Relations between Taiwan and the US are an important issue and are given serious thought by many in the US, in Taiwan and elsewhere. Most of these emphasize the shared values between the two countries, Taiwan’s ascendance to democracy or the country’s strategic value in the western Pacific.
We have also seen some irresponsible ideas floated, such as those by George Washington University professor Charles Glaser, who thinks that by reducing the US’ commitment to Taiwan, it could get China to be cooperative in other areas, such as Iran or North Korea. I have maintained that these arguments are short-sighted and uninformed.
However, an op-ed piece in the New York Times (“To save the economy, ditch Taiwan,” Nov. 10) by former US Marine and erstwhile fellow at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Paul Kane is really the nadir in the discussion. Kane says the US should make a deal with China and ditch Taiwan in exchange for Beijing writing off about US$1.14 trillion in US debt.
First, I would seriously question the wisdom of publishing this piece. Does this really contribute to a serious and responsible discussion on the issues? Opinion pieces are supposed to provide food for thought and rational contemplation. This piece is outlandish — just think of the concept of selling a country — a democratic country no less — for US$1.14 trillion. Can the US somehow sell a free and democratic nation down the river in exchange for financial gain? How much could it get for Japan? Europe might consider selling Greece, the birthplace of democracy, for a fraction of that. How does that sit with the US’ fundamental values as the leader of the free world? What would other democratic nations in the region think about the US’ commitment to peace and stability in the region?
Second, what brought Kane to make the argument? As a former US Marine he presumably knows something about fighting for democracy and freedom. Isn’t that why he served in Iraq? Instead of shooting from the hip, he should inform himself of the heroic struggle that Taiwanese fought to achieve democracy. That is not something for Kane, or for the US for that matter, to so lightly give away. We need to ensure that the Taiwanse can determine their own future — free from interference by an authoritarian China.
And if China were in control of Taiwan, would that really help US strategic interests in the region? China’s People’s Liberation Army has already stated its ambitions rather clearly: It wants to control the western Pacific and push the US out. And Taiwan’s strategic location would provide it with a convenient springboard for its operations. So, contrary to Kane’s naive beliefs, such a deal would severely undermine the US’ position in East Asia.
There is no easy way out to reviving the US economy: One of our problems is that we have allowed too much of our manufacturing to disappear in China’s direction. That was due to the short-sighted perception that cheap labor over there would benefit the US consumer. What we got was a hollowed-out economy with less capability to produce a wide range of products. Innovation and entrepreneurship are still highly valued in this country, but we need to move away from the “cheaper-is-better” concept and ensure that we produce much more “Made in America.”
And as far as Taiwan is concerned: It is a free and democratic nation that deserves a full and equal place in the world community. It is not the US’ to sell down the river.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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