In defense of Taiwan
To support his argument in a recent op-ed article in the New York Times, entitled “Save our economy, ditch Taiwan” (“‘New York Times’ op-ed calls on US to sell out Taiwan,” Nov. 13, page 1), Paul Kane, former international security fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, quotes US Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen’s claim that “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt.”
Actually, the most significant threat to the national security of the US, inextricably linked to the national security of our allies in the Asia-Pacific region, is the short-sighted and simplistic thinking that underlies Kane’s “analysis” of US-Taiwan-China relations.
At last weekend’s APEC summit in Hawaii, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton outlined the intention of US President Barack Obama’s administration to invest more economic, diplomatic and military resources in the rapidly developing region.
However, Kane says US national security derives less from “our military might” and more “from the strength, agility and competitiveness of our economy.”
In fact, attentiveness to the strength of its military does not preclude the improvement of the US’ economy. Both factors inform the US’ ability to protect its interests.
In 1996, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army mobilized its troops and conducted missile tests near southern Taiwan in response to the “threat” of “separatist” Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) anticipated presidency. Thereafter, then-US president Bill Clinton’s decision to direct two aircraft carrier groups near Taiwan showed the US’ commitment to deterring Chinese aggression and maintaining the “status quo,” not only with regards to Taiwan, but in the region as a whole.
The superiority of the US military, not necessarily the superiority of the US economy, contributed to neutralizing tense cross-strait relations.
Kane characterizes the “status quo” as “dangerous.”
What is dangerous about the current strategic ambiguity of the US toward Taiwan? It ensures the de facto independence of Taiwan, prevents a declaration of independence by Taiwan and deters a Chinese economic and/or military takeover of Taiwan.
US policy buys time for Washington and Taipei. Their partnership provides the regional and national stability needed for the further development of democratization and national identity on Taiwan.
A heightened international profile for Taiwan, as well as greater economic competitiveness that is not exclusively dependent on the Chinese economy, makes the non-democratic unification of Taiwan and China more costly in terms of economics and prestige for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). What is the likelihood of the CCP, focused foremost on self-preservation, allowing “hawks” to hijack its cross-strait policy and take Taiwan by force, putting itself at risk of an international backlash that would jeopardize its economic growth? The answer is that it is increasingly unlikely, thus making Kane’s hypothetical “multitrillion-dollar war” over Taiwan dishonestly alarmist.
In addition, Kane concludes Taiwan’s “gradually integrating with China economically” means “the island’s absorption into mainland China is inevitable.”
Ironically, ever since Lee’s presidency and especially that of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), cross-strait economic integration has increased. Concurrently, so has the popularity of the Taiwan independence movement, or at least acceptance of a Taiwanese identity and future distinct from the People’s Republic of China.