With the signing of the Sino-Russian energy deal, it is now clear that the final nail has been driven into the coffin of the geostrategic argument.
The seizures of territory in the Crimea and the South China Sea, and the threats to eastern Ukraine, are intrinsic to common imperial ambitions.
Russia and China vote with one another in the UN Security Council or abstain; they take the same positions on most global issues; and Russia sells arms and energy to China.
The PRC’s announcement of its East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone on Nov. 23 last year, the continuing standoff between China and the Philippines over territorial rights in the Scarborough Shoal and the recent May 2 placement of an oil-drilling rig in what Vietnam regards as its Exclusive Economic Zone, have increased regional tensions.
It has become increasingly clear that China aims to control not only the resources, but also the sea lanes of all the waters in the East and South China Seas.
Along with control of Taiwan, all nations on China’s periphery would once again be reduced to the status of tributary states to an imperial power.
The second US argument for improving relations with China, at least since President Clinton, has largely been economic. Both Chinese and US corporations have benefited.
Continuing aggressive Chinese cyberespionage on a massive scale, however, is now also undermining the economic argument, especially as China continues to move up the value chain where intellectual property is the greatest business asset.
On balance, autocratic China has clearly gotten the better part of the bargain in its relations with democratic US and Taiwan.
It is high time for the US to re-examine its policies toward China and Taiwan. To a small extent, that is already happening with recent more robust statements by President Obama, US Secretary of Defense Hagel and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.
We have also seen more responses to China’s increasingly aggressive posture from Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The US needs to do more, however, to help Taiwan, our democratic partner and friend:
First, the US should do more than repeat the mantra of praise for “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait” as if this were sufficient in itself as a policy.
As critical as continued peace and stability are, we have other values also worth repeating more frequently in connection with Taiwan, including democracy and the right of free people to decide their own fate, peacefully and without coercion.
Second, the US should actively assist Taiwan in becoming less economically dependent on China. Taiwan has profited enormously from China’s growth over the past 20 years, but it is unlikely to be able to continue dining much longer only at that table. The US should more visibly promote and engage in efforts to bring Taiwan into the Trans-Pacific Partnership and, failing that, do whatever it can to reach bilateral economic and trade agreements, including a bilateral investment agreement.
Third, in view of the new regional security challenges, the US needs to incorporate Taiwan in its strategic planning for Asia and do more to help Taiwan bolster its own defenses, including helping it acquire submarines. This is important not only to Taiwan, but also critical to US interests.