Former US national security adviser Stephen Hadley said on Tuesday that “a lot of the heat” had gone out of what he called “the Taiwan issue.”
He credited President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) economic cooperation with China and expectations that “security and the political side” would now be discussed.
“I think the Chinese are pleased about that,” he said.
Hadley and former US Treasury secretary Henry Paulson — who had just returned from meetings in China with government and corporate leaders — were addressing the Atlantic Council in Washington on US-China relations.
During the question-and-answer session that followed their presentations, one member of the audience said: “In an hour of very strategic discussion by two world-class thinkers, Taiwan wasn’t mentioned once. That is interesting and encouraging. Some of us put up with the Taiwan homily every time we go to China. Did you put up with the Taiwan homily this time, and if not, why not?”
Paulson, who served under former US president George W. Bush, said that in his most recent talks in China, Taiwan had not been raised, but that generally, senior Chinese leaders did raise the Taiwan question with him and that he considered it to be “very important.”
“What I think has happened, is through very wise policymaking in the US — going through multiple administrations — we have been able to thread that needle,” Paulson said.
Taiwan’s continued existence was very important to the US, he said.
Hadley, who was also a member of the Bush administration, said that Taiwan was mentioned during his most recent talks in China.
He said the Taiwan issue had been managed in “a pretty constructive way.”
However, Hadley said China had brought up one “troubling” argument for the first time. One Chinese leader had said to him — with reference to Taiwan — that “deals were done when we were weak.”
The leader added that China was now strong and its interests should be given greater weight, and the modus vivendi that had been worked up on issues like Taiwan needed change.
“On the one hand you can see some merit for that argument,” Hadley said.
On the other hand, he said, if it was “a naked argument that we are stronger and therefore people should pay us homage,” it could be a destructive way of framing issues.
“I think that this new China is going to be hard to manage,” he said.
“The other thing that comes up all the time now — and it is bigger than Taiwan — is the South China Sea,” Hadley said.
He said the US narrative was that China was becoming more assertive, while the Chinese narrative was that countries like the Philippines and Vietnam were using the issue to provoke.
“These are two very different narratives and I think this is going to be a bigger issue to handle than Taiwan,” he said.
Paulson presented a paper at the meeting that the Atlantic Council said would serve as a memo to the winner of the US presidential election in November.
The paper outlined five “key principles” that Paulson said the US must adopt to improve economic ties with China and ensure global competitiveness. The principles are greater openness to Chinese investment in the US; more transparent markets with strong oversight; strengthened market confidence in both economies; a freeing up of bilateral trade; and a more efficient technology flow to promote innovation.
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