A US academic suggested in a recent article that the US government should drop its “hands-off” approach to Taiwan-China ties and should instead be “negotiating directly with Beijing, in consultation with Taipei.”
In an article published on Tuesday in the US-based National Interest, a bimonthly foreign policy journal, Michael Swaine, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the US is the only country that can facilitate a Chinese drawdown of its military against Taiwan and instigate genuine movement toward a more stable cross-strait military and political relationship.
It is time for Washington to “consider negotiating directly with Beijing, in consultation with Taipei, a set of mutual assurances regarding Chinese force levels and deployments, on the one hand, and major US arms sales and defense assistance to Taiwan, on the other hand — linked to the eventual opening of a cross-strait political dialogue on the status of Taiwan,” Swaine wrote.
Swaine said that several -emerging trends have cast significant doubt on the continued validity of the argument in support of the US’ hands-off approach, although it has worked reasonably well for more than 30 years, despite the occasional small crisis.
First, China’s steady military buildup is quickly making it impossible for Washington to resist selling sophisticated weapons to Taiwan of the sort that Beijing would view as unacceptable, Swaine said.
Second, Swaine said China would soon reach the point where its calculation of the benefits resulting from a variety of possible severe retaliations against US arms sales to Taiwan would outweigh their presumed costs, compelling future Chinese leaders to undertake highly dangerous actions to deter or punish future arms sales.
Third, in view of deep-seated mutual distrust and strong domestic political opposition to any unilateral conciliatory initiatives, a tension--reducing breakthrough in cross-strait relations seems highly unlikely for a very long time, if ever, he said.
For many US observers, Swaine said the only “solution” to the intensifying problem created by these factors is to keep selling arms to Taiwan, plow increasingly scarce US resources into maintaining military predominance in the Western Pacific, keep providing verbal assurances to Beijing that it does not support unilateral moves by Taiwan toward independence and continue urging Taipei and Beijing to work out their differences peacefully.
“But China’s military buildup, its increasing economic and political leverage, and its growing nationalism suggest that a serious future crisis over arms sales will likely occur before any significant movement toward a stable modus vivendi between Beijing and Taipei emerges,” Swaine said.
The proponents of the US’ hands-off approach argue that the US-China relationship is too important for Beijing to risk seriously damaging it through major retaliation against US arms sales, especially if Washington avoids providing Taiwan with certain advanced weapons and does not endorse Taiwanese independence, he said.
Swaine said that the emerging trends showed that that the current US approach to Taiwan is “probably unsustainable and could prove disastrous.”
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