- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2000

News Item: On March 20, a day after the Taiwan elections, 250-300 People's Republic of China warplanes provocatively flew to the line of demarcation in the Taiwan Straits, then turned away from Taiwan and landed on the Spratley Islands where they remain, forward positioned and operational.
News Item: The director of central intelligence is currently leading a Special National Intelligence Estimate on the question of the likelihood of war between Mainland China and Taiwan. This column was informed of these so-far-unreported news items by a reliable ranking officer in one of our military intelligence services.
They are only two items in a long list that make a compelling case for Americans and American politicians to start thinking and talking about foreign policy once again. Specifically, Messrs. Gore and Bush need to start publicly explaining their foreign policies beyond the place-holder platitudes we have heard so far. Mr. Bush has told us: He would avoid "missions without end, take a harder line toward China and Russia," not "send our troops to stop ethnic cleansing and genocide outside of our national strategic interests," "not send troops to Rwanda."
Vice President Gore has made general comments in support of free trade, human rights, environmental protection and arms control. Mr. Gore has said he is for "greater openness, freedom, and democracy around the world."
While even these generalities disclose some useful differences they don't tell us much about the big problems facing the next president. Let's start with Taiwan.
U.S.-China-Taiwan relations are drifting dangerously because of a policy in flux. For the last 25 years our policy, premised on the 1972 Shanghai Communiqu's "one China policy," was to accept any resolution between mainland China and Taiwan that was achieved peacefully. To assure peaceful resolution we established a policy of dual deterrence: The mainland was deterred from destabilizing acts or an invasion of Taiwan by our ambiguous commitment to arm and defend Taiwan. Equally importantly, Taiwan was deterred from provocative acts, by the lack of certainty that we would defend them under all circumstances.
This classic example of strategic ambiguity in this case made more difficult because it was targeted to deter asymmetrical actions by two opposing nations simultaneously had been adroitly executed by five presidents from Richard Nixon to George Bush. But in 1996 President Clinton began to tilt U.S. policy toward Beijing.
As recently described by Columbia University Professor Andrew Nathan in the Washington Quarterly: "[The Clinton administration has] come to see peaceful resolution on terms that will satisfy Beijing and has tried to push Taiwan to start talking about solutions. The policy has failed to calm tensions because it is based on a wishful belief that the people of Taiwan can be made to accommodate Beijing at Washington's behest. Instead, American efforts to ease [China's] anxieties have motivated the Taiwanese to defend their interests even more assertively and thus have made the situation more difficult rather than less."
Predictably, Mr. Clinton's tilt to Beijing has inspired both political and intellectual reaction. Rep. Tom DeLay, the Republican majority whip of the House, gave a major speech two weeks ago in which he called the "one China" policy an "obsolete failure." He is not alone in Congress in tilting to Taiwan. The House has already passed the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act which would transfer major military assets to Taiwan. While it is currently bogged down in the Senate, there will be increasing pressure on Majority Leader Trent Lott to bring it to a vote.
Meanwhile, Bill Kristol's Weekly Standard, in a panegyric to the wisdom of the Taiwanese voters, sees that election happily as causing a crisis of legitimacy for Beijing's communist rulers. Mr. Kristol, disagreeing with Mr. DeLay, also is leading the charge against Beijing's entry into the World Trade Organization. Of course, it was Mr. Kristol who last year called for our government to prowl the world looking for dragons to slay in order to inspire Americans to greatness. He has now, apparently, settled on a nuclear-fanged, 2-billion-legged Chinese dragon as his target.
While Mr. DeLay makes cogent points when he critiques President Clinton's mangled China policy, it is possible that the next president might be able to "untilt" our policy back to its evenhanded strategic ambiguity that worked so well from 1972-1995.
The range of possible solutions facing the next president is broad, but those solutions are not necessarily defined by party affiliation or ideological inclination. Thought will be required; also prompt action. There is, currently, no more likely spot for serious U.S. combat than in and around the Taiwan Straits. George Bush has called China "a strategic competitor," while the Clinton-Gore administration has designated China "a strategic partner." If Messrs. Bush and Gore would apply those terms in detail to the Taiwan/China conundrum, the voters would benefit, and the next president might even have a mandate to act.


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