The relations between Taiwan, the US and China have given rise to many an academic analysis. This is understandable and even laudable: The network of relations is complex and is open to various interpretations and insights. Many past treatises have made valuable contributions to the understanding of developments between the three countries.
However, once every so often an academic publishes an analysis that is so far removed from reality that it would be dismissed out of hand for its lack of understanding and its outright naivite. Bruce Gilley’s article, titled “Not So Dire Straits” — published in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs (January/February 2010) — is such a work.
Gilley’s basic thesis is that the present “rapprochement” between Taiwan and China opens the way for the “Finlandization” of Taiwan, and for the US to allow Taiwan to move from the present US strategic orbit towards China’s sphere of influence. Gilley’s misplaced assumption is that this process will somehow lead to democratization in China.
Gilley’s misconceptions are multiple, so in a brief essay like this one can only touch on a few major points.
To start with, the perception that “Finlandization” enjoyed “wide support in Finland at the time.” The question is: did the Finnish people have much of a choice, with the Russian gun pointed at their head?
A second general point is one of historical accuracy: Gilley writes that in 1949 “Taiwan and mainland China became separate political entities.” The truth of the matter is that Taiwan — as a Japanese colony — had been a separate entity for some 50 years, while before that period the influence of the Chinese imperial governments on the island was minimal at best.
The problem arose when the defeated Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) was driven out of China and landed in Taiwan, treating it like occupied territory. It is also incorrect to say “most of the international community came to accept Beijing’s claim to territorial sovereignty over Taiwan.” This was only the case for pro-Beijing regimes of the likes of Zimbabwe and the Sudan. The US and other Western nations only “noted” or “acknowledged” Beijing’s claims, but took the position that it remained an unresolved issue, and that the island’s future needed to be determined in accordance with the 1952 San Francisco Peace Treaty.
But the most serious fallacy of the article is that it posits that a Chamberlain-like appeasement of China on the Taiwan issue will somehow democratize and pacify a rising China rather than embolden it. That is a fundamental misconception: Repressive regimes are never mollified by concessions; it only increases their appetite.
It would be a fundamental error to sacrifice the hard-won achievements of a vibrant and democratic Taiwan and let it drift into an uncertain, fuzzy “principled neutrality.”
Gilley wants us to believe that there is a distinction between this “Finland-style” status and “cowering acquiescence” as he calls it. An authoritarian power like China is hardly likely to be bothered by such finessing, and will remove any opposition to its rule; Tibet and East Turkestan are rather illustrative examples.
Gilley also argues that China’s claims to Taiwan may be less motivated “nationalism and … a broader national discourse of humiliation and weakness,” and more by a geostrategic rationale: By virtue of its location, Taiwan has strategic importance, and by bringing it into its sphere of influence it could enhance its ability to project its naval power, and thereby exert its influence in the Western Pacific.
On this point he is correct: Taiwan has tremendous strategic importance, not only for Japan and South Korea, but also for US interests in the East Asia and Pacific region. And this is precisely the reason why it was most wise for the US to stand by Taiwan in recently offering it anti-missile technology.
From the perspective of the Taiwanese, a drift in China’s direction would mean a loss of the freedom and democracy they worked so hard to achieve. US credibility around the world — and particularly in East Asia — does depend on its adherence to the basic principles for which we stand. Allowing a free and democratic Taiwan to slide into the sphere of influence of an authoritarian China is not acceptable.
Thus, instead of “Finlandization” of Taiwan, the US should pursue a policy of stronger engagement with Taiwan by helping the country defend itself against a belligerent neighbor, and by signing a free-trade agreement to strengthen US economic and political ties with that democratic nation. Only by bringing Taiwan into the international family of nations, can real stability in East Asia be achieved.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
Last week, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, said in a statement that they have decided to end their marriage. The news immediately caused a global sensation. When my daughter heard that I was going to write a newspaper op-ed to comment on the matter, she made sure to remind me not to focus on the divorce agreement or the handling of the world’s richest couple’s wealth. Instead of talking about how much money Melinda Gates would get from the divorce, my daughter wanted me to focus on the many sacrifices she has made, and on her many
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) expressed “deep concern” over the staggering rise of COVID-19 cases in India, and offered to supply medical equipment and vaccine doses to the country, but his overtures sparked debate in India’s academic and political circles about his sincerity to help, particularly as it was followed by a vulgar display of schadenfreude over the hundreds of thousands of cremations of deaths caused by the virus in the country. The vast majority of Indians were already angry and frustrated with Beijing needling the country on a number of issues, including imports from China, which were abruptly stopped
Explore within a 160km radius of central Taiwan and you would stumble across some of world’s most majestic mountains, breathtaking lakes and awe-inspiring valleys. You would also find 95 percent of the world’s most advanced chipmaking. While lacking the same postcard views as Yushan or Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) is still a treasure. The company went from being the upstart of a government industrial think tank to the most crucial chip supplier in the world, but even as it has grown into a US$540 billion company, management has stubbornly kept all state-of-the-art manufacturing capacity at just three
Given China’s regional might, it is little surprise that the nation casts a long shadow across Asia — including in its media coverage. However, we are now seeing a disturbing trend of Western media casting a favorable light on China, right as it stands accused of suppressing democracy in Hong Kong, interning Uighurs and obscuring investigations into the origins of COVID-19. At the same time, important coverage of Asian democracies, such as Taiwan’s 20-place leap in the Democracy Index last year — in the midst of a pandemic that brought major constrictions of democratic rights in many places — gets