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Taiwan is not Georgia

It is now part of the "conventional wisdom" that the authoritarian People's Republic of China is rising while the political and economic influence of the United States is declining.
Outgoing right-wing Republican President George W. Bush wants to leave a legacy of Sino-American rapprochement and both Republican Party presidential candidate Senator John McCain and Democratic Party contender Senator Barack Obama affirm they will "engage China" if elected. But just because a declining power wishes to accommodate a rising power does not mean that it is can treat every country whose existence is "inconvenient" to such ambitions as a "trouble maker" and a target for "regime change."
A case in point concerns the comparison drawn between Taiwan with the troubled Republic of Georgia in two articles by U.S. foreign policy analysts, namely "Georgia's Lessons for Taiwan" by Jeffrey Bader and Douglas Paal in the September issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review and "From Georgia to Taiwan" by Richard Bush and Kenneth Lieberthal in the Wall Street Journal on September 16.
In early August, Georgian President Mikhell Saakashvili ordered his military into South Ossetia, a de facto independent republic that split from Georgia in 1991, a move to which the Russian Federation responded with overwhelming force to oust Georgian troops. Since the U.S. backed Georgia's entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Saakashvili's unilateral military move sparked severe tensions between Washington and Moscow.
But what does this story have to do with Taiwan? According to these two heavyweight articles, the commonality is that ambiguous messages of support sent by the Bush administration led Saakashvili and Taiwan's former president Chen Shui-bian to take U.S. protection for granted and to perceive Bush's support as equal to U.S. backing for their "pursuit" of independence regardless of possible confrontations between the U.S. and Russia or between the U.S. and the PRC in the case of Taiwan.
Hence, the four analysts advise the incoming U.S. president to adopt a more prudent approach to security commitments to small democratic countries since Washington can not afford to worsen its relations with major powers such as Russia or the PRC.
Regime change
Besides being based on a factually faulty analogy, this advice would lock the next president into Bush's narrow unilateralism and obviate hopes that Washington could return to leadership of the world's democratic camp.
First, exactly opposite to the Georgian case, Taiwan's former Democratic Progressive Party government under Chen never attempted to invade PRC territory or provoke Beijing through military action, but instead offered many "olive branches" to the Beijing regime and adopted a policy of "active liberalization, effective regulation" to expand cross-strait economic links. What these pundits see as "provocative" were the moves made by Chen and the DPP government to deepen Taiwan's democracy for the sake of improving domestic governance, to foster a stronger sense of Taiwan national identity and citizenship, and to promote the participation of "Democratic Taiwan" in the world community.
In contrast to Saakashvili's invasion, Chen's actions were not aimed to "pursue" independence but to defend Taiwan's actually existing independence and democracy from the threat posed by an authoritarian power. Instead, it has been the PRC which has posed a clear and present military threat against both Taiwan and regional peace by engaging in a massive build-up of over 1,000 ballistic missiles and other offensive forces during the past 15 years and by relentless pushing to isolate Taiwan internationally and achieve annexation through intimidation combined with economic integration.
Undoubtedly, the resolve shown by Chen's DPP government' angered the PRC and caused "Democratic Taiwan" to be seen as a "trouble maker" in Bush's eyes. Indeed, the four pundits relate that the electoral victory of the "former" authoritarian Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) President Ma Ying-jeou was "bolstered in part by America's clear indications of its displeasure with the willingness of former president Chen to provoke China."
This successful "regime change" may have gained short-term calm for Bush, but at the cost of Ma's acceptance of a subordinate role in the PRC's neo-authoritarian sphere of influence and the negation of the Taiwan people's right of free choice through open agreement to Beijing's "one China principle."
However, after only four months in power, Ma has been exposed as a weak executive whose approval rating has dipped below 25 percent as over 60 percent of the public are aghast with his KMT government's performance, including its inability to manage the economy and its abandonment of Taiwan's dignity. While Washington and Beijing may be pleased with Ma's obedience, Taiwan's citizens may be disinclined to again willingly choose such a person as their president.
We hope that the next U.S. president continues dialogue with China not to help the PRC squash Taiwan's democracy but to persuade Beijing to cease to block the participation of a democratic and peaceful Taiwan in the global community and realize that maintaining Taiwan as a democratic "lighthouse" is critical to ensuring the fostering of both peace and democracy in Asia.


Updated : 2021-06-14 10:41 GMT+08:00