U.S. policy toward China underwent a major change in 2001. The new president, George W. Bush, viewed China as a rising power, intent on changing the Asian balance of power in its favor, and a threat to U.S. interests. In marked contrast to former President Bill Clinton, who called China “a strategic partner,” Bush considered China “a strategic competitor.” He embarked on a policy of containment and engagement by strengthening alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and by improving relations with India and Russia.
U.S. policy toward Taiwan also changed. Abandoning Clinton’s “Three-Nos policy” (no U.S. support for Taiwanese independence, two Chinas or Taiwan’s entry into international organizations of sovereign states), Bush made his support for Taiwan clear, publicly stating that “the U.S. would assist Taiwan’s self-defense whatever it takes” if it was attacked by China.
Bush backed his word with action, approving the sale to Taiwan of advanced weapons, including eight diesel submarines and four missile-guided destroyers.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks changed the United States and the president overnight. Bush’s paramount concern became conducting a war against terrorism, and the building of a global coalition for this end.
His policy toward China changed. The containment policy and talk of China as “a strategic competitor” ended. Less than two months after 9/11, and barely two weeks after the Afghan war commenced, Bush traveled to China to attend the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation conference. There, he and Chinese President Jiang Zemin agreed to build “a constructive cooperative relationship.” Two additional summit meetings, one in Beijing in February 2002 and another in Texas in October 2002, further strengthened the U.S.-Chinese antiterrorist coalition.
In August 2002, China issued new regulations, long sought by the U.S., to restrict the export of missile technology and goods that could be used to produce chemical and biological weapons to North Korea, Iraq, Iran and other “rogue” nations suspected of supporting terrorism. China, at Washington’s request, urged Pakistan to ease tensions with India. The U.S., in turn, designated an obscure Islamic separatist group in eastern Turkestan as a terrorist group, a step China long wanted. The U.S. and China also agreed to resume military dialogue.
The war on terrorism also led to a shift in Bush’s policy toward Taiwan — from near unconditional support to continued support but with a minor but potentially troublesome condition, namely, “no support for Taiwan’s independence.”
Bush’s plan to visit China in February 2002, his second in four months, aroused considerable anxiety in Taiwan, but he professed continued strong support for Taiwan. Before his departure, he listed Taiwan as one of six Asian friends of the U.S. In his speech before the Japanese Diet, he went out of his way to declare that the U.S. would not forget promises made to Taiwan. At a Feb. 21 joint news conference in Beijing, he made no reference to Jiang’s statement on the “one China policy,” declaring instead: “We believe that the Taiwan problem should be settled peacefully, that we counsel both sides not to provoke each other, and that the U.S. would uphold the Taiwan Relations Act.”
In March 2002, the first U.S.-Taiwan defense summit in 30 years — symbolizing a strong U.S. commitment to Taiwan — was held in Florida. In attendance were Taiwan’s minister of defense and the U.S. deputy defense secretary and other high-level Defense and State Department officials.
U.S. eagerness to form an antiterrorist coalition with China, however, was bound to have an impact on policy toward Taiwan. In a speech in May, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz stated that “the U.S. opposes Taiwan’s independence.” Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s speech of Aug. 3, in which he said, “there exists one country on each shore of the Taiwan Strait,” and, if Beijing continued its hostile policy, Taiwan might “walk its own road of freedom, democracy, human rights and peace,” drew thunderous applause from many native Taiwanese, but Chinese anger and U.S. ire. Worse, it might have led Bush to announce the policy shift himself.
After the summit conference with Jiang on Oct. 25 at his Texas ranch, Bush stated that U.S. “one China policy” includes the peaceful settlement of dispute by China and Taiwan, and that it “includes our clear expression that we do not support Taiwan’s independence.”
The shift in Bush’s policy toward China and Taiwan may be in America’s short-term interest. The critical question, however, is whether it is in the country’s long-term, strategic interest. Frankly, the U.S.-Chinese antiterrorist coalition is nothing but a tactical marriage of convenience, driven by a convergence of mutual interest. China’s decision to collaborate with the U.S. is motivated by its conviction that good relations with the U.S. are critical to China’s rapid economic growth, to its military modernization and indispensable for becoming a political, economic and military superpower by the late 21st century.
The Chinese view of the U.S. as a hegemony, out to rule and bully the world, remains unchanged. China continues to call for changing the U.S.-dominated unipolar world power-structure to a multipolar world in which China, Russia and the European Union will have greater influence. China remains the only power on the horizon that can challenge U.S. supremacy, and poses the biggest potential threat to the U.S.
China would not have cooperated with the U.S. without trying to exact a heavy price on Taiwan. There have been reports that Jiang offered to cut the number of missiles targeting Taiwan if Bush would reduce the sale of weapons to Taiwan. It is not clear how Bush has responded, but the U.S. has already made two concessions: First, it agreed to not support Taiwan’s independence. Second, according to a recent report, Washington accepted that in addition to the assent of the people of Taiwan, the assent of the people of China is needed in determining the future of the island.
Bush’s “one-No policy” (no support for Taiwan’s independence) is bad enough, although a far cry from Clinton’s “three-Nos policy.” But adding the assent of the people of China to that of the people of Taiwan is intolerable, for the international treaty status of Taiwan remains undetermined and only the people of Taiwan, whose voice has been unjustly ignored by the three U.S.-Chinese joint communiques, have the right to decide Taiwan’s future.
Taiwan is a strategic link between Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, Western Asia and the Indian Ocean. It is an outpost checking China’s thrust beyond Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia. The loss of Taiwan would likely threaten the sea lane and air corridor, from Singapore to Japan, and the security of Japan and the U.S. Taiwan has become a free-market global economy, one of the largest U.S. trading partners, the world’s third largest maker of information-technology products and a holder of the third largest foreign-exchange reserve. Most important, despite many shortcomings, it has become a model of freedom, democracy and human rights — not a troublemaker, but “a success story,” as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has stated.
Taiwan has met Washington’s three traditional Asian policy objectives: protecting and advancing the strategic, commercial and cultural interests of the U.S. The U.S. cannot afford to bargain Taiwan away. It is imperative that in formulating U.S. policy toward China and Taiwan, Bush carefully weigh not just the short-term but also the long-term strategic interests of the U.S.
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