Unless Beijing significantly reduces the size and scope of its military threat, Washington will feel compelled to approve major new weapons sales to Taiwan “at various times in the future,” a report from the Carnegie Endowment said.
The lengthy report — Conflict and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific Region — says that, short of political reconciliation across the Taiwan Strait, Washington will continue to see the need to maintain some of Taiwan’s deterrent capability against a Chinese use of force.
It says that Beijing is pressing Washington to end arms sales, while Taipei is “publicly and privately” requesting more weapons, “especially those likely to provoke Beijing’s ire, such as advanced C/D versions of the F-16 aircraft.”
Written by 10 authors, including Carnegie China expert Michael Swaine and Stimson Center East Asia program director Alan Romberg, the report says it remains unclear if “over time” Beijing will decide that it needs to use force to bring about unification.
“Such a move would likely not be because Taiwan had moved to de jure independence, but because it seemed to be moving to consolidate permanent separate status on a de facto basis,” the report says.
Beijing seems confident it will eventually win sufficient support in Taiwan for some form of unification, the report says.
“But one cannot assume such confidence will be sustained over 25 years, and hence the possibility of use of force cannot be ruled out,” it says.
The report says that “recent tensions and changes in public attitudes” suggest that Taipei is unlikely to push for formal independence or permanent separation unless the US-China relationship becomes “intensely hostile.”
However, major tensions, confrontations and even conflict are still possible, especially over the long term, it says.
“The evolution of cross-strait relations will depend greatly on the tenor of the US-China relationship and the calculations of Beijing in particular,” it says.
The report adds that it is extremely unlikely that Washington will significantly alter its “balanced policy approach” to handling the Taiwan issue.
“This approach is widely viewed by US policymakers as fundamentally sound in principle and is likely to remain so for some time, even as some quarters call for its revision,” it says.
The report says that although not fully united, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is in a better shape than it has been in a long time to defeat the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in next year’s presidential elections.
“At the same time, the DPP will be challenged not only to convince the electorate that it can govern, but also that it can successfully manage cross-strait relations,” it says.
The DPP “failed on both scores in 2012 and Beijing may make it hard to be convincing on the cross-strait dimension in 2016 unless the DPP embraces some form of ‘one China’ framework, which the DPP seems unprepared to do,” the report says.
While there is broad support in Taiwan for cross-strait economic, social and other similar links, any cross-strait dialogue and intensification of contacts that threatens to lead to political integration will continue to confront strong opposition, it says.
“Because Beijing cannot afford to ‘lose’ Taiwan and will accordingly continue to develop and deploy military capabilities of direct relevance to Taiwan, and because the US will therefore continue to acquire and deploy capabilities designed to deter any Chinese use of force, any serious provocations from Taiwan could prove particularly dangerous,” the report says.
“Whether Beijing can trust Washington to maintain controls on Taipei as it did in the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) era (thereby obviating the necessity for Beijing to do so through coercive means) will depend a great deal on whether the US government can maintain the delicate balance between deterrence and reassurance toward Beijing that is required to sustain stability in the Taiwan Strait,” the report says.
The report concludes that if the DPP wins next year, the reality of China’s dominant role in regional economics will constrain the DPP in any practical efforts to reduce dependence on Chinese markets or to promote any provocative steps toward separate status.
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