I was struck by the juxtaposition of two articles in the Taipei Times a few days ago explaining the different mindsets of former US officials regarding the relationship with Beijing. In one article, former US ambassador to Beijing Jon Huntsman was quoted as saying that in its dealings with China the US “should be unafraid to articulate our values of liberty, democracy, human rights and a free market,” it will be stronger to do so and regret it when it does not (“US must rely on its values to face China: Huntsman,” July 19, page 3). Huntsman, who has lived in Taiwan, stated that Taiwan’s strengths are its people, its free society and its commitments to values.
In the other article former US national security advisor Stephen Hadley was quoted as saying that “a lot of the heat” had gone out of what he called “the Taiwan issue,” while former US Treasury secretary Henry Paulson outlined five “key principles” he said the US must adopt in its relations with China (“Much heat has gone out of Taiwan issue: Hadley,” July 19, page 3).
Let us first focus on Hadley’s remarks. He acknowledged that China was becoming more assertive and even quoted one Chinese leader who told him that the present “status quo” was arrived at “when we were weak,” implying that they felt the modus vivendi needed to be changed now that China is strong.
As I have argued before, Beijing is perhaps “softer” on Taiwan because it feels that the present course of relations is conducive to its goals of nudging Taiwan into its economic and political orbit. It is not making waves about Taiwan because it feels that it is already moving toward “unification.” (“US needs to help protect a free choice in Taiwan,” Nov. 9, 2011, page 8).
However when Beijing realizes that its designs for Taiwan are colliding with the values of liberty, democracy, human rights and a free market, it will create another round of severe tension, to say the least.
Hadley also stated that another issue is coming up frequently now, and that it is “bigger than Taiwan:” the South China Sea. To be sure, how the US manages the conflict in the South China Sea will test the degree of US commitment to its democratic friends and allies in the region. However, while I would agree that the South China Sea is an important issue affecting the sea lanes and the interests of the surrounding countries, there are very few people living there. So, in my view, that was an unfortunate choice of words as Taiwan is at least as important, as it directly affects the lives of 23 million people who have worked long and hard to achieve their democracy.
In terms of Paulson’s remarks, he elaborated on five “key principles” for the US to adopt in its dealings with China: greater openness to Chinese investment in the US; more transparent markets with strong oversight; strengthened market confidence in both economies; freeing up of bilateral trade and more efficient technology flow to promote innovation. He also said that Taiwan’s continued existence is very important to the US.
What is missing from Paulson’s “principles” is any reference to the basic values highlighted in Huntsman’s remarks. Paulson avoids any discussion of the political situation in China and totally skips over the basic problems facing Chinese society: the lack of adequate checks and balances in the political system, the rampant corruption, the totally inadequate judicial system and one could go on and on. These problems need a very dedicated effort, so there is a level playing field. Not just “business as usual” as Paulson’s comments imply.