Magazine article The American Prospect

Chiang Kai-Shek Is Dead

Magazine article The American Prospect

Chiang Kai-Shek Is Dead

Article excerpt

President George W. Bush's first major foreign-policy decision will come at the end of April when he will have to decide what kind of military hardware to sell Taiwan. The debate will be somewhat technical, but very important: It involves America's stance toward a region of the world where the fate of democracy is at stake and where a major war could eventually occur. And American liberals, who usually have something to say about almost any foreign-policy issue, from East Timor to Northern Ireland, have been almost entirely absent from this debate.

The Taiwanese want, among other things, Patriot 3 antimissile systems and four Aegis destroyers that could be used to counter the Chinese missile build-up and to prevent a naval blockade. But the Chinese government does not want the U.S. to sell any arms to Taiwan. Addressing the United States in a press conference, Sha Zhukang, head of arms control in China's Foreign Ministry, said, "Taiwan is part of China.... Arms sales to a part of a country is wrong." Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, however, the United States has to "make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self defense capability." The question is what is sufficient.

While there is a complicated military debate over whether the Aegis destroyers are the right weaponry to deter a Chinese missile attack or blockade, the underlying issue is more important. The People's Republic of China (PRC) is very unlikely to invade Taiwan. Rather, its strategy is to intimidate the island into accepting Beijing's political rule by amassing a military threat across the Formosa Strait. That threat grows each year, as China adds missiles to its arsenal. On one hand, if the United States does not sell Taiwan arms to counter the PRC buildup, it is likely that the Taiwanese will feel compelled to agree to reunification on China's terms--which means ceding political control to the PRC. On the other hand, if the United States sells Taiwan enough arms not just to counter an invasion or blockade but to remove the credible threat of one, then the Taiwanese are likely to hold out for something like a federation in which they preserve their own form of independent government. They might even opt for independence. This would infuriate the Chinese and precipitate a period of hostility, with reprisals against American businesses.

The debate over how to approach the China-Taiwan conundrum pits former Republican officials and business lobbyists on one side against very conservative politicians on the other--and in this case the very conservative politicians are on the side of the angels. The pro-China lobby, which opposes doing anything on Taiwan that could disrupt U.S.-China relations, includes the U.S.-China Business Council as well as the academics and former officials of the Scowcroft Group, Kissinger Associates, and the U.S.-China Policy Foundation. This lobby enjoys the quiet support (most politicians don't like to speak publicly on behalf of China) of about half the Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

China's defenders argue that the U.S. has a greater interest in maintaining friendly relations with Beijing than it does in ensuring a minimum level of democratic independence for Taiwan. "Reunification on terms like those proposed by Beijing would threaten no American or allied interest." says former Reagan administration official Chas W. Freeman, a co-chairman of the U.S.-China Policy Foundation. There are two kinds of geopolitical arguments for this position. The first is Kissingerian realism: China, according to this argument, will inevitably dominate Asian politics and its government is likely to remain authoritarian and fully committed to annexing Taiwan. The U.S. therefore should attempt to foster stability in Asia by enmeshing China in a world trading system that will deter it from trying to impose its will on its neighbors by force. …

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