Paul Kane, a former international security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, published an editorial article, To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan, in the New York Times on Nov. 10, suggesting that US President Barack Obama “should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the US$1.14 trillion US debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end US military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan.” The idea that the US could choose to ditch Taiwan caused a sensation.
My own feeling is that Kane’s suggestion was akin to a practical joke made for its shock value and that it could have been intended to draw attention to the huge US debt. However, in light of the proposals made by some US academics’ for the Finlandization of Taiwan, a review of the Taiwan Relations Act and the 1982 Six Assurances, and the cancelation of US arms sales, the idea cannot simply be ignored by the government in Taipei.
Of primary relevance here is that these proposals have mostly been heard since 2008, during the period in which cross-strait relations have started to thaw. There was no mention of ditching Taiwan during the time the “two-state theory,” “one country on each side [of the Taiwan Strait] theory” and a referendum on Taiwan’s UN bid were broached, although Washington did complain to Taipei about those proposals.
To suggest that this idea is a result of factors related to the US itself, such as the relative decline in its national power, slow economic recovery or the reduction of its hegemonic role, is not entirely backed up by the facts.
The US maintains a leading international role despite its ailing economy because other countries still rely on it, and this need has not diminished over time. In terms of international politics, Western ideology has long had the upper hand, as seen in the “democratic revolutions” of the Arab spring. Whether Iranian and Syrian leaders face military sanctions is entirely up to the US. An “Arabic treaty organization” of the six Gulf Arab states is already starting to take shape. In East Asia, most countries, with the exception of Taiwan, China and North Korea, are striving to join the US--proposed Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP), and an “Asian treaty organization” is likely to also take shape.
In addition, the status of the US dollar as the No. 1 international reserve currency is now even more assured given the unfolding economic crises in the EU.
Militarily, since the US is slowly withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, it is now able to “return to Asia,” so as to maintain its international influence. As for China, the purchasing power of the European market is being undermined by the EU debt crisis and its own economy is preparing for a “hard landing,” courtesy of high inflation and oil prices. As a result, its reliance on the US market is expected to increase.
Despite the current economic downturn in the US, there is nothing to suggest that Washington feels the need to adopt a passive stance and curry favor with Beijing by ditching Taiwan.
It therefore seems reasonable to suggest that the idea is more a product of what Taiwan has, or has not, been doing. To consolidate Taiwan-US relations, we should drop the ideology that strong powers are always opposed. We should make the US realize that Taiwan-US relations are good for their national interests and that supporting Taiwan is beneficial to both sides. Taiwan has not done enough to adequately explain how Taiwan-US relations can serve US interests, or exactly why such benefits are irreplaceable.