The US should acknowledge Taiwan’s right to say no to China when saying no is in its national interest. Boxing it in is a recipe for disaster
“We hope the Americans will continue supporting us, not just selling us … defense articles.” Thus spoke Shen Lyu-shun, Taiwan’s top envoy to the U.S., during a recent interview with the Washington Times. After nearly six years or relative calm in the Taiwan Strait, and with the specter of more contentious relations between Taipei and Beijing looming large, unflinching U.S. support for the democratic nation will be needed more than ever. But the conditions that Washington is imposing for that support are not only unfair to the island’s 23 million people—they risk causing serious trouble down the road.
Shen’s candidness was refreshing, and there was little in what he said that the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to disagree with. Rhetoric notwithstanding, in recent years the Ma Ying-jeou administration has tended to treat the U.S. as a partner of secondary importance as Taipei endeavored to ameliorate relations with Beijing. Since 2008, more than twenty agreements have been signed between Taiwan and China. Progress has been steady, which shouldn’t be surprising, as the majority of the issues that were resolved during that period touched on relatively “easy” matters such as trade, tourism, and joint crime fighting.
Now, as Shen rightly points out, with all that “easy” stuff behind them, future negotiations with Beijing will likely address much more controversial issues: politics, and the future of Taiwan. As this new phase in cross-strait relations approaches, U.S. backing for Taiwan will be crucial to ensure that it can continue to engage China with confidence. But as it does so—and there is no reason to believe that it won’t—Washington officials will have to avoid the temptation to force Taiwan to make choices that go against its core interests.
My article, published today on the CPI Blog at the University of Nottingham, continues here.