Taipei: The deterioration in US-China relations is not being greeted with the enthusiasm that Taiwan backers in the US might thin. There are short term positives, but on balance the feeling here is that stable US-China relations are preferable in the longer run.
by Philip Bowring

Taipei: It will come as surprise to self-styled Friends of
Taiwan in the US, but not many here are gloating over the  
rapid cooling of US-China relations. Indeed, there is a
realistic, and rather concerned, assessment of the
complexities of the situation for Taiwan. On balance it is
negative. At once it:

* Threatens WTO membership for both Taiwan and China. Taiwan
needs membership to help its own economy, strengthen its
international standing, protect its mainland investments and
support the elements in Beijing who put economic reform well
ahead of nationalistic and re-unification goals.

* Complicates cross straits relations when there were signs of
slight improvement. Wang Daohan, the head of Beijing's
Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait, will, if
his visit later this year goes ahead, be the highest ranking
mainland official to come to Taiwan. Beijing is also adopting
a mildly conciliatory stance to avoid inflaming local
sentiments prior to next year's presidential election. It also 
expects Lee Teng-hui's successor to be less provocative in
defence of Taiwan's de facto independence. Beijing may be
under illusions about the strength of Taiwanese sentiment in a
democratic system, but the prospect of change has provided
breathing space for moderation.
* It has provided a boost to the Taiwan lobby in Congress as
evidenced by bills to enhance the Taiwan Relations Relations
Act with mandated arms sales and defence links such as
training and direct communications. Taiwan has been feeling
that its defence capability has been falling short of the
buildup of China's offensive capability.  Congressional
staffers have, with some help from the US military, come up
with a long shopping list. There will be much discussion about
what is really needed, and cost effective, but Taiwan will get
more arms, and sympathy.

* It suggests that Taiwan may be able to avoid tough decisions
for now on how much and on what to spend on defence, even
assuming weapons are available. It is unlikely that the US
will be prepared to infuriate China to the extent of bringing
Taiwan under the Theatre Missile Defense (TMD) umbrella with
Japan. Taiwan is not even sure it wants to be part of a
regional system which would be costly and provide no defence
against limited mainland aggression, such as a sea blockade,
and primarily serve  US strategic interests. So perhaps it can
can carry on relying on a mix of partial conventional defences 
knowing that if China is to pursue a forward policy, it will
always be in the vital strategic interests of Japan and the US
to keep the PLA out of Taiwan.

Taiwan itself would like the best of all worlds: WTO
memberships, arms sales and a little dialogue with Beijing
which avoids aggravation but maintains the status quo.
But given that US-China relations are WTO and arms sales are
two key factors in the US-China equation, the ideal is
unobtainable. So what are its priorities?

In an interview, vice president Lien Chan, vice-president
emphasised the overriding importance of WTO membership for
Taiwan in cementing its place as a major trading state and
ensuring market access for its increasingly hi-tech products.
Opposition Democratic Progressive Party's presidential
candidate Chen Shui-bian believes that Taiwan must exploit US
Congressional support to strengthen its security but in the
longer run this was best served by an amicable US-China
relationship which would foster changes in China's
authoritarian regime. 

The problem for Taiwan is that the issues of its security and
WTO membership needs cannot be separated from US-China
relations. Congressional dynamics and Beijing's perceptions do
not permit it. The Taiwan lobby in Congress consists of too
many people who are viscerally opposed to Beijing rather than
possessors of nuanced views who can weight what combination of
policies is best for both interests.

China itself, if not provoked into nationalistic posturing by
US or Taiwanese actions, may (like Mao) decide that in the
interests of the rest of China the Taiwan issue should be left
to future generations.

Political dynamics in Beijing may yet drive a need for
progress in "solving" Taiwan. But here at least, if not in the
US Congress, there is a recognition that demonising Beijing is
a sure way of bringing China's nationalist demons to life.
Taiwan merits support but because of its own virtues, and by
recognising its real needs, not as revenge for Beijing's





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