Saturday, March 01, 2008

Altruistic or interested?

In a short piece published in the Taipei Times on Feb. 27 I raise the question as to whether the segment of US academia that has “seized” the Taiwan Strait issue is doing this out of a fundamental belief in the value of democracy or rather for more obscure reasons, such as the belief (originating from that same sector) that no power should ever be allowed to challenge the US militarily, which in the present case would mean using Taiwan as part of a strategy to encircle and contain China.

Is the militarization of the conflict — selling Taiwan,* Australia, Japan more US-made weapons, or encouraging those states to further develop their defense trade industries — the answer to the problem, or should there be more focus, perhaps by another segment of the US diplomatic/defense/intelligence/academic sector, on diminishing Beijing’s perception that all help to Taiwan is but a cynical use of the terms democracy or freedom to contain it, especially when those very same states openly chastise Taipei for seeking to hold a referendum on joining the United Nations?

Arguably, as some have pointed out in response to my article (many thanks for that), the “hawkish” or “conservative” think tanks are no monoliths, and even among those circles there is disagreement on the road taken when Taiwan is concerned. Which is a good thing. Nevertheless, given the reputation of those think tanks in the wake of the disaster in Iraq and the fact that as with every institution dissent among the ranks will unlikely lead to organizational reorientation or policy change, governments such as Beijing that are on the receiving end of the policies promoted my American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and others may be excused for looking at their intentions with wariness, if not paranoia.

As I argue, a balance of “left” and “right” think tanks fighting for Taiwan would present Beijing with a unified front that perhaps would make it a little more hesitant to rattle the saber at Taipei for wanting to retain its democratic system. (Which raises the important question, Why hasn't the American "left," with a few exceptions, shown an equal interest in safeguarding Taiwan's interests?)

Readers can access the full article, titled “But are they really friends of Taiwan?,” by clicking here.

* By means of reference, Canada spends approximately C$13 billion, or 1.1 percent of its GDP on defense, to Taiwan's C$10.5 billion, or 2.6 percent of GDP. Canada therefore spends C$1,302 per square kilometer, while Taiwan spends C$291,800 per square km on defense and is among the top-three, with Saudi Arabia and Israel, buyers of US weapons.


Robert said...

I think this is a pertinent, albeit oft-neglected, aspect of the the Taiwan-US relationship. I've often wondered why exactly the support for Taiwan in the US is so lopsided, seeing as Taiwan's case as an Asian democracy shouldn't be so polarizing. Isn't standing up to China the thing to do these days?

MikeinTaipei said...

Thanks for the comment.

Although I have much to disagree on with Taiwan scholar Bruce Herschensohn, whose book The Threatened Democracy I criticized in the Taipei Times on April 2007, one point he makes that I cannot disagree with is that despite the rhetoric, the US State Department is no friend of Taiwan. Condi Rice's comments during her recent visit to Beijing regarding Taiwan's UN referendums provides ample proof of that. I do wonder, however, why the think tanks, such as Brookings, CEIP and CSIS (which some have branded as belonging to the "left") have not rallied to the cause and staged a principled opposition to Beijing, one that goes beyond the right's zero-sum, power politics approach to things. Their silence, with few exceptions, is conspicuous. I fear the issue may have been the remit of the "right" for so long (back to the Chiangs, in fact) that the "left" feels it would be too late joining the game. And this isn't the US alone. Other "left" or "liberal"-leaning countries, including the Scandinavians and Canada, have also failed to stand up for democracy in Asia. In fact, the Taiwan issue is often seen as "too distant" for them to intervene, let alone comprehend - a view that was encapsulated by a conservative paper in Canada that, in refusing a story I had written on Taiwan's application to the WHO, informed me that it was, for all intents and purposes, an old, irrelevant problem. Next time SARS hits a city like Toronto and causes billions in damage, I wonder if that issue will remain irrelevant, given Beijing's failure to act as a responsible stakeholder and allowing a black hole of 23 million people to remain in Northeast Asia.

Robert said...

One of the things about Taiwan is that its convoluted history gets over-simplified, or over-looked even, which may lead many who are familiar with how conservative politicians fought for Taiwan when it was under CKS control to believe that this support was unjust in light of all that CKS was (corrupt, brutal, etc.). This is to say that perhaps the conservative support for Taiwan is generational and that it may take a younger, more liberal generation to take another look at Taiwan.

I've decided to go to those think tanks' web pages to dig up some of their publications on Taiwan to see exactly what they're saying about it. Obviously, I'm familiar with the Brookings' position thanks to Richard Bush. I know very little about the other two, though...