- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2001

President Bush struck the right balance in his recent announcement of arms sales to Taiwan. A few days later, in a television interview, he indicated it would be unthinkable for the United States to remain aloof if China attempted to subdue Taiwan by military force. Though the presidents statement surprised, and even alarmed, some American observers, it reflected a common-sense appraisal of the strategic situation in Asia.

For many years, successive U.S. administrations have affirmed that there is one China and that the people on Taiwan and the people of China should work out a plan for peaceful unification. In recent years, as this process moved at a glacial pace, the Taiwanese have attempted to fashion a political and economic system based on the American model. They have achieved remarkable progress in establishing market economic development, democratic elections, civil liberties, and stable governmental institutions. Most Americans share President Bush´s admiration for Taiwan´s progress, and they agree we have a moral responsibility to support peoples whom we have strongly encouraged to embrace freedom in the face of difficult or even dangerous circumstances.

Foreign-policy leaders within both the Republican and Democratic parties have used diplomatic language related to Taiwan that is often characterized as "strategic ambiguity." Under this approach, the United States has fulfilled treaty obligations by making suitable arms sales to Taiwan, but we have avoided stating firmly that a Chinese military attack on Taiwan would lead to U.S. military intervention in defense of the island. Perhaps we hoped to deter aggression with a minimum of commitment and to forestall what would be a contentious debate on the nature of our obligation to defend democracy in Taiwan.

China´s long-term interest in fully joining the international economy provided some cause to expect that ultimately Beijing would pursue unity through peaceful persuasion, perhaps based on the evolution of democracy and market economic progress in China.

But strategic ambiguity must be re-examined now in light of the well-publicized Chinese military modernization effort and the specific Chinese buildup of missile capability that is designed to intimidate Taiwan. The rationale for strategic ambiguity was that it would buy time for peaceful unification with minimal U.S. risk. But that rationale has been invalidated as Chinese actions and words have become more aggressive at least in part, as a means of fleshing out the U.S. commitment toward Taiwan.

The accident which killed a Chinese aviator and forced an emergency landing of our EP-3 aircraft on Hainan Island tragically illustrated the Chinese concern with the U.S. military presence in the region. The subsequent holding of the crew and the tedious negotiations over the U.S. aircraft demonstrated that the Sino-American relationship is in need of both more efficient means of communication and greater clarity.

President Bush has stated that the United States will do what is necessary to prevent the "one China" policy from being instituted by military force. American policy-makers must now begin a debate on how we make that clear commitment more credible. For example, should American expertise and training accompany deliveries of weapon systems to Taiwan?

Should the United States develop logistical support for our own military forces in the area to enhance their readiness? Establishing a less ambiguous posture toward Taiwan will require a new level of energy in formulating American foreign policy for the entire Pacific region.

Our own peace and prosperity depend upon Asian countries, especially China, recognizing that their domestic and foreign policy interests can best be achieved through peaceful means. Strategic ambiguity is unlikely, at this stage in history, to further that objective. Recent Chinese actions have punched large holes in the policy. Maintaining strategic ambiguity as if nothing has changed would be an attempt to have an American foreign and defense policy on the cheap with a minimum of planning, commitment or expense.

I believe President Bush understands this. Without dramatic rhetorical threats, he has informed the Chinese that their military activities have consequences. Perhaps a more concerted Chinese-American dialogue will lead to a demonstrable change of course by Beijing. In the meantime, I will be one of many Americans assisting the president in his assertion that a forceful military unification of Taiwan and China will not be tolerated. That assertion, undergirded by sophisticated United States military planning and implementation and equally inspired diplomacy, is the strategy most likely to prevent miscalculation and conflict.

Richard G. Lugar of Indiana is the ranking Republican member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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