The US National Bureau of Asian Research is urging the US Congress to “rekindle” its contacts with the Legislative Yuan in Taipei as US-China relations move into a potentially difficult period.
“More frequent exchanges between members of the US Congress and their counterparts in Taiwan would be an important demonstration of the US’ commitment to democracy in a Chinese context,” a bureau report said.
Written by former assistant US trade representative for China Affairs Charles Freeman, the report said that whatever the outcome of next year’s presidential election, the US Congress should be at the forefront of international efforts to support the “impressive evolution of democracy” in Taiwan.
“The substantial history of inter-parliamentary relations between the US Congress and the Legislative Yuan merits rekindling,” Freeman said.
A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Freeman said that the US Congress has a crucial role to play in stabilizing the US-China relationship.
“There are few examples in history where a de facto superpower like the US faced a rising power like China and did not enter into direct conflict,” Freeman said.
“Glossing over disagreements and competing interests is thus not an option for policymakers,” he said. “China is not the Soviet Union and the US is trying neither to contain China nor begin a new Cold War.”
However, Freeman said that other Asia-Pacific nations — trying to avoid being bullied by a rising China — are drawing the US into a potentially hostile military posture with China.
Military assistance to Taiwan and other US activities on China’s periphery “smack to many in Chinese policy circles of a Cold War-style containment policy,” he said.
Freeman said that next year’s presidential election will “largely be a referendum on the policies of President Ma Jing-jeou (馬英九), which have built closer economic ties between China and Taiwan.”
He said that if, “as many analysts predict,” the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is successful in defeating the ruling Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), “that could signal a cooling of relations between Beijing and Taipei, and tensions in the region could spike.”
Freeman said Taiwan has always been the biggest challenge to US-China relations.
“If the relationship between Beijing and Taiwan sours badly, US arms sales to Taiwan will be closely scrutinized for the degree to which they embolden those who advocate de jure independence from Chinese rule,” he said.
The US Congress will “invariably” be drawn into the debate on arms sales and it will be important for policymakers to understand and weigh in on what arms package will contribute to stability across the Taiwan Strait.
Freeman said there is an element of symbolism to exactly what weapons Taipei requests and what it actually purchases if those requests are approved.
“Getting the package right will take considerable technical and diplomatic skill,” he said.