A major Washington conference on US-Taiwan relations has been told that friendship remains strong, arms sales will continue, a military cross-strait confrontation is increasingly unlikely and that unification with China is not on the cards for the foreseeable future.
There was also high praise from US China experts for a videoconference speech from Taipei by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) that was reported yesterday in the Taipei Times.
Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage called it “outstanding” and former US deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz described it as “statesmanlike.”
Almost all of the high-profile panelists at the Center for Strategic and International Studies conference were later in agreement with Douglas Paal, director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, when he said that Americans should not be concerned about the direction that Taiwan is taking in its process of detente with China.
Paal, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said: “The people who make policy in the US are right to be unconcerned by the pace and scope of political detente with the mainland. It’s time for the Taiwanese people to realize the benefits of reduced tensions in the very important economic and cultural relationship with China.”
He said that some people in Washington worried that Taiwan would rush into unification with China.
“I think this simply is not on the cards. The terms offered by China are not seen as generous by the Taiwanese. President Hu [Jintao, 胡錦濤] seems to recognize it is not going to happen any time soon,” Paal said. “Unification is not on the agenda. We can trust Taiwan’s vibrant democracy to make sure that does not happen. Even if a leader were to come to power tomorrow who wanted to unify with China, he couldn’t do it because of the Constitution. The people are the final arbiters. We should have confidence that it’s not going to happen.”
“The US defense relationship with Taiwan is of an enduring nature,” Paal said. “One hopes that China will come to live with it in ways that will allow the US and China to pursue their other interests.”
Alan Romberg, a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, echoed those views.
“Not only is unification not on the table, it will not be on the table for as far as the mind’s eye can see,” Romberg said. “While Beijing clearly retains the ultimate goal of unification, delay is OK with them. They understand that to try to force unification would become their own worst nightmare and that it would create a situation they couldn’t control.”
He said it would spoil Beijing’s relationships with other nations — particularly the US — and undermine its security.
Romberg said just so long as Taiwan does not declare formal independence, Hu would continue with “the strong element of patience” he has introduced into “the equation.”
“Unless there is actual unification in some way, shape or form, the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] will maintain a deterrent capability against the possibility of a future Taiwan administration pushing for formal independence. As long as that is the case, Taiwan will have a basic and legitimate need for self-defense capabilities and a strong security relationship with the US,” Romberg said.
“One cautionary note. The success of Ma’s policies, and really of our own, will depend on Beijing’s continued and growing willingness to respond positively. We all know that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has been cautious, unsure of where Ma’s heading and what the consequences of reasonable flexibility today might be for a future situation where the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] returns to power,” he concluded.