Dan Blumenthal & Randy Scheunemann
National Review Online
January 27, 2005
As world attention
has focused in the past weeks on continuing violence in Iraq and disaster
relief in southeast Asia, decisions made in Beijing and Washington have
quietly pushed both countries closer toward a confrontation in the Taiwan
Strait. Avoiding military conflict over Taiwan has always required a strong
deterrent posture from Washington so the People's Republic understands
the costs of any precipitous action. Instead, while Beijing has been laying
a pseudo-legal justification for war against Taipei, Washington has been
On December 17, Beijing announced that it would "pass" an "anti-secession"
law squarely aimed at Taiwan in a transparent move to lay the predicate
for military attack. Of course, the Chinese government does not "pass"
anything it dictates. The puppet parliament obligingly scheduled
the proposed law for final action in its March session.
The "anti-secession law" is the latest move in Beijing's dangerous
new game: Realizing that democratic Taiwan will never voluntarily decide
to become part of a dictatorial China, Beijing is moving to "reunify
the motherland" with force. China's massive military buildup
including some 600 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan is now augmented
with a "law" designed to give a veneer of legitimacy to Beijing's
What was needed from Washington was a firm response to this bellicosity.
A statement of opposition to the law and a reaffirmation of our commitment
to Taiwan's defense would have strengthened deterrence and affected calculations
Unfortunately, no such statement was forthcoming. The State Department
spokesman meekly stated that the Bush administration did not have a response
to the law because it had not "had a chance to study it." Yet,
official Chinese statements describing the law lead to only one conclusion:
Beijing is violating the central tenet of the Bush administration's cross-Strait
policy by "unilaterally changing the status quo." The State
Department is never as studious when it comes to democratic Taiwan's actions
alleged to challenge the status quo.
More damaging, outgoing Deputy Secretary State Richard Armitage publicly
weakened the decades-long U.S. commitment to Taiwan's defense. Appearing
on PBS's Charlie Rose Show, Armitage was asked whether the U.S. would
defend Taiwan if China attacked. He demurred that it is "not quite
appropriate" for him to answer that question notwithstanding
President Bush's answer to the same question in 2001 that the U.S. would
"do whatever it takes" to defend Taiwan.
The Taiwan Relations Act, Secretary Armitage continued, "requires
us to keep sufficient force in the Pacific to be able to deter attack;
we are not required to defend." But denying an intent to defend deals
a fatal blow to any attempt at deterrence. Beijing was surely emboldened
to hear a senior U.S. official claim President Bush's commitment to defend
Taiwan is no more than a poker player's bluff.
Armitage went on to do even more damage: "We all believe that there
is one China and Taiwan is part of China," he said. This statement
likewise undercuts years of U.S. diplomacy. The United States does not
take a position on Taiwan's final status independence, unification
with the Mainland, or some other arrangement to which people on both sides
of the Strait provide their assent. In other words, it is most definitely
not the position of the U.S. that Taiwan is part of China.
Yet, for many seeking accommodation with Beijing's despots, Armitage's
comments on China-Taiwan policy have a certain perverse logic. If Taiwan
is indeed part of China, they argue, why should the U.S. be committed
to defending it? In fact, why should we be selling Taiwan advanced weaponry
at all if China is only going to get its hands on that weaponry eventually?
The problem with that logic is that it misstates the TRA and U.S. policy.
The TRA states that it is the policy of the United States "to consider
any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means...a
threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave
concern to the United States." Quite a contrast to Beijing's recently
released defense white paper that pledges to "thoroughly crush at
any cost" moves it perceives to be "a major incident of 'Taiwan
The Bush administration wants nothing more than for cross-Strait tensions
to disappear so that it can focus on other pressing foreign-policy matters.
Unfortunately, a weak response to Beijing's provocations will only encourage
Moreover, a rudimentary understanding of Taiwan's politics vibrant
democratic politics should by now lead Washington to the conclusion
that every time the U.S. casts doubt on its long-standing defense commitment
to Taiwan or misstates U.S. policy on Taiwan's status, President Chen
must respond. Since a majority of Taiwanese do not believe that Taiwan
is part of China, President Chen will, in one way or another, say so.
Not exactly the way to avoid a crisis, is it?
In his historic inauguration speech last week President Bush made clear
that the expansion of democracy and freedom are the central tenets of
his foreign policy. On Taiwan policy, the administration should put those
inspirational words into action by protecting a democracy from the aggressive
designs of a dictatorship.
Dan Blumenthal, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,
was senior director for China and Taiwan in the office of the secretary
of Defense. Randy Scheunemann is a director of the Project for the New