It seems that the specter of "abandoning Taiwan," though not a mainstream view in the United States, has surfaced often enough recently to the point that it cannot be ignored.
Those who hold the view believe that Taiwan is a hurdle obstructing U.S.-China relations, and argue that if Washington could pull back on its commitment to Taiwan, it would increase its maneuvering space in relations with Beijing.
Some have even contended that the United States could ask Beijing to write off the US$1.14 trillion in American debt that it currently holds in exchange for the U.S. abandoning Taiwan.
But these advocates have a blind spot in that they seem to see Taiwan-U.S. ties as a "zero-sum" situation, but this was not the case before, now or in the future.
Even during the time when the Mutual Defense Treaty between the United States of America and the Republic of China (1954-1980) was in effect, the U.S. commitment to defending Taiwan was limited to the goal of containing communist China. It did not extend to allowing Taiwan to try to retake mainland China by force.
When former President Chen Shui-bian was rocking cross-strait relations with Taiwan independence rhetoric, the Bush administration described it as "hitting into a wall."
With changes in the world situation and cross-strait ties, Taiwan-U.S. relations have also gradually changed. In the 1950s, the United States saw Taiwan as an unsinkable aircraft carrier in the "first island chain" (which runs from Japan to the Philippines) and entered into military ties with it to counter the threat from China.
But nowadays, the U.S. supports Taiwan's freedom and democracy and is helping the island handle its relations with China in a peaceful and democratic way.
The core of the U.S. policy toward the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has been a "one China" policy whose bottom line is to prevent China from destroying Taiwan's freedom and democracy, as evidenced in 1996 when Washington sent aircraft carriers to the Taiwan Strait after China lobbed missiles into waters off the island ahead of its first popular presidential election.
But the U.S. will also not allow Taiwan independence advocates to "provoke" cross-strait relations, as seen when it described former President Chen Shui-bian as a "troublemaker."
For this reason, if we were to define Taiwan-U.S. relations in solely military terms, the definition would be poorly focused.
If Taiwan can build a stable foundation based on its achievements in advancing freedom and democracy and engages in peaceful and win-win exchanges with mainland China, then it will be impossible for the United States to "abandon Taiwan."
Thus, joining a U.S.-based trans-Pacific trade pact is actually more important to Taiwan than buying arms from the United States.
If Taiwan can join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it will allow Taiwan to become more integrated into the international community and gain greater economic and political balance and security.
Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan, has said that the United States is willing to support Taiwan's bid to join the TPP. He even said that the timetable could be faster than the timeline Taiwan has suggested, referring to the Ma Ying-jeou administration's plan to join the regional bloc in eight years from the original plan of 10 years.
(Editorial abstract -- July 17, 2012)
(By Lilian Wu)