Taiwan's loss of independence a threat to US: expert
By William Lowther
STAFF REPORTER , WASHINGTON
Wednesday, Jan 27, 2010, Page 1
A leading US academic warned that if Taiwan loses its independence and becomes part of China, its impact on US interests would be “complex and dangerous.”
Nancy Tucker, an expert on Taiwan at Georgetown University in Washington, said that the US' place in Asia would “never be the same again.”
Speaking at the “Power in East Asia” conference on Monday organized by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the professor said that a change in Taiwan's status could strengthen China and weaken the US.
“If things go badly across the [Taiwan] Strait, war could develop and the United States, regardless of its preferences, would be involved. But in the event that cross-strait dialogue breaks the current stalemate, resolves the current situation, it will have an enormous impact on the United States' mission in the region,” Tucker said.
The most important gain to such a development, Tucker said, would be peace and an end to threats of intentional or accidental war in the Taiwan Strait.
It would let the US scrap its policy of strategic ambiguity, the US and China could relax about possible military conflict, the US could minimize planning for a Taiwan contingency, and although Chinese nationalism would not disappear, “the emotional quotient would be significantly reduced,” she said.
Tucker told the conference that a general de-escalation of Chinese threats would mean better overall US-China relations and that the incorporation of Taiwan into some sort of association with China could have a “Trojan horse potential” to promote democracy in China.
But there would simultaneously be important losses.
For while there would be peace in the near term, over the longer term there would be a variety of security threats to the US’ position in the region.
China’s regional influence could be enhanced by being perceived as having solved the Taiwan issue and doing it through diplomacy rather than the use of force, she said.
US credibility with friends and allies across Southeast Asia would be diminished, as Washington would appear to have “walked away” from Taiwan, she said. Japan's sea lanes could also be jeopardized, Tucker said.
“Certainly that is one of the main things they worry about in such a situation. Tokyo might indeed give more serious thought to going nuclear. And the US presence in the region, in bases that are already controversial, could seem less necessary if there was peace in the Taiwan Strait,” she said.
Tucker said China would be free to develop more varied military capabilities, making it a less unpredictable and more flexible adversary.
There would be an end to US-Taiwan security cooperation, interoperability and arms sales.
“All of this would end despite Beijing’s assurances that Taiwan would be allowed to keep its own military — both because there would be a perception that arms sales would no longer be needed and also because the US would be less inclined to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan since military technology is already leaking across the Strait, and that would probably only escalate,” she said.
The result of all of this, Tucker said, would be that Taiwan would find itself at the mercy of Beijing if the relationship soured because Taipei could no longer effectively turn to the US once Washington had physically and psychologically removed itself from the mix.
In addition, she said, there would be an “unavoidable surrender” of US intelligence listening posts on Taiwan and that in turn would have broad implications for the US position in the region.
“China's arrogance would be stimulated with a Taiwan triumph, and an associated victory over the US,” Tucker said.
“There would be a potential blow to democracy in Taiwan. Anger and disillusionment of a large vocal minority opposed to any sort of association with China could damage the political system. As in Hong Kong today, there would likely be self-censorship and other kinds of adjustments to a non-democratic Chinese system,” she added.
China would be strengthened as the Chinese and Taiwanese economies became more integrated, and for the US this would be a problem not just because China would become a more aggressive competitor economically but also because there would be the potential for US commercial interests to be excluded, she said.
“In other words,” Tucker said, “shifting power relationships in East Asia would involve a difficult balancing act for the US even as Washington remains agnostic about the final choices made by Taiwan.”