Monday, October 01, 2007

Doug Bandow on US-Taiwan-China Relations

Doug Bandow has a long piece on US-Taiwan-China relations in the current American Spectator. A highlight:

AT THE SAME TIME, the presumed U.S. security commitment has discouraged Taiwanese military investment. For four years the KMT-dominated legislative Yuan blocked the government's military budget. The two sides recently agreed on new orders for U.S. arms, but the effort remains seriously underfunded. The Chen government possesses no more political clout in pushing its proposed 16.4 percent defense spending hike next year.

Justin Logan and Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute warn of "a massive disparity in defense capacity" and that "Taiwan's qualitative military advantage over China is dwindling along every metric." While Taipei cannot expect to match the military forces of its much larger neighbor, it need merely make the chance of success too uncertain and the price of success too high to deter Beijing from military adventurism. A robust Taiwanese defense capacity is the best means to encourage continued Chinese caution and patience.

The assumption that America will protect Taiwan, irrespective of how irresponsibly its leaders might act, has created an extraordinarily dangerous situation. Note Logan and Carpenter: "A bold cross-strait policy coupled with inadequate defense spending virtually invites a PRC challenge at some point. And America would be caught right in the middle."

The potential for a series of mistakes leading to war brings to mind the summer of 1914 and World War I. Taiwan challenges China, assuming Washington will step in if things go awry. The PRC acts aggressively, assuming the U.S. won't get involved. The U.S. intervenes, assuming China will back down. A shot is fired by someone. And so begins the first Sino-American war.

IT'S TIME FOR A SERIOUS rethinking of American policy towards the Taiwan Strait. Washington should not allow a client state to determine its defense strategy. Lecturing Taiwan not to behave provocatively has failed. Washington must not allow even a close friend to drag America into war with a significant regional power where U.S. security interests are marginal.

Thus, Washington should inform Taiwan that nothing -- the Taiwan Relations Act, America Cold War defense requirements, or profitable economic relationship -- commits the America to intervene in a conflict involving China. While the U.S. will sell Taipei whatever weapons that it desires, Taiwan will be responsible for fashioning a political and military strategy to deter PRC adventurism. America always could intervene if the circumstances warranted, but would do so only if the threat to U.S. interests warranted the risk of nuclear war, an unlikely contingency.

On the other hand, American officials should no longer opine on the perceived merit of Taiwanese domestic politics or international relations. Moreover, Washington could dismiss complaints from China about other aspects of U.S.-Taipei dealings -- providing visas to Taiwanese officials to visit America, for instance.

At the same time, the U.S. should make clear to Beijing that war would have a disastrous impact on the PRC's "peaceful rise" strategy. Economic retaliation from America, Europe, and Japan would be inevitable. China's Asian neighbors, particularly Canberra, Tokyo, and Seoul, would be forced to adjust their policies towards the PRC. Beijing would end up tossing away the gains of years of patient diplomacy in its reach for global leadership.

It is unfortunate that Taiwan is caught in the ever- lengthening shadow cast by its huge neighbor. But guaranteeing Taipei's independence is becoming ever more dangerous for Washington. China is becoming stronger and more assertive; Taiwan is becoming weaker and more assertive. The combination is combustible. Now, before a violent confrontation, is the time for Washington to refashion its Taiwan policy.

Has the presumed American security commitment discouraged Taiwanese military investment? I reviewed this claim before when exploring Justin Logan's and Ted Carpenter's highly flawed thesis that Taiwan is "free riding" on US defense. As the CRS report I cited there noted:

From worldwide sources, including the United States, Taiwan received $13.9 billion in arms deliveries in the eight-year period from 1998 to 2005. Taiwan ranked 3rd (behind Saudi Arabia and China) among leading recipients that are developing countries. Of that total, Taiwan received $9.8 billion in arms in 1998-2001 and $4.1 billion in 2002-2005. In 2005 alone, Taiwan ranked 6th and received $1.3 billion in arms deliveries, while the PRC ranked 5th and received arms valued at $1.4 billion. As an indication of future arms acquisitions, Taiwan’s arms agreements in 2002- 2005 totaled $4.9 billion. The value of Taiwan’s arms agreements in 2005 alone did not place it among the top ten recipients that are developing countries.

I've argued before that US commentators fundamentally misunderstand. China's "being provoked" is a policy choice of the Chinese, not some visceral reaction it can't control. It directs that at the Chen Administration, which it will not negotiate with, and uses "being provoked" as leverage to squeeze Taiwan's space and to gain leverage over US foreign policy. By blaming the Chen Adminstration, US analysts essentially let China define the shape of Taiwan policy, and encourage China to suppress Taiwan even further. It would be great if the Bush Adminstration put some effort into criticizing China's attitude and military buildup with respect to Taiwan.

Bandow also has a nice observation that many on the democratic side have noted:
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas J. Christensen attempted to soften the blow by saying the U.S. was not against Taiwan resisting PRC pressure, but "Taipei needs to push back intelligently and in a sophisticated manner that plays to its strength." Yet being a democracy is one of Taiwan's principal strengths.
Since China "gets provoked" whenever Taiwan exercises its democracy, it follows that any policy that demands that Taiwan stop "provoking" China is essentially a demand that Taiwan stop cultivating its democracy. US policymakers may roll their eyes at a UN entry referendum that uses the name "Taiwan" but if it weren't that, there'd be something equally "provoking." One of the core strategies of the democracy movement for the last three decades has been the construction of a localized political identity, and stroking that identity is a structural feature of Taiwan's politics. This "provocation problem" isn't going to go away.[UPDATE: The Only Redhead and I are channeling the same muse on this one.]

One thing fascinating about the UN referendum imbroglio is the stretching silence from the Bush Adminstration, now in its second week. As China fulminates, with warning after warning (genuine warnings? testing global opinion? political theatre? you make the call) the US watches in benign silence. Interesting....

1 comment:

Tommy said...

I have been wondering about the silence from the US since Taiwan's allies brought up the matter with the UN.

Perhaps they are waiting for the conclusion of the National People's Congress. The Chinese are supposed to be declaring some new policy about Taiwan. This new policy might require some statement from the State Department. They might also want to see the reaction from the DPP or from the KMT after the NPC to see if matters might swing in their favor before they make any more statements that might cause a political backlash in the US. Nothing is going to change much before the NPC, and they know that.

I bet the US will try to further influence matters after the NPC. To try to do so before then would just make no sense.