President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) may face some very difficult questions from Washington in the near future, a US academic has said.
George Washington University professor Robert Sutter told a conference on “Taiwan and the World” this week that the US was frustrated with China and could use “a little help” from Taipei.
“US-China relations have been pretty stable; both countries are pragmatic and they want to continue working together because positive engagement helps them both,” he said.
However, over the past two years, China has pressed maritime claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea, the academic said.
“They are treating others, as far as sensitivity is concerned, as they treat Taiwan,” he said.
The problem for the US is what to do about it, Sutter said.
“It’s not good, but it’s real,” he said.
While not directly using military force, China is employing coercion and intimidation, he said, adding that as a result, US President Barack Obama’s administration has recently been a lot tougher in its rhetoric when dealing with Beijing.
“They are taking sides in that they are condemning China’s practices in these disputes,” he said.
“They didn’t use to do that too much, but they are doing it fairly routinely now,” Sutter said.
Washington believes that China is “out of line” and that its acts run counter to international norms, and it is in this context that Taiwan may be asked to become involved, he said.
Sutter said that former US National Security Council director for East Asian Affairs Jeffrey Bader recently indicated that Taiwan should clarify its “nine-dash line” claim in the South China Sea.
While Bader — now an academic at the Brookings Institution — was not speaking in an official capacity, he has close links to the Obama administration and has a reputation for being very careful over matters concerning cross-strait relations.
It may only be a matter of time before the US officially asks Taipei to explain and detail its own claims to the South China Sea, academics said.
Sutter said that with the US criticizing China for deviating from international norms and using intimidation and coercion, Taiwan may be asked to join the US in condemning Beijing.
Taiwan shares US values and the question may arise, “will they join in calling China out on some of these fairly egregious kinds of behaviors,” he said.
David Keegan, a highly regarded retired US Department of State official, has authored a paper in which he argues that Taiwan should be brought into the US’ Asia rebalancing policy, he said.
“Does Taiwan want to be rebalanced in this way?” Sutter asked. “Is Taiwan willing to do this? It’s a risk.”
Sutter also asked what Taiwan would do if the US decided to conduct significant military exercises in the East and South China seas in areas that Taiwan claims as under its control.
“What would happen? Would Taiwan remain quiet? What would they do?” he asked. “US frustration will continue because the Chinese are determined to advance their claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea.”
“What will Taiwan do in this situation? My sense is that they will not do much,” he added.
Tamkang University professor Edward Chen I-hsin (陳一新) said in a paper presented at the conference that Washington’s promotion of democracy, freedom and human rights in the Asia-Pacific region had benefited Taiwan.
“Taiwan will in turn contribute to the peace, prosperity and stability in the Asian-Pacific region by further improving its relations with the states in the region and China and the US in particular,” he said.
“Although Taiwan has benefited greatly from the US rebalancing to Asia policy, Taiwan has to rely more on itself in the future while welcoming support from other states,” Chen added.
Besides promoting cross-strait exchanges and cooperation, Taiwan hopes to ride on the tide of Washington’s rebalance to participate in the US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership and Asia-Pacific economic integration, Tamkang University associate professor Li Da-jung (李大中) said.
“This will not only allow Taiwan to avoid being marginalized, but will also have the symbolic meaning of breaking into new international fronts,” Li said.
“As for security and political aspects, Taiwan has been particularly concerned with whether Washington will factor Beijing’s attitude, or US-China ties, in living up to its security commitment to Taiwan,” he said.
“Taiwan wants to make sure that it will not be sacrificed and its interests undermined when the US is pushing its rebalancing strategy with full speed,” Li added.
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