A new study by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation recommends that the US greatly increase its ties to Taiwan to “rebalance” the US’ relationship with China.
“Washington should take steps to indicate that, as the world’s sole superpower and largest economy, it has a range of both military-related and non-military options available if cooperation with China continues to come up empty,” said Dean Cheng (成斌), a research fellow in Chinese Political and Security Affairs at the foundation.
Cheng, author of the report US-China Cooperation: Strengthening the US Hand, produced the study in response to speculation that China’s decision not to meet US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates last week was a direct result of “their continued pique with US arms sales to Taiwan.”
Gates wanted to visit Beijing last week — while in Asia for other meetings — to discuss North Korea and Iran, but failed to win an invitation because the Chinese leadership decided it was “not convenient.”
“This incident suggests that military-to-military relations between the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and the United States remain at a low point despite efforts by the [US President Barack] Obama Administration to reset Beijing-Washington relations,” Cheng said
“It also suggests that the Chinese view military-to-military talks and other US interests as somehow irrelevant to their own,” he said. “Taking back some of the concessions the Chinese have pocketed over the years would be a good way of rebalancing the relationship to US advantage.”
He said it would demonstrate what is at stake for Chinese officials in the relationship and perhaps make them more amenable to more balanced cooperation in future.
In the report, Cheng made four recommendations.
First, he said the US should proceed with the sale of F-16C/D fighters to Taiwan.
“Just as delaying the visit of the Dalai Lama sent the wrong signal that the US was considering altering its interactions with the Tibetan leader, so continued delay on the sale of badly needed fighter aircraft to Taiwan will only mislead Beijing into thinking it has more leverage on this issue than it does,” Cheng said.
Second, he urges Obama to dispatch Cabinet secretaries to Taiwan on a more regular basis.
“Over the past year there has been talk of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki visiting the island. This would be a good start. The symbolism of a former chief of staff of the Army visiting the island would not be lost on either side of the [Taiwan] Straits,” he wrote.
Third, Chen said the White House should seriously pursue a free-trade agreement with Taiwan.
“Such a measure would remind China that the US has non-military levers at its disposal. Moreover, such a move would help the administration attain its avowed goal of doubling US exports. Unlike the PRC, Taiwan is also a potentially valuable high-technology trading partner, as Taipei’s commitment to the protection of intellectual property rights is stronger than Beijing’s,” he wrote.
Lastly, Chen wrote that more regular interaction between US and Taiwan defense officials would be preferable.
Given the continued US defense commitment to Taiwan, Chen wrote, greater familiarity between the defense and military officials in Taipei and Washington is essential.
“All of these recommendations are good ideas in their own right, not chips to be traded for China’s cooperation on matters that should be of mutual concern, like North Korea’s nuclear threat or military-to-military consultation,” he wrote.