Taiwan’s peaceful transfer of political power offers further evidence that the regime in Beijing is wrong when it suggests democracy is not possible in China.
Taiwan remains an embarrassment to Beijing’s aging leadership who condescendingly assert that market-based democratic traditions are inconsistent with Chinese culture. In the blogosphere Chinese are increasingly asking: “If Taiwan can democratically elect a president, why can’t we?”
Beijing is undergoing an increasingly uneasy leadership change, where not one member of the Chinese power structure is directly elected by the people. A corrupt Chinese Communist Party (CCP) looks increasingly entitled, repressive and cut-off from the Chinese people.
US policymakers need to understand Taiwan’s political and social significance to China’s transition now underway. Failure to do so only serves to re-enforce attitudes among ultra-nationalists in Beijing who would gladly snuff out Taipei’s experiment in freedom. Based on their statements, a growing number of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) hardliners seem to feel that former Chinese chairman Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) famous statement to then-US secretary of state Henry Kissinger four decades ago, that: “We can wait 100 years for Taiwan,” is now outdated.
Rather than engage Taiwan as a partner, whose political and social history offers a useful roadmap to greater democracy at home, Beijing sees Taiwan’s emerging democracy as a threat. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the PLA has pivoted much of its military assets away from China’s northern border and to its east coast instead. We know from experts’ analysis of PLA military planning that a large part of the US$100 billion in annual military expenditures now undertaken is directed at Taiwan-related contingencies.
The loss of Taiwan to Chinese domination would have far-reaching repercussions. From Seoul in the north to Canberra in the south, such a policy retreat would likely raise questions among our Asia-Pacific allies about the US’ Pacific staying power. Some of our old friends might even decide that the time has come to cut their losses and seek an accommodation with Beijing before it is too late.
With control of Taiwan, Beijing would be able to dictate terms of engagement with both Tokyo and Seoul. The PLA Navy would dominate the crucial sea lanes around Taiwan and its seizure would also break the current freedom of navigation in the first island chain off the Asian coast, allowing Beijing to pursue its strategy of denying access to the US Navy.
As China’s air and sea power rapidly expands, it is key that the US approve Taiwan’s request for next generation F-16 jets to replace an aging fleet provided at the end of the Cold War. Taiwan also needs diesel submarines to counter Beijing’s rapidly expanding submarine fleet.
Leaving Taiwan exposed to Beijing’s incessant bullying and potential aggression is not the answer. Inaction on provision of defensive weapons as mandated by the US Congress in the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) is a prescription for disaster. I have put forward legislation, known as the Taiwan Policy Act, to enhance the TRA and to strengthen our ties with Taiwan.
Beijing seeks to marginalize US strategic and commercial interests in the world’s most economically vibrant region. Any success would have a direct impact on lives of US citizens. Without access to Asian markets, the US economy would decline.
If the 21st century is the “Asian century,” then a democratic Taiwan free of mainland domination remains a lynchpin for curtailing Chinese hegemony over the Asian continent. Thus, the US must stand by Taiwan to ensure our shared strategic and economic interests are protected.
US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen chairs the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee.