Beijing has been surefooted in its diplomacy and Washington appears to be considering conceding Taiwan, but now our neighbors feel threatened
As tensions in the Asia-Pacific region heat up amid disputes involving China and a number of countries over contested islands and sovereignty over the South China Sea, there have been signs in recent months that the US may be on the brink of reassessing its strategy for the region in ways that raise questions about Taiwan’s place in it.
For almost eight years under former US president George W. Bush and the first year-and-a-half or so of the administration of US President Barack Obama, the US, preoccupied with counterinsurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq and severe economic downturn, adopted a hands-off approach to Asia, for the most part limiting itself to assuaging Beijing’s fears that Washington was seeking to contain it.
Recognizing an opportunity when it saw one, Beijing played along and, for most of that period, crafted a policy that managed to reassure the neighborhood of its “peaceful intentions” even as it continued to modernize its military. In doing so, it also successfully isolated Taipei during the eight years of former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) time in office, capitalizing on Washington’s wariness regarding an administration it saw as a potential “troublemaker.”
Beijing’s policy remained quite skillful after the election of the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2008, unveiling a series of carrots to an administration in Taipei that was all-too-willing to please China and foster rapprochement. Not only had Taiwan been neutralized during the Chen era, but since 2008, it was pulled ever closer into its embrace, so much so that doubts emerged as to Taipei’s willingness to remain part of the unofficial US-Japan security alliance.
Then, just as Taiwan was signing the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with China in late June, Tokyo announced it was extending its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) so that it now overlapped with sections of a zone controlled by Taiwan.
My analysis of the changing dynamics in the Asia Pacific. published today in the Taipei Times, continues here, with comments from Richard Bush III, Arthur Waldron, David Arase and Hisahiko Okazaki.