Taiwan is a model for Asia and more specifically for China, a former US secretary of defense said during a keynote speech in Taipei yesterday, calling on Washington to sign a free-trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan.
In Taiwan to attend the Republic of China centenary celebrations, former US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld was invited by the Prospect Foundation, a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT)-affiliated think tank, to share his views on future challenges in Asia.
The sprightly 79-year-old, who stepped down as former US president George W. Bush’s defense chief in 2006, said the US supported a peaceful resolution to differences across the Taiwan Strait and that progress in that direction in recent years was welcome.
“A stable and secure relationship between Taiwan and the mainland [China] is good for both parties, for the region and for the US,” said the career government official, who first visited Taiwan in 1969.
Despite those developments, Rumsfeld said, progress was likely to continue only if both parties recognized that armed conflict was an unacceptable option, which meant Taiwan should maintain its defense and expand ties with regional allies.
“It also means that the US should continue its policy of support to Taiwan for the Taiwanese people to have the confidence to negotiate and improve” relations with China, he said, adding that in the international system, weakness was often perceived as an opportunity on the part of the stronger party to act rashly.
Rumsfeld said the decision by US President Barack Obama’s administration last month to upgrade Taiwan’s F-16A/B aircraft was a manifestation of US responsibility under the Taiwan Relations Act and former president Ronald Reagan’s “Six Assurances.”
He also said that in his view, efforts by Taiwan to procure more advanced F-16C/Ds were still alive and that the US should continue to encourage Taipei to identify its military requirements and make those known to Washington.
Only by ensuring that Taiwan is strong enough would it be possible for Taiwan’s 23 million people to decide their future, he said.
Pointing to the “dynamism” and “resilience” that prevails in Asia amid turbulence in the global economic system, Rumsfeld said the US, which conducts trade of about US$2 trillion in goods and services with Asia annually, should push for a region-wide FTA that includes Taiwan, Japan, Australia and India, among others.
As Washington puts its fiscal house in order, he said, the US “should not — and will not — be merely a spectator in the Pacific region. The promise and potential of Asia are such that future American administrations will unquestionably make the Pacific a strong focus of our foreign policy.”
Turning to China, Rumsfeld said that while some people tended to project the emergence of a “40-feet-tall giant” with whom a clash was inevitable at some point, conflict was not inevitable and was “very unlikely,” adding that China’s rise also faced a number of serious challenges, such as a rapidly aging society, an economy that remained in the thralls of the central government and lack of political freedom.
He also cautioned the Obama administration against starting a trade war with China.
“America needs to resist the current bipartisan proposal that would erect trade barriers and tariffs against China and risk sparking a worldwide trade war — the last thing the global economy needs ever, let alone now.”