The financial crisis will have a significant influence on US President Barack Obama’s position on both China and Taiwan, and it will take months before the state of Taiwan-US relations under the new administration becomes clear, academics said yesterday.
At a forum in Taipei, Edward Chen (陳一新), professor at Tamkang University’s Institute of American Studies, said US sales of high-tech weapons to Taiwan might be shelved to appease China, which, as an economic heavyweight, could play a key role in reversing the global downturn.
Taiwan’s national security authorities should brace for tough challenges ahead in seeking to buy US arms and will need to pursue creative strategies that appeal to both the US and China in terms of military collaboration, Chen told the forum sponsored by the Taiwan Thinktank.
Beijing has long protested US arms sales to Taiwan. At a presentation of its 2008 national defense policy paper, the Chinese Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that “China is resolutely against the US sales of weapons to Taiwan.”
The Obama administration has not announced a new director for the American Institute in Taiwan or a new ambassador to China, but Richard Bush, who served as AIT Washington chairman under the administration of president Bill Clinton, has reportedly been tapped to take over the Taipei office later this year.
The academics at yesterday’s forum agreed that a paradigm shift was likely in US foreign policy, from pre-emptive action on crises under the administration of former president George W. Bush to strategies that seek to prevent problems from arising. However, US strategy in the Asia-Pacific region should go largely unchanged, they said.
“Washington will continue to keep a strong military presence and strive to fortify its relations with the countries in the region. One of the issues the US is very concerned about is the real motive and ultimate goal behind China’s rapid military build-up in recent years,” said Chen Wen-hsien (陳文賢), a National Chengchi University history professor.
He said Obama’s team was keenly aware of the delicate situation between China, Taiwan and the US and understood that any changes to relations must be predicated on the “one China” policy, the three Sino-US communiques and the Taiwan Relations Act.
Taiwan’s democracy is the key buttress in Taiwan-US ties, he said, because it is the biggest marker that sets Taiwan apart from China.
Obama appears more willing to listen to differing opinions on a given issue than the previous administration, he said, adding that the new president’s policies were difficult to predict at this point.
“We don’t know what kind of policy he will pursue in terms of ties with China: whether it will be a policy of engagement, containment or hedging,” said Loh Chih-cheng (羅致政), a professor of political science at Soochow University.