Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Thirty years of obsequious fawning before the rulers of communist China has come to an end. With a single statement, President George W. Bush has transformed U.S.-China relations and reduced the chance of war. That statement, that the United States would do “whatever it took” to defend Taiwan, marks the end of the era of Realpolitik launched three decades ago by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.
One of the sorriest episodes in American history began in 1971 when Mr. Nixon paid the price for his trip to China by secretly agreeing that Taiwan was part of China and promising not to support Taiwans independence. That approach has been overtaken by events: the emergence of true democracy on Taiwan and oppressive tyranny on the mainland. But three decades ago President Nixon had noble goals: to counterbalance the strategic power of the Soviet Union and find a way out of the Vietnam War.
Developing friendly relations with communist China, with which the U.S. had fought a bitter war in Korea from 1950 to 1953, was considered a key to solving both problems. President Nixon hoped an alliance with Chinas communist government could shift the balance of power against the Soviet Union and lead to a settlement in Vietnam.
But to achieve those laudable goals, Mr. Nixon was willing to do what Beijing demanded, which included throwing overboard the government on Taiwan. The foreign policy establishment then believed communist China was the wave of the future and Taiwan would shrivel and fall into its hands. So why not abandon it and make peace with the communists? The immorality of that action was brushed aside. It was, the supporters of Realpolitik argued, merely accepting the inevitable. For the next 30 years a China-centric policy was pursued by Kissinger proteges in high office, many of whom later became high-priced lobbyists for corporations eager to do business in China.
The noble goals of balancing Soviet power and ending the war in Vietnam sank to making money. Long after the end of fighting in Vietnam and the collapse of the Soviet Union, President Clinton was exceptionally accommodating to Beijings rulers, promoting a “strategic partnership” with them while taking campaign contributions from their lobbyists.
After President Jimmy Carter broke relations with Taiwan, Congress in 1979 passed the Taiwan Relations Act by an overwhelming margin, committing the U.S. to sell Taiwan the military equipment it needs for self-defense. Taiwan neither wants nor needs credit it pays with cold cash. But the annual ritual of arms sales to Taiwan makes that longtime U.S. ally seem like a supplicant.
Taiwan asks to buy weapons, Chinas lobbyists and U.S. business interests lobby against it, and the government decides what to sell and what to deny. The decision is presented in an annual ceremony akin to the Academy Awards. U.S. officials imperiously announce what Taiwan can buy, Taiwan expresses thanks, and Beijing issues violent protests. President Bush has ended this nonsense, saying his administration will consider Taiwans defenses as needed.
This years decision did not include the powerful Aegis destroyers or Patriot PAC-3 missile interceptors Taiwan wanted most, but it did include four Kidd-class destroyers and something Taiwan has asked for and been denied year after year: modern non-nuclear submarines. One real threat is a Chinese blockade of the island, which virtually is eliminated by selling Taiwan modern destroyers and submarines. And they make an invasion much more difficult.
It was the best arms package since 1992, when President Bushs father sold Taiwan 150 F-16 fighters. And the president said he would sell the Aegis ships and Patriot PAC-3 interceptors in the future if the mainland does not reduce its missile threat. Mr. Bush has put Beijing on probation. If Chinas rulers stop threatening Taiwan, there will be no need to sell more advanced weapons. But if they do not, President Bush will sell more arms to Taiwan and will not wait for Academy Award time. The president also sent a message to his own bureaucrats, telling them to assure that his decision would not delay the date on which Aegis ships could be delivered to Taiwan if he decides to sell them, and authorizing “technical briefings” for Taiwan on the new Patriots, to facilitate their possible future sale.
The immediate challenge is to build the submarines Mr. Bush has offered. The plan was to use German or Dutch designs and assemble them in U.S. shipyards. But Beijing has sent nasty warnings to those governments, and they are unlikely to agree. U.S. shipbuilders have to get back in the business of building conventional submarines, something they have not done for 40 years. The administration and Congress must work together to make sure that capability is promptly revived and the presidents promise is kept.
Most important is the change in tone and style at the White House. The long and dangerous policy of ambiguity has ended. Beijing has been told the United States. will defend Taiwan. That should prevent the kind of miscalculation that led to war in Korea and Kuwait. In the process, President Bush has restored morality to American foreign policy.

James T. Hackett is a contributing writer to The Washington Times based in San Diego.

Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide