Bad Policy, Decent Result

Lots of people are fighting mad about President Bush’s refusal to endorse Taiwan’s proposed independence referendum:

When it comes to speaking up for a long-time ally and friend — and for a country which embodies freedom and liberty despite truly formidable odds — the same administration will cower in fear before a despotic, dictatorial regime, a regime known far and wide for its human right abuses and its despicable record of crushing freedom. And not only will the administration cower like a miserable little rat, it will actively seek to placate and curry favor with tyrants, while putting the freedom, and the lives, of the Taiwanese at great and terrible risk.


Well. . . yes and no.

The situation we have now with China and Taiwan is workable, and the kind of duplicitous, jury-rigged hypocrisy you can get only in politics.

The United States claims to have a “One China” policy, under which we claim there is only one government for the Mainland and Taiwan, and that government lies in Beijing.

We also trade with, sell weapons to, and have an implied promise to militarily defend Taiwan.

Beijing agrees that Taiwan is part of China, yet trades with them and aims 600+ ballistic missiles at them. Beijing is equal parts bluster and profit-taking.

Then there’s Taiwan itself. While the old KMT (China’s Nationalist government before they were driven off the mainland) still ruled in Taipei, they also claimed to be the only legitimate government for all of China. But, like Beijing, they lacked the means to do so. Declaring independence from China made little sense for a government which called itself China.

In other words, the whole thing is a giant mess — but it worked. Beijing got to tell its people that someday they’d get back their wayward island province, Taiwan got to rule themselves as they saw fit, and the United States got all the benefits of giving each side half a loaf.


But the new President, Chen Shui-bian, represents a “native” Taiwanese party, for whom de jure independence would feel nicer than the de facto independence they currently enjoy.

If a referendum were held, what would Taiwan gain from a yes vote? Well, they’d get a different color from mainland China on the maps, they’d get a full-fledged American ambassador, they’d maybe get a seat at the UN, and. . . not much else, really. Well, other than the possibility of a ruined economy, mangled infrastructure, and massive loss of life. Independence for Taiwan, you see, could very well mean war.

Beijing, on the other hand, would face the kind of embarrassment which often causes dictatorial regimes to lash out. Read this post (and the many reader comments) to find out what could happen, militarily and economically.

And what would America get? Nothing but grief, lost trade, and a possible war. To be sure, it’s a war we’d win — but my own preference is to avoid war when we can, especially when the status quo is better than many of the likely outcomes.

Just to be clear: I believe the current situation is amoral at best. And yet it works. Taiwan is, in almost all respects, a free nation already. Mainland China has no excuse to start a ruinous war. And the US is free to pursue trade with both. So it strikes me as the smart move to encourage Taiwan wait it out — because their democratic government should long outlive the butcher’s regime in Beijing.


But also to be clear: Should Taiwan hold its referendum, and should the people vote for independence, then the US should and will support them with everything we have.


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