Can Win With Taiwan
April 25, 2001
LONDON - So in the end the Bush Administration decided
it was not going to approve the sale to Taiwan of the
much-touted Aegis-class destroyers and their
state-of-the-art missile tracking system. The deciding
reason was political, although there is evidence a-plenty
they wouldn't have done Taiwan that much good in the
military arena either. They wouldn't be delivered for
another seven or eight years and it that time China could
have deployed enough missiles to easily overwhelm their
Simply put, they would be nothing more than a
political provocation - a hint of other defensive systems
to come- the anti-ballistic missile shield around America
and theatre missile defence around Japan and Taiwan. All
of which in the end will be similarly self-defeating, as
China builds more nuclear-tipped rockets to overwhelm
them. Along the way the political relationship would
deteriorate from "strategic partner" (Clinton) to
"strategic competitor" (Bush) to "enemy" (future).
Self-evidently there is neither logic nor good reason
in this game and it makes much more sense to look at the
underlying causes of what brought all this boil and how
to return to the status quo ante before the Taiwan Strait
confrontation of 1995-96 pushed what had seemed a
sensible accommodation off the deep end.
In retrospect, it is more than clear that the origins
of this confrontation - which appeared to begin with
China firing missiles near Taiwan and President Bill
Clinton ordering the deployment of U.S. battleships in
the Taiwan Strait - lay in Taiwanese lobbying of the U.S.
Congress and subsequent Congressional pressure on the
president. U.S. policy towards Taiwan had been allowed to
drift and Taiwan, under President Lee Teng-hui, had been
able, effectively unchallenged, to build up a head of
steam in its quest for independence.
The White House foolishly succumbed to the pressure to
give Mr Lee a visa to enter the U.S., thus departing from
its understanding with Beijing on U.S.-Taiwan relations.
It seemed to suggest to Beijing that Washington might
well be on the way to abandoning its one-China policy and
the firing of the missiles did in fact bring Clinton to
his senses. The 1997 and 1998 summits quickly followed,
with Clinton saying in Shanghai that the U.S. did not
support Taiwanese independence.
Although pretty clear at the time, it is now little
disputed that Lee Teng-hui was not responding to
Taiwanese public opinion but trying to lead it. Indeed,
Chen Shui-bian, his opponent in the general election of
2000, confronting the anxieties of a nervous public, had
to abandon his own long-held position in favour of
independence in order to win the presidency.
The main trouble with years of unproductive jousting
is that is has obscured the essentials. The issue that
now presents itself is the same one that was one table
before Lee temporarily up-ended it: how to turn Taiwan's
autonomy from a negative into a positive factor. It could
be made all the easier if diplomacy could deliver a
pledge from China not to use force in return for Taiwan
pledging not to declare independence. Then it would be
possible to conceive of Taiwan agreeing in the not too
distant future to negotiations over confederation with
China. (If the U.S. stops continuously provoking China
with new arms sales to Taiwan that, in a
communiqué signed by President Ronald Reagan, it
promised not to, then that in itself would make a turn in
Chinese policy rather easier.)
China, for its part, has to realise it can never force
re-unification; on the contrary, it has to woo Taiwan, to
accept that the island must always have a high degree of
autonomy, indeed much more autonomy than does Hong Kong.
There can never be any turning back of the clock on
fully-fledged democracy and thus Taiwan's sovereignty. It
means that, unlike Hong Kong, there will be no
Beijing-appointed chief executive, Basic Law or diktats
to the courts.
Taiwan, too, must also be allowed to keep command over
its own defence forces, at least for a decade or two.
Indeed, a date on the winding down of military
independence has probably to be fudged. China, moreover,
has to realise that an essential part of the wooing
process is progress at home on the mainland in improving
its respect for human rights and furthering the practice
of democracy, which it has already pioneered at the local
level, if not always successfully.
It is win-win politics of this kind that all sides are
in urgent need of. The fact that Mr Bush turned down the
Aegis request suggests that this new Administration is
keeping its options open for more creative diplomacy. It
should move on without more ado.
I can be reached by phone +44
7785 351172 and e-mail: JonatPower@aol.com
Copyright © 2001 By
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