[ LETTER ]

Wed, Jun 08, 2011 - Page 8

Don’t count on the US

John Copper must be aware of the clarification given by the administration of US President Barack Obama subsequent to the statement Copper disingenuously quoted regarding Taiwan as being part of China’s “core interest” (“Should the US abandon Taiwan?” June 4, page 8). Copper attempts to portray the US administration as having changed its policy toward Taiwan with respect to China from that of the previous administration.

As your lead article the same day made clear, there is no significant change (“F-16s subject to PRC sensitivities: Gates,” June 4, page 1). Both the administrations of former US president George W. Bush and Obama have been forced to be mindful of Chinese sensibilities: Bush simply chose to ignore the F-16 issue during his final term, preferring to pass the problem — and criticism — on to his successor.

It gets to the nub of an issue that has taxed contributors and correspondents to the Taipei Times during the past few months: the changing circumstances of the US’ relationship with China and Taiwan.

China is the single largest foreign holder of US government debt — US$899.5 billion, with Hong Kong holding another US$138.9 billion last year. Unlike other major foreign holders, China is not a close ally, but a competitor for influence in the region.

Moreover, to remain profitable and competitive in the global market, US corporations need Chinese manufacturing labor. Likewise, China is dependent on US markets in particular for its continued economic growth, but Beijing is reducing that dependence.

A point not quite grasped is that the US puts economic and security issues ahead of any pious sentiments regarding democracy and human rights. This explains its mixed reaction to the “Arab spring” protests of the past six months.

Only when Taiwan exercises its right to self-determination will it become truly democratic. Yet no US administration has been prepared to allow or support such a move, preventing the Taiwanese from making such a choice. Incredibly, the Bush administration opposed the holding of democratic referendums in 2004 and 2008.

Rather, at the behest of Beijing, not Taipei, since the 1970s Washington has maintained that Taiwan is part of China, and that there is only “one China.” The US is unwilling to risk war with China itself or the disruption such conflict would bring to global trade and its economy. However, for the same security reasons the US won’t tolerate Chinese military intervention across the Taiwan Strait.

While most Taiwanese may not want unification with the People’s Republic of China, they do want the so-called “status quo” between Taiwan and China. Unfortunately, this no longer exists the way it did when the US’ Taiwan Relations Act was passed in 1979. It has been rapidly undermined by several developments in the past 10 years:

First, by the growing strength and sophistication of China’s military, including submarine and anti-submarine technology. It’s a moot point whether the loss of a US aircraft carrier or fear of such a loss would force the US Navy to retire from the Taiwan Strait in the event of a conflict, but explaining such a loss to the public would at least be a tough sell for any US president and a political — if not military — disaster.

Second, Taiwan has itself become overdependent on China’s economy. In 2001, China accounted for 39 percent of Taiwan’s total outward investment, more than doubling to 84 percent by last year.

The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) exacerbates this, not least through its “early harvest” list, by which means Taiwanese exporters and investors become even more dependent on China.

The revelation that Evergreen Marine Corp was “leaned on” by Beijing during former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) tenure in office hints at the obvious danger (“Evergreen leaned on over Chen: cable,” June 4, page 3).

Ultimately, the US is a declining regional military power, which, as it has underpinned it, impacts upon the “status quo.” These twin dynamics — military and economic — will continue to cause friction between the Washington and Beijing as they change the shape of relations. Given the broad trend in US policy toward China since the 1970s and China’s emergence as a regional power, it’s no wonder some in the US are apparently suggesting the US abandon Taiwan sooner rather than later.

PAUL DEACON

Neihu, Taipei