US president-elect Barack Obama formally nominated the key players in his national security team on Monday, setting the stage for a continuation of the policies of US President George W. Bush’s administration toward China and Taiwan.
With his former rival Senator Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Robert Gates continuing as secretary of defense and retired Marine General James Jones taking over as White House national security adviser — all predicted appointments — there were no signals of a significant policy change for Asia.
“I don’t see any change at all,” said John Tkacik, a senior research fellow in the Asian Studies Center at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank.
Tkacik said he expected the new team to follow Bush administration polices, which are to encourage closer relations between China and Taiwan.
June Teufel Dreyer at the political science department at the University of Miami agreed.
“I don’t think the new team will do anything differently. President Ma [Ying-jeou 馬英九] is doing what they want him to do. They will just sit back and say ‘Atta-boy,’” she said.
“Actually, the strength of the Washington bureaucracy is such that it doesn’t make much difference who is president. The existing culture at the State Department and the CIA has a cement hold on policy,” she said.
Obama has said very little about Taiwan. A speech he made in the US Senate would indicate he supports the “status quo.”
After insisting the US should welcome China’s growing prominence and prosperity, Obama said: “At the same time, we must remain prepared to respond should China’s rise take a problematic turn. This means maintaining our military presence in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening our alliances and making clear to both Beijing and Taipei that a unilateral change in the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is unacceptable.”
During her intense campaign against Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, Clinton was accused of saying during a private conversation that the US would never go to war over Taiwan.
The Taiwan Relations Act requires the US to assist Taiwan in defending itself.
Questioned during the campaign, Clinton said she supported the policy of maintaining “ambiguity” over whether Washington would defend Taiwan in a conflict with China.
Following Ma’s election, Clinton issued a statement that said: “I would hope that cross-strait dialogue would be possible and will contribute significantly to a reduction of tensions in the Taiwan Straits [sic] and East Asia.”
“Meanwhile, I want to reaffirm my commitment to the longstanding relevant principles of American policy, including the Three Communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act,” she said.
As the holdover secretary of defense, Gates’ views are well known. During Senate confirmation hearings he said: “We should maintain our capabilities to resist China’s use of force or coercion against Taiwan and assist Taipei in maintaining its self-defense. China’s near-term focus is on generating sufficient combat power to rapidly erode Taiwan’s will to resist and to deter or deny effective intervention in a cross-strait conflict.”
Jones, who as national security adviser will personally brief the new president several times a day on the state of the world, is believed to echo the views of Gates, whose major assignment over the next year will be to begin a military pullout from Iraq.