Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), Taiwan may not be seen as a security risk, former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush told a conference on Obama’s trip to China.
“It is true that Taiwan will hold a presidential election in 2016 and that opens up the prospect for a change in cross-strait relations,” said Bush, now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
However, he said that cross-strait relations had been “pretty stable” for the past six-and-a-half years.
“We don’t know who will be running in the election, we don’t know who will win and we don’t know what their policies will be and how Beijing will assess those policies for its own interest,” Bush said. “So it’s really too early to say. Stay tuned.”
Bush was one of multiple speakers at an all-day Brookings Institution conference in Washington called “Obama in China: Preserving the Rebalance.”
Going into the Obama-Xi meeting set for next week following the APEC summit, Bush said there were some risks and uncertainties.
In the East and South China seas, he said, there was a danger of “some kind of physical clash” between China’s maritime vessels and aircraft and those of other nations in the region including those of the US.
“Such a clash could come about as countries that claim islands and rocks assert their claim in a relatively assertive and unrestrained way,” he said.
The Obama administration has said that the way to reduce the possibility of such potential incidents is for the parties concerned to work out “understandings” to regulate maritime and aircraft operations.
Also “vexing” for the US, Bush said, was the tendency of Chinese entities to expand China’s presence in the South China Sea “very incrementally,” leaving US allies disturbed by changes in the “status quo” and by what they see as Washington’s reluctance to respond.
Another risk is that Beijing and Washington see continued disagreement over specific points of friction such as Taiwan, the East or South China seas or North Korea, Bush said.
Such disagreement could lead each side to draw dire conclusions about the other’s long-term intentions and lock in “a certain policy mindset.”
He said China was becoming less willing to accommodate the US and that some believed China was beginning to capitalize on its growing power and influence to gradually build its own regional order.
A further reason for concern is China’s regional military strategy of focusing on reducing the US Navy’s freedom of action near China, Bush said.
He said the strategy complicates any US efforts to help friends and allies defend themselves, “if they should ever have to do so.”
Bush said that the list of concerns tends to get longer every day, serving as a major reason for Asia-Pacific regional leaders — particularly the leaders of China and the US — to gather periodically in the hopes of “mitigating and managing these concerns.”
Later, Bush was asked what Xi would have to achieve to consider his term in power a success.
He said that he would speculate that Xi might consider himself a success if in 2022 he could point to “a more explicit understanding with Taiwan’s leaders about what ‘one China’ meant and how Taiwan fit into that.”
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