Sat, Aug 15, 2015 - Page 8 News List

Deconstructing Hickey on Taiwan

By Jerome Keating

Dennis Hickey’s article “Time to review US policy on Taiwan?” in the Aug. 5 edition of The Diplomat came across as more than the standard cry for regular and needed government policy review. Since few would argue that government policies do not need periodic review, where is the problem?

What makes Hickey’s effort problematic are the thoughts and suggestions that lie between the lines of his compilation of conflicting half-truths and innuendos: Here one senses that the author is doing more than raising the issue of review. He comes across as a man looking for a job, ie, he implies that not only should there be thoughtful US inter-agency governmental debate, but he should be on the advisory panel of such a debate. Why? He feels a need for a more pro-China slant in the review, as if there was not enough there in the first place.

For starters, has the US policy on Taiwan really been “frozen in time” as Hickey implied, or is Hickey only giving us this as one of his many half-truths?

Anyone who knows US policy realizes that, yes, the “strategic ambiguity” of Washington’s stance being “undecided” for more than 70 years is what keeps a frozen but still utilitarian format. On security measures this has changed regularly, so much so that perhaps the Taiwan Relations Act needs to be improved.

Hickey asked questions about Taiwan, but were his questions the right ones or was he asking in order to create need? Too often in his argument, Hickey played on US citizens’ fears of conflict with China like an insurance salesman who shows buyers illustrations of buildings going up in flames. This is simply sales technique and gimmickry.

In this, Hickey’s prime justification for requesting a review of the US’ Taiwan policy seems to be that because of the many pressing problems that the US faces, it needs China’s help. It needs it in a global economy, environmental degradation, health and energy issues, and North Korea, among many others. Because Washington will need cooperation with China in these, should it therefore placate Beijing to get it to cooperate? Did it placate Russia in the past?

A different question here is: What if China, with its expansionist ambitions, is actually a major cause of, or contributor to, these problems? How do you beg for cooperation in that scenario?

For example, how could the US get cooperation on pollution from one of the greatest polluters in the world when that nation’s economy depends on the means that produce pollution? Nestled behind this is greed, which is a different issue. Hickey played to those who know that there is still money to be made in China.

Like many traditional academics who do not want to hinder their access to the Chinese market, Hickey consistently declines to face off against China as one of the real sources of world problems. Instead, the new gambit is that Beijing must be cooperated with.

This seems to be standard fare for Hickey in his other writings, where he often tries to play both ends against the middle, while not offending China. In a different work, North Korea should not be taken lightly, but China can help in dealings with Pyongyang only if the US placates struggling China’s wishes and does not interfere.

Regarding Taiwan, Hickey repeated the standard meme that cross-strait relations have supposedly reached a zenith under President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九). Yet here he also played both ends against the middle. First he said that Beijing’s major complaint against the US is Washington’s arms support of Taiwan. Reversing his position, he adds that under Ma’s administration, Taiwan has decreased its military budget. Although Taiwan has not been buying that much from the US, this has not created any gain in pleasing China. Should the US consider stopping sales altogether?

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