|President Obama walks by PLAN officers|
In the past year or so, Taiwanese officials have on occasion been forced to reassure their audiences that the US would not “abandon” Taiwan for the sake of better relations with Beijing, an idea that has gained some traction among a limited number of US academics. Make the same suggestion in Washington today and chances are you will be laughed out of town.
The reason is simple: The idea was the product of a time that has come and gone. It only managed to insinuate itself into the pages of otherwise “serious” publications, such as Foreign Affairs, because the context in Washington was — for a brief period of time at least — open to such scenarios. That window, now closed, was during the first two years of US President Barack Obama’s administration, which was determined not only to improve China-US diplomatic relations damaged by his predecessor, but also to start softly on China where others had chosen a harder position.
A key aspect of this set of priorities was to downplay human rights and calls for democracy as Obama attempted to dissociate his administration from that of former US president George W. Bush, whose exporting of democracy through force had severely undermined the US’ reputation abroad. Therefore, the implication for Obama’s policy on Taiwan and China was to play down China’s atrocious human rights record while accommodating Beijing’s wishes on several issues. It was in that context that academics, along with a handful of retired government officials (the latter often running lucrative business deals with China), proposed the idea of abandoning Taiwan.
My unsigned ediorial, published today in the Taipei Times, continues here.