A report co-authored by a former commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command is calling on Washington to re-examine its relationship with Taiwan, especially on what it calls the “vicious circle” of arms sales.
The product of a three-day roundtable at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Public Affairs in January, A Way Ahead with China: Steering the right course with the Middle Kingdom explores how the US could improve relations with China and portrays Taiwan as the principal irritant in the evolving bilateral relationship.
“Today, the changing and evolving US/China relationship demands a practical strategy,” the introductory letter by center director Gerald Baliles says. “There must be careful consideration of what both nations seek to gain from this relationship, and of how the relationship itself affects the balance of nations worldwide.”
Part of that practical strategy, the report says, involves rethinking longstanding US security commitments to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act.
“The United States takes a somewhat protectionist stance with Taiwan historically,” the report says. “However, Taiwan is now an economically successful democratic institution that is slowly tending towards greater alignment with the Mainland [China]. Our involvement with Taiwan is a frequent point of contention with the Chinese, particularly in respect to arms sales, and one that should be re-examined. The complex relationship is political and should be re-examined outside of a military context.”
Among the authors of the report are former commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command Admiral Joseph Prueher, former ambassador to the People’s Republic of China under former US presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and former commander-in-chief of the US Pacific Command Admiral Timothy Keating, as well as James Shinn, National Intelligence Officer for East Asia at the CIA. Two specialists on China, Charles Freeman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and David Lampton of Johns Hopkins University, also took part, as did representatives from FedEx Express.
In its recommendations, the report says Washington and Beijing should engage in what it calls “protracted negotiation,” which involves understanding each party’s respective “want-to-haves” and “need-to-haves.” One of Beijing’s “want-to-haves” is -unification with Taiwan.
“A peaceful resolution of the long standing [sic] Taiwan issue, acceptable on both sides of the strait [,] would indeed be a boon to stability in East Asia, as well as to US/China relations. It is also an issue where progress can be made,” the report said.
“Unfortunately, US arms sales to Taiwan are part of a vicious circle, leading to the Taiwan issue that is clearly political, and increasingly economic, being always discussed in military terms,” the report said.
As the “Taiwan issue” is not a military one, the report says, talks should be “elevated from a mostly military to a politico-economic dialogue” addressing the economy, politics and culture.
Standing in the way of that resolution, however, are the political considerations associated with arms sales, which the report says are compelling all three governments to make counterproductive policy decisions.
“Politically, the president of the Taiwan people, now the extremely capable Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), in order to get elected, must satisfy a large segment of his Taiwanese constituency by asking the US to approve annual arm sales to Taiwan,” it says, while “the US Administration, for domestic political reasons, must offer arms to Taiwan … [and] Mainland Chinese [PRC] leaders, to reconcile increasingly pluralistic domestic pressures, are obliged to protest the interferences of these arms sales in ‘internal Chinese affairs.’”
The report then characterizes China’s rapid militarization as a reaction to US arms sales to Taiwan.
“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] feels obliged, and has been tasked, to show it can deal militarily with Taiwan,” it says. “A manifestation of this is that this is happening despite an environment of increasing cross-strait economic activities, contact, and tourism.”