Part II of my review of Dr. Henry Kissinger's piece on "China: Containment Won't Work" will look at his view of US-Sino relations with respect to Taiwan and his prescription for more constructive bilateral relations.
The Problem of Taiwan
"The problem of Taiwan is an exception and is often invoked as a potential trigger. This could happen if either side abandons the restraint that has characterized U.S.-Chinese relations on the subject for over a generation. But it is far from inevitable. Almost all countries -- and all major ones -- have recognized China's claim that Taiwan is part of China. So have seven American presidents of both parties -- none more emphatically than George W. Bush. Both sides have managed the occasional incongruities of this state of affairs with some skill. In 1972 Beijing accepted a visit by President Nixon, even while the United States recognized Taipei as the capital of all of China, and by another president -- Gerald Ford -- under the same ground rules in 1975. Diplomatic relations were not established until 1979. Despite substantial U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Sino-American relations have steadily improved based on three principles: American recognition of the one-China principle and opposition to an independent Taiwan; China's understanding that the United States requires the solution to be peaceful and is prepared to vindicate that principle; restraint by all parties in not exacerbating tensions in the Taiwan Strait.
The task now is to keep the Taiwan issue in a negotiating framework. The recent visits to Beijing by the heads of two of Taiwan's three major parties may be a forerunner. Talks on reducing the buildup in the Taiwan Strait seem feasible."
Dr. Kissinger outlines several key points. His first observation is that both the US and China have historically exercised restraint over Taiwan. While this is true, it must also be viewed in the context of the period of each country's relative power. During the Cold War, the US Navy, especially in the mid '80s, was rapidly approaching a 600-ship navy. The world conducted relations in a multi-polar world of two superpowers, one whose remnants border China. The other consideration is the significant lack of military power that China had at its disposal to project power abroad. While the Chinese military threat is a hot topic in think tanks, defense ministries and conferences, it was up until recently that Taiwan held a substantial military advantage over China. China exercised restraint not out of a benevolent power position but out of a weaker position than it now finds itself in.
This is reflected in the recent "anti-secession" law that authorized "non-peaceful means" to reunify China under the much beloved "One China" policy. While the past is important, it is vital to examine China's future motives and US goals in Asia before assuming that history will repeat itself for the good.
Dr. Kissinger lays out three requirements for peace over Taiwan:
- American recognition of the one-China principle and opposition to an independent Taiwan
- China's understanding that the United States requires the solution to be peaceful and China being prepared to vindicate that principle
- Restraint by all parties in not exacerbating tensions in the Taiwan Strait
The US has kept to the first position and has reaffirmed, as Dr. Kissinger points out, during 7 US presidencies the One China policy. China has shown an ability to peacefully integrate Hong Kong; though its slow erosion and reinterpretation of the Basic Law and personal freedoms remains worrisome. The "Anti-Secession" law, however, does not support point two for the Chinese. Both sides have not done an exceptional job on point three. Consider the clear message President Bush has given in interviews regarding America's commitment to defend Taiwan against an invasion, Sec. Rumsfeld's speech in Singapore, and continued diplomacy to attempt a Cold War style containment of China. China's massive military buildup, including up to 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan, inviting Taiwanese opposition party candidates to China to divide them politically and provoking legislation, are all steps that are against Mr. Kissinger's third principal.
I agree that it would be beneficial for the three concerned parties to have a frank dialogue and conduct negotiations for reducing the militarization of the Taiwan Strait. It is possible that Dr. Kissinger is privileged in knowing about discussions that have taken place. However, it is not publicly known if the US, China and Taiwan are discussing some form of arrangement to reduce tensions.
As China's military power and economic might grow, Taiwan will continue to be an issue. Additionally, as the anti-Japanese riots demonstrated, the ruling Communist party is not so restrained as to not use nationalism as a foreign policy tool against its neighbor's ambitions, whether they be a UN Security Council seat or independence. As the middle class grows in China, the demand for personal freedoms and accountability will increase. Nationalism is the best influencer other than outright reform that the Communist party has to deflect criticism elsewhere and hold fast to power.
Tomorrow, I will examine Dr. Kissinger's views about the balance of power in Asia and whether the US and China will work cooperatively together or move more aggressively into rival positions.