Friday, May 04, 2007

Richard Bush on Taiwan

Richard Bush, a prominent US analyst and official who specializes in Taiwan, and Michael O'Hanlon, offer a commentary in the Washington Times on recent issues (both are now at Brookings). This piece is different from most of the other stuff on Taiwan by US-based commentators. It is remarkably level-headed and balanced, and exhibits actual understanding of events on Taiwan. The money paragraph:

The chances of imminent war over Taiwan are not high. But after a calm couple of years, current events between China and Taiwan are developing in a way that makes us worry the potential for conflict remains.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, in order to keep his party in power after the presidential election next March, is playing up sovereignty themes. China is getting pretty paranoid. It worries that when Mr. Chen says he wants to promote Taiwan's "sovereignty" through a new constitution and greater stature in the world community, he really wants full independence. Although the objective odds of Mr. Chen actually changing Taiwan's legal identity in a way that challenges China's fundamental interests are pretty low, Beijing is imagining all the ways Mr. Chen can pull an independence rabbit out of his hat. China is trying to convince Washington of the danger, but the Bush administration has apparently not responded as robustly as Beijing would like it to restrain Mr. Chen. Ingredients for miscalculation exist.

Bush and O'Hanlon realize that (1) President Chen can't declare independence (2) Chen's sovereignty talk is largely aimed at his domestic political base (3) China, not Taiwan, is the problem. Pretty good stuff. The piece also appeared the previous day in the Daily Yomiuri in Japan.

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