Stressing the geostrategic importance of Taiwan to the region, Columbia University political science professor Andrew Nathan, an expert on Chinese politics, said yesterday in Taipei that he was “rather pessimistic” about China’s growing sway over Taiwan through closer cross-strait economic integration.
As economic ties between Taiwan and China grow, it makes Taiwan “more vulnerable to Chinese influence,” Nathan said in Mandarin at the launch of the Chinese-language edition of his book China’s Search for Security.
Nathan said he was “rather pessimistic” about this and did not know what Taiwan would do to resist the influence of China’s economic power.
Among the methods China has employed “to resolve the Taiwan issue” — military threats, a diplomatic squeeze and trade — integrating Taiwan into China’s economy has become a main strategy and “China has been slowly gaining ground in Taiwan,” he said.
Beijing considers the US a hindrance to resolving the Taiwan issue, Nathan said.
“They think that the Taiwan issue would have been resolved if the US had a hands-off policy, which I think kind of makes sense,” he said.
From the perspectives of strategy and security, Taiwan, which holds an important geostrategic position in preventing China from projecting its naval power beyond the first island chain to advance to the western Pacific ocean, is “as precious as the South China Sea,” Nathan said.
In the event of conflict with China, the “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” as Douglas MacArthur referred to Taiwan, can provide any country that occupies Taiwan with a strategic position to make good on its threats against China, he said.
China seeks to unify with Taiwan out of “realism,” not “nationalism,” because Taiwan is the biggest obstacle for China to develop its naval capabilities, he said.
During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) recent visit with the US President Barack Obama, Xi pushed for the start of “a new type of great power relationship with the US,” but Obama did not accept the slogan to prevent China from using it as leverage, Nathan said.
By proposing the idea of building “a new type of great power relationship with the US,” China wished the US to concede some of its demands — to abstain from engaging in “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea, not to interfere in the Taiwan issue and to lift restrictions on technology transfers to China, Nathan said.
Meanwhile, in response to media queries, Nathan said he would be surprised if President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) started political talks with China during his second term.
It would be “dangerous” because there would be a lot of opposition in Taiwan to that, he said.
Some have interpreted remarks former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) chairman Wu Poh-hsiung (吳伯雄) made during his talks with Xi on Thursday, that both sides adhere to the “one China” principle and the “one China” framework, as aimed at paving the way for negotiations with China on political issues.
However, Nathan said that he did not take that view.
He said that conditions were not right for Taiwan to enter political talks with China and domestic public opinion would make it difficult for the Ma administration to do so.