Washington may soon launch a new Taiwan Policy Review that could have an enormous impact on bilateral relations.
While there have been no official announcements and foreign policy advisers close to both US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US President Barack Obama refuse to discuss the subject, there are increasing rumors and speculation.
The Taipei Times has been told by senior congressional sources that a formal review is being considered by the Obama administration but that no decision has been made.
And Professor David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University, wrote earlier this month that there was a “growing discussion” in Washington of the need to undertake a thorough Taiwan Policy Review “given the dramatic and positive changes in cross-strait relations.”
Significantly, such a review would come at a time when Shambaugh — one of the most-respected China scholars in Washington — said that the Sino-US relationship appeared to be the best it has been in the 20 years since the “traumatizing” Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.
In a paper for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Shambaugh said that resuming military-to-military exchanges with Beijing was a high priority for the Obama administration and recent bilateral discussions suggested such exchanges were slowly resuming.
“Concerning Taiwan, Washington is pleased with the trajectory of the issue since [President] Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) election. Cross-strait relations have substantially stabilized in all spheres. Of course, the real issue for the US in this area is the continuing buildup of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan [now 1,000-plus], the large conventional force deployments in this theater and the continuing PLA exercises that simulate attack scenarios against the island,” he said.
“It would be politically astute for Beijing to unilaterally freeze all three as a goodwill gesture to enhance confidence on Taiwan and advance the process of cross-strait rapprochement. Doing so would put pressure on Washington to reconsider the rationale for a new arms package, i.e. whether it sends official notification to Congress of its intent to carry through on the [former US president George W. Bush] administration’s October 2008 declaration of intent to sell,” he wrote.
A full Taiwan Policy Review was first conducted in 1979 after the US shifted recognition to Beijing.
The second such review was not held until 15 years later under former US president Bill Clinton in 1994.
It was said at that time that the new Taiwan policy would “strike the right balance between Taipei and Beijing, laying the basis for further expanding relations with both while ensuring continued peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
The Obama administration might well argue that another review would be timely.
Shambaugh said in his paper that while the “chronic problem” of Taiwan was at low ebb and East Asia was at peace (notwithstanding the North Korean nuclear problem) — the path was clear for the US and China to focus on regional and global cooperation.
“To be sure, the Taiwan issue remains potent and as long as the arms sales issue hangs over the relationship, bilateral relations are not fully normalized,” he said.
It is not clear, Shambaugh said, exactly what Clinton and the White House have in mind concerning initiating arms control talks with China.