Beijing Washington Balance of Power Spells End to Taipei's Two-Pronged Strategy
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 23, 2016
Executive Summary: President Tsai must disabuse herself of the fantasy that she can ally with the US and Japan to oppose China. Instead, she should proclaim that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait “belong to one democratic China", and jointly ensure peace within the Taiwan Strait. She should propose a "Taiwan Strait Peace Initiative", changing Taiwan's long-held view of Mainland China as its enemy, legally and militarily.
Full Text Below:
Harry Harding is former US President Bill Clinton's China policy consultant. Recently he noted in a seminar at the Brookings Institution two extremely unfavorable scenarios in the Taiwan Strait. In the first, Beijing loses patience. In the second, Washington abandons Taiwan. If Washington abandons Taiwan, two more scenarios emerge. One, Washington uses Taiwan as a bargaining chip with Beijing, and the two reach an agreement. Two, an increasing powerful Mainland forces the US to bid farewell to Taiwan.
At the same venue, Bonnie Glaser from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that abandoning Taiwan is fundamentally contrary to the interests of the United States. She said that until the Chinese economy is stronger and its politics more open, the people of Taiwan may want a different relationship with the Mainland. However, former American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Richard Bush warned that when overall US strategy changes, or when the balance of power between the United States and Mainland China changes beyond a certain point, the United States may change its security commitments to Taiwan. What will the next US administration do? That will depend on officials responsible for Taiwan policy. Once the US decides that the military and economic costs of the Taiwan Relations Act are too high, it is likely to abandon Taiwan.
The US has long linked the Taiwan issue to Mainland China's internal affairs. Taiwan has long been seen by Beijing and Washington as a strategic bargaining chip. When US relations with Mainland China are strained, the Taiwan issue surfaces, and becomes the two sides' punching bag. When US relations with Mainland China are relaxed, Taiwan's importance diminishes. The discrepancy in power between Taipei and Beijing has steadily increased. Economic and trade interaction have increased, but so have disagreements over sovereignty. US and Mainland Chinese strategic competition has intensified. Cross-Strait relations have been lost in the melee. DPP leader Tsai Ing-wen has assumed power. The US must deal with a rising Mainland China. It too finds itself in a dilemma. Abandon Taiwan, and it may encourage the expansion of Mainland power in East Asia, and discredit the US in the Asian Pacific region. Back Taiwan fully against the Mainland, and it runs the risk of a shooting war. Meanwhile the widening gap in understanding between Taipei and Beijing over sovereignty, has sowed the seeds for future turmoil in the Taiwan Strait.
The US has long resorted to double deterrence. It has warned the CCP that it cannot use force against Taiwan. It has also warned the DPP that it cannot promote de jure Taiwan independence. Can it maintain the status quo? Can it maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait? The US now faces a severe test. The Rand Corporation believes that the CCP will achieve air superiority in the Taiwan Strait by 2017. By 2025, the CCP's area denial capability will have increased significantly. Its strategic nuclear strike capability will be more assured. It would be hard to predict who would win in a war with the US. The only certainty is that both sides would suffer heavy losses, leaving both vulnerable. Mainland China's long-range nuclear missiles and submarine-launched JL-2 nuclear missiles have the ability to reach the continental United States. Mainstream public opinion in the United States opposes sending troops to fight on behalf of Taiwan independence.
The US government assumes that Tsai Ing-wen understands this. If the DPP disrupts cross-Strait communication channels, and military conflict erupts, that will undermine the vital interests of the United States in the Western Pacific. The Beijing authorities stress that without the 1992 Consensus, then “the cross-Strait foundation will become unstable, the earth will move, and the mountains will shake". Washington has urged Beijing to maintain flexibility and exercise restraint. But Mainland President Xi Jinping is resolute. Washington no longer dares to use psychological warfare against the Mainland. President Tsai is also DPP Chairman. She is caught between the Constitution of the Republic of China and the Taiwan Independence Party Platform. Does she want to be President of the Republic of China, Chairman of the DPP, or President of an independent Taiwan? She herself may be confused. Since her inauguration, the Presidential Office, the Executive Yuan, and deep green pressure groups have each proposed conflicting policy directions. President Tsai may wish to maintain stability. But she has sowed cross-Strait and international chaos.
If President Tsai allows DPP ministers to promote cultural Taiwan independence and collaborate with deep green pressure groups to engage in de-Sinicization, Beijing authorities will concluded that she is engaged in a two-pronged strategy. That would further undermine cross-Strait relations. It could even make Beijing lose patience, and conclude that peaceful reunification is no longer possible. Beijing may then establish a timetable for reunification, and take drastic action to deal with the Taiwan issue.
The disparity in the two sides' strength has steadily increased. So have the disagreements over sovereignty. The increasing military might of the Mainland makes the US policy of “strategic ambiguity” unsustainable. The Tsai government must exercise caution. It must be responsible for its own decisions. President Tsai must disabuse herself of the fantasy that she can ally with the US and Japan to oppose China. Instead, she should proclaim that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait “belong to one democratic China", and jointly ensure peace within the Taiwan Strait. She should propose a "Taiwan Strait Peace Initiative", changing Taiwan's long-held view of Mainland China as its enemy, legally and militarily. She should act in good faith toward both Beijing and Washington. This will enable the cessation of cross-Strait hostilities and the restoration of peace and stability. This would be in the core interests of the US, the Mainland, and Taiwan. It would also prevent the prophecy of the US abandoning Taiwan from coming true.