Beijing and Washington have “fundamentally divergent interests” on Taiwan, a US government national security expert said, and while this may change in the future, “in the long run, there are substantial grounds for pessimism,” US Naval Postgraduate School associate professor Christopher Twomey said.
In a paper published on Thursday on the Web site of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Twomey argued that Taiwan and other emerging security dilemmas and uncertainties pose “substantial challenges” to China-US cooperative relations in the strategic arena.
“Beijing has long made clear that reunification with Taiwan is central — at times a declaratory ‘core’ — interest,” he said.
“While use of force to achieve such reunification is recognized to have great costs, it is also an approach that Beijing reserves the right to use,” said Twomey, of the school’s department of national security affairs. “Washington’s position is much more ambiguous, only in part by design. There are certainly some within the US political spectrum that view reunification on any terms as dangerous for reasons of realpolitik.”
However, Twomey said the more common view is one that emphasizes the importance of Taiwan deciding its own future, whatever that might be.
He said each side blames the other for the perpetuation of the “Taiwan issue” and that Beijing believes that if the US would “just stop interfering,” Taiwanese leaders would have to “accommodate to their inevitable future with Beijing.”
For its part, Washington argues that if China would take force off the table, “convergent political evolution” would be more likely.
These contrasting views, Twomey said, could introduce a military aspect to the US-China relationship and any militarization would raise the potential for “nuclearization of the conflict.”
“Neither side sees nuclear weapons as a usable weapon in a Taiwan Straits [sic] context, as best one can discern,” he said.
“Still, both want to ensure that the other’s nuclear weapons do not provide it with strategic advantages in a potential Taiwan crisis. This generates some tension and grounds for potentially escalatory dynamics within a crisis, and more broadly it leads to pressure for modernization of strategic systems,” Twomey said.
Twomey said that as long as Taiwan remains the primary issue for China, and an area of significant divergence between China and the US, “it is hard to expect significant strategic cooperation.”
“Both sides will continue modernization — of nuclear arsenals as well as related and unrelated conventional systems — that in the context of underlying disagreements on Taiwan will pose potential risks,” he said.
Nevertheless, Twomey said that the degree of economic integration and the role of US-led institutions in supporting Chinese development “bode well for international peace.”
On the issue of nonproliferation, the differences between the US and China on North Korea, Iran and Pakistan are major, he said.
Only after these differences change — “which is plausible only over the longer term” — should broader progress be expected.
In the meantime, the “underlying issue” of Taiwan and other Asian security concerns would “continue to engender tension in the near term that will complicate the development of substantive and broad based strategic cooperation,” he said.