US academics yesterday emphasized the importance of Taiwan economically and strategically to the US in its rebalancing strategy to return to Asia and said more needed to be done to strengthen bilateral ties.
Wallace Gregson, who served as US assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs from May 2009 until April last year, told a forum in Taipei that US leadership was essential in an increasingly complex world to promote global peace and prosperity.
The presence of the US in the Asia-Pacific region and the efforts it has made in the region are important, as they help shape the geopolitical climate and make the US immediately available to respond to its needs, he said.
“The US and the world need China to be a successful contributor to the international system, but at the same time, the US needs to work with our allies and friends and be there to support their interests,” Gregson said.
Answering a question from the audience, Gregson dismissed the idea of the US abandoning Taiwan to foster a better relationship with China.
“Abandon Taiwan? Absolutely not,” he said, adding that the US had vital interests in the region.
Gregson was speaking at a forum on “US Strategy in Asia and Taiwan’s Future” hosted by the US-based think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and Tamkang University’s Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies.
At a roundtable discussion, US economic adviser Kevin Nealer said the US would like to see Taiwan join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in its formative stage to help shape the regional economy.
“We think it’s in our interests. We think it’s in yours,” he said.
Abe Denmark, a senior project director for political and security affairs at the National Bureau of Asian Research, presented his views on the US’ new strategic guidance released by the US Department of Defense earlier this year.
Denmark said the US’ rebalancing strategy in Asia has three implications for Taiwan — although Taiwan is not specifically mentioned in the guidance.
“The US is not leaving Asia, the US is a reliable partner, and I think it’s safe to say that the US will continue to provide defense articles to Taiwan,” he said.
Asked how the US would respond if the presence of Chinese warships increased, Denmark said the problem lies more in how China would use its warships than in the number of warships.
The US will be encouraging if China chooses to use its military power in a way that is conducive to a healthy and strong international system, while the US will respond to it very negatively if China uses its military in a more aggressive way, Denmark said.
Bonnie Glaser, a senior fellow with the CSIS Freeman Chair in China Studies, said she preferred referring to the US-China relationship as the most “consequential” relationship in the world, rather than “the most important relationship” as many people do, because “if it becomes an intense global strategic competition, it will undoubtedly have a very negative impact on the rest of the world.”
“The US-China relationship is characterized by competition — some healthy, some unhealthy — certainly by mistrust, which I believe is growing, and also by interdependence, which is also growing, and in some way it is a stabilizing factor,” Glaser said.
She said that there is limited cooperation between the US and China as they have converging and overlapping interests on issues like counterpiracy, counterterrorism, counterproliferation, rebalancing the global economy and so on, despite different approaches.
However, problems remain in three main areas: Chinese unfair trade practices, its insufficient efforts to be a responsible stakeholder and its military buildup, she said.
For US-China relations to improve, the US needs to use the existing dialogue mechanism it has with China better to expand cooperation, she said.
The two countries also need to avoid to avoid zero-sum competition, and the US needs to strengthen itself economically and maintain a strong presence in the region, Glaser said.
“It’s especially important to avoid an assessment by Beijing that the US is in decline. I hear a lot of this among Chinese scholars. The debate seems to be only how quickly the US will decline, not whether it will decline,” she said.
At the same time, Glaser called for a stronger relationship between the US and Taiwan, saying that Washington and Taipei needed to do more to make sure that the US-Taiwan leg of this triangular relationship remains healthy and robust.
The US “has to be honest” that “China’s rise does complicate US decisionmaking regarding Taiwan” particularly on the issue of arms sale, she said.
However, she added that she was “certainly confident that the US arms sale to Taiwan will continue.”
“The question is what we sell, and when we sell it, not whether we will sell arms to Taiwan as we take our commitment very seriously. The US-Taiwan relationship remains critically important for US interests in this region,” she said.
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