. Bush’s praise for Taiwan’s democracy or former US secretary of state Colin Powell’s description of Taiwan as a “success story.”
Some academics have proposed abandoning Taiwan. They stress the need to avoid going to war over Taiwan and say that abandoning Taiwan is necessary so that US-China relations can develop smoothly.
Those who support this say that China has become a powerful country, so the US should reconsider whether it is necessary to defend Taiwan. In their view, Taiwan is a stumbling block for US-China relations, and they see Taiwan as a friend that the US does not really need. They see US-Taiwan friendship as a liability for the US. These people conclude that the US could either drop Taiwan or use Taiwan policy as a bargaining chip in return for China’s cooperation on the South China Sea as well as other issues.