The US supports cross-strait military confidence-building measures (CBM), but there is no policy of actively promoting them, a Washington roundtable discussion was told on Tuesday.
“That is an important distinc-tion,” said Bonnie Glaser, a consultant for the US government on East Asia.
The cross-strait agenda, whether it is CBMs or other issues, is up to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait to determine, she said.
“We don’t push, we don’t pressure Taiwan in any dialogue or any issue that Taiwan judges to be premature,” said Glaser, who works on Chinese foreign and security policy with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) is worried that if Taiwan pursues military CBMs with China it will result in a reduction or an end to arms sales from the US, she said.
“I have heard the president profess this concern several times,” she said.
However, Glaser said at the roundtable organized by the Sigur Center for Asian Studies at George Washington University that this was not likely to be an outcome of certain kinds of CBMs between Taiwan and China.
Glaser, a frequent visitor to Taiwan, said the US had the “utmost confidence” that Taiwan could decide for itself what was in its interests.
She said claims that the US had “strongly told” the Ma administration not to talk about military CBMs with China were “nonsense.”
Some kinds of CBMs — for example an emergency “hotline” — could enable both sides to avoid an incident from escalating.
“The US supports CBMs if and when Taiwan is ready to discuss them,” Glaser said.
Former US president George W. Bush convinced Beijing that the US does not support Taiwanese independence, she said.
“Bush told Beijing leaders privately that the US opposed Taiwan independence,” she said.
However, China is not confident that the US will accept peaceful unification.
“US arms sales to Taiwan pretty clearly are not for a Taiwan offensive against the mainland [China],” she said. “The logic that makes sense is that China reduces the threat opposite Taiwan and Taiwan might then reconsider or factor into the decisions it makes about the arms it needs to buy and about the defense capabilities it needs to have,” Glaser said.
She said that maybe then Taiwan would feel it did not need to buy weapons from the US.
Alan Romberg, director of the East Asia program at the Stimson Center, said that Beijing maintained a large missile force opposite Taiwan to deter independence.
“Even though I believe the possibility of any Taiwan leadership moving towards de jure independence is somewhere between zero and minus-70, Beijing fears the consequences of saying that it would not use force in any circumstances,” Romberg said.
“Until the day of unification the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is going to be required to maintain the capability to deal with any move toward independence,” he said.
Romberg said that China was not “looking for a fight” and wanted to achieve its goals by diplomacy, but there was concern Beijing would “lose patience.”
Despite China’s suspicions to the contrary, the US relationship with Taiwan was not part of “some strategy to constrain China and limit its power much less to advance Taiwan independence,” he said.
“The US does not favor or support Taiwan independence, but if the two sides miraculously agreed to it we would certainly be happy to go along,” Romberg said.
Even though Taiwan remained a potential cause of friction between Washington and Beijing, Romberg said, the situation had evolved to the point where all three parties were being careful not to create turmoil or crisis.
“In this situation, over time, certain kinds of CBMs might be considered,” he said.
However, Li Da-jung (李大中), an associate professor in the Graduate Institute of International Affairs and Strategic Studies at Tamkang University, said that cross-strait negotiations were moving into a new phase, with Taipei trying to set the pace.
He said Taiwan was carefully choosing the issues on the negotiating table, but that there was a lack of domestic consensus in support of CBMs.