Dismissing a spate of arguments calling for a change in US policy on Taiwan, US academic Shelley Rigger said “we all have too much to lose” if the US withdrew its support for Taiwan, a move that would not benefit China, Taiwan or the US.
In an article titled “Why giving up Taiwan will not help us with China” posted on the Web site of the American Enterprise for Public Policy Research, a US think tank, Rigger said that turning away from Taiwan is a decision that the US should not make lightly.
Rigger said Taiwan still matters to US interests strategically because the existing security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond is based on US security assistance to Taiwan and “serves the interests of many nations.”
“Another strategic interest the United States has in maintaining close ties to Taiwan rests with Taiwan’s position on the front line of China’s rise. China’s behavior toward Taiwan indicates how it will perform its role as a lead actor on the world stage,” she said.
Beyond the strategic arguments, Rigger offered several other reasons to rebut what she called an “overstated” case for rethinking US Taiwan policy.
“In practice, unfortunately, there is no guarantee that a change in US policy toward Taiwan would instantly or automatically end, or even significantly reduce, the tensions the Taiwan issue creates in Sino-American relations” as critics of Taiwan policy believe, she said.
Rigger said that US security assistance — both the possibility of direct intervention and support for Taiwan’s self-defense — makes unification risky and expensive.
“If the United States withdraws its support, we should expect nationalists and hardliners in the PRC [People’s Republic of China] to press the Chinese Communist Party leadership to solve the Taiwan problem sooner rather than later,” she said.
She agreed with Bruce Gilley, another US academic, that Taiwan is moving toward “Finlandization” and expressed her concerns over the situation.
“After Finlandization, what happens if Chinese nationalists flood the streets of Beijing demanding ‘real’ unification? What happens if a crowd starts singing Taiwan’s national anthem during a joint appearance of the PRC president and his Taiwanese counterpart? Will ‘autonomy’ require limiting what Taiwanese citizens say and publish? Once China ‘fully enjoys and exercises its sovereignty over Taiwan,’ as the PRC white paper put it, what steps can other nations take to defend Taiwan’s democracy?” she said.
In related developments, Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House, posted an article on the organization’s blog, which termed the suggestion proposed by Paul Kane in a Nov. 10 New York Times op-ed titled “To save our economy, ditch Taiwan” as “the worst idea of the year.”
The primary issue Kane’s analysis ignores is the nature of the regimes that govern the two countries in question: China’s authoritarian, one-party state and Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, Puddington said.
Puddington said that despite Beijing’s propaganda to the contrary, Taiwan is a country that “fulfills all the requirements for self--government and national sovereignty, while earning high marks on various indicators of economic health and human development.”
A second fundamental flaw in Kane’s proposal is the message that the abandonment of Taiwan’s 23 million people would send to even smaller democracies around the world, he said.