Second, Taiwan is an important country in its own right. It is economically powerful and an important trading partner of the United States. More important, Taiwan has become an inspiring symbol of the success of representative governance and free markets. To help it fail means gutting our own values and bolstering China’s model of authoritarianism and rigged markets. Unfortunately, many in Washington don’t believe in supporting democracy. Have they forgotten every lesson of the 20th century?
Third, our Asian policy is anchored on defending Japan. As a quick glance of a map will reveal, the main island of Taiwan and its various outlying islands protect the southern approaches to our Japanese ally.
Fourth, ceding Taiwan would undoubtedly embolden a territorially hungry Beijing. China asserts sovereignty over Japanese islands and the continental shelves of five southeast Asian countries. Incredibly, it appears to maintain that the entire South China Sea is an internal Chinese lake, thereby impinging on the right of free passage on, under, and over international waters. And the United States, even though far from Asia, is now becoming China’s target: at the beginning of this week it was revealed that Beijing, in a bid to strengthen its unsupportable claims against Vietnam’s continental shelf, is bullying Exxon-Mobil to drop out of an exploration agreement with state oil company PetroVietnam.
Giving up Taiwan would only embolden China to press its claims with even more confidence and vigor. And it would bolster Beijing’s weak legal positions by inheriting Taipei’s territorial rights. So the place to stop the Chinese from pursuing their aggressive ambitions is Taiwan.
Fifth, abandoning Taiwan would send a horrible message to American allies, friends, and foes in the region. Who would ever want to help the United States in Asia — or elsewhere — in the future?
In short, America needs something it has not had in decades; a strong Taiwan policy. Instead, we have had the disgraceful equivocation of the Bush administration. Before that, Washington maintained a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” which just encouraged the Chinese to test American resolve.
Why have we not been able to develop a sound Taiwan policy when it is so important for us to do so? Largely because of our perceptions of China and our hopes for its future. We are trying to engage Beijing so that it becomes a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. Yet over time, the Chinese, as they have become more powerful, have become more assertive. So in pursuit of an unattainable goal — making China our friend — the Bush administration is undermining its own strategic objectives and the security of the United States.
It’s time for the president to demonstrate that Wolfowitz is right and that America keeps commitments to friends. We need to do that especially at this moment because defending Taiwan is the same as defending the United States.