A new report to the US Congress said Taiwan remained “the most sensitive and complex issue” that US politicians faced in bilateral China-US relations.
“It is the issue that many observers most fear could lead to potential US-China conflict,” the report said.
Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, the report was part of a series of papers designed to bring members of both the House and Senate up to date on the most important aspects of foreign policy.
The report said that some China-watchers have speculated on whether US policy toward Taiwan would continue along its current path under the administration of US President Barack Obama or whether the White House would undertake a reassessment similar to the Taiwan Policy Review that the administration of former US president Bill Clinton conducted from 1993 to 1994.
“Such a prospect has support among some American scholars and policymakers, who suggest that there are a variety of reasons why the original US policy framework on Taiwan should be revisited. Some cite, for instance, the need to support Taiwan’s evolution as a full democracy since 1994; others cite concerns about what US policy should be if Taiwan’s [President] Ma [Ying-jeou’s (馬英九)] administration should choose closer relations, or even alignment, with the PRC [People’s Republic of China],” it said.
Kerry Dumbaugh, the Congressional Research Service’s specialist in Asian affairs, said in the report that Obama, then a US senator, expressed support for last year’s decision by former US president George W. Bush to sell US$6.4 billion in arms and military services to Taiwan.
This suggested, she said, that “US arms sales policies will not change in the Obama administration.”
The report continued: “China’s robust international engagement since 2000 has caught some by surprise and has prompted growing American debate over the PRC’s motivations and objectives. The fact that most of this international engagement has expanded while the US has been preoccupied with its military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has caused a certain degree of American introspection.”
“Experience shows that abrupt, unexplained shifts in policy still occur with a fair degree of regularity in the PRC system. Still, some fundamental objectives appear to be motivating Beijing’s foreign policy outreach,” it said.
“These include an imperative to promote and enhance China’s economic development, particularly its voracious appetite for energy resources and raw materials to sustain its impressive annual growth rate; an effort to separate Taiwan from its 23 remaining official relationships; and a desire to increase China’s international stature and compete more successfully with US supremacy,” the report said.
In its last annual report on China’s military, the Pentagon concluded that the pace and scope of China’s military modernization had increased in recent years, and included “acquisition of advanced foreign weapons, continued high rates of investment in its domestic defense and science and technology industries, and far-reaching organizational and doctrinal reforms.”
“US military planners and other American military specialists maintain that PRC improvements appear largely focused on a Taiwan contingency and on strategies to ‘deny access’ to the military forces of a third party — most probably the US — in the event of a conflict over Taiwan,” the report said.