Fri, Mar 02, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan is linked to N Korea crisis

By ThomasShattuck

The US public — and the Soviets, North Koreans and Chinese — interpreted the omission of Korea and Taiwan at the time as the US not willing to get involved in military conflicts there.

As history has shown, the belief that the US was giving up Korea and Taiwan turned out to be wrong: Once then-North Korean premier Kim Il-sung received tacit approval from Joseph Stalin to launch his invasion of South Korea, the US responded with a massive intervention to preserve South Korean independence.

Korea and Taiwan’s omission from Acheson’s speech in 1950 nevertheless shaped many countries’ Asia policies for years to come.

We know that the US has stationed troops in South Korea since the end of the Korean War. We know that even though the US switched recognition from the Republic of China to the People’s Republic of China, the US still provides “such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capacity.” The US did not abandon Taiwan either.

What does this history lesson mean for what is happening with Korea and Taiwan today?

The geopolitical landscape in Asia right now is eerily similar to that of Acheson’s 1950: a belligerent North Korea and the belief that a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is imminent. Those were in the background during Acheson’s 1950 speech, and part of the reason that speech was given.

Many fear that Trump could tweet his way into a war, but can we really expect him or anyone in his administration to give such a speech like Acheson’s, abandoning a key regional ally?

The red line has moved further into Asia. And this time, it includes South Korea and Taiwan.

Gone are the days of ambiguity over the US’ stance on defending South Korea. Although the US has a more ambiguous stance toward Taiwan, under the Trump administration, the US’ commitments — thanks to the US Congress — have increased.

As long as the North Korea issue looms large over the region and world, China will not invade Taiwan. Maintaining North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s regime and preventing a unified, pro-US South Korea on its border is a higher priority for China than retaking Taiwan.

This is not to say that peace will prevail and China will alleviate its pressure on Taiwan. No, China will continue to try to poke holes through Taiwan’s air defenses and be a general gadfly, but Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) understands — or should — that Taiwan and North Korea are linked by a speech given nearly 70 years ago.

Thomas Shattuck is the editor of Geopoliticus: The FPRI Blog and a research associate at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

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