The smoldering debate in the American studies community over whether the U.S. should “abandon” Taiwan or not flared up again recently. It was rekindled by John Mearsheimer’s article “Say Goodbye to Taiwan” in the March-April issue of The National Interest. It was followed by Iskander Rehman’s article “Why Taiwan Matters” in the same journal.
Mearsheimer, proceeding from his “offensive realism” theory, explores the long-term implications for Taiwan of China’s rise and U.S. policy options in the regard. The real dilemma Taiwan will confront, he writes, looms in the decades ahead, when China, whose continued economic growth seems likely although not a sure thing, is far more powerful than it is today. The United States will resist mightily and go to great lengths to contain China’s growing power but the ensuing security competition will not be good for Taiwan, no matter how it turns out in the end. “Time is not on Taiwan’s side”, he believes. The most important reason why the United States would “forsake” Taiwan is that “it is and especially dangerous flashpoint which could easily precipitate a Sino-American war that is not in America’s interest.” He notes: “U.S. policy makers understand that the fate of Taiwan is a matter of great concern to Chinese of all persuasions and that they will be extremely angry if it looks like the United States is preventing unification.”
Rehman’s article reviews the main arguments of “pros and cons” of abandonment of Taiwan among American academicians. However, he obviously stands on the side of the latter and inexhaustibly cites the assertions stressing the strategic importance of Taiwan in America’s competition with China which is “more structural than conjectural and are the natural result of the fiction that traditionally occurs between rising and established powers.” Rehman repudiates Mearsheimer by saying: “One should not surmise, therefore, that the Sino-America strategic competition would abate were the Taiwan issue to be resolved.” On the contrary, he adds, abandoning Taiwan might considerably enhance China’s military and geostrategic position in Asia, and severely weaken that of the United States and its allies. He recites the hackneyed “maxims” of General MacArthur’s Taiwan being an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” and “the cork in the bottle” of the South China Sea of Admiral Ernest King. Under the present circumstances, he adds, China would use it to “interdict the heavy flow of container traffic that transits through the [Taiwan] strait on a daily basis”; China would “exert stronger pressure on smaller littoral states throughout maritime Southeast Asia”; and the People’s Liberation Army would “enjoy unfettered access to deep Pacific waters.”
First, it is necessary to comment on the tenet that China would compete with the United State to expel it from the Indo-Pacific theatre and the competition is “structural” and thus irreconcilable. Such a depiction of China’s strategic intentions appears like drawing a cat according to a tiger. Unless foolhardily turning a deaf ear to China’s policy pronouncements, one should have come to know that China will never allow herself to fall into the fatalist trap of the rising and established powers. That’s why China advocates a “new-type of major power relationship”, particularly with the United States. President Xi Jinping has, in terse but incisive terms, set the guiding principles: no conflict and confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation. During their meeting at the Annenberg Retreat last June, President Xi and President Obama reached a consensus on building a model for this new-type major power relations.
It is worth addressing the erroneous hypothesis that China would use the reunified Taiwan to obstruct the free passage of the Taiwan Strait, to threaten the security of Japan and the littoral countries in the South China Sea, and to project her naval and air forces to the blue sea among other strategic motives. These presumptions could not be farther detached from China’s persistent Taiwan policy. Serious scholars should not be ignorant of it.
The fundamental policy of China in solving the Taiwan issue is “peaceful reunification and one country two systems” put forward by Deng Xiaoping during the 80s of the last century. This policy has been observed not only by Deng, but also by Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and so Xi Jinping will surely follow it. The “peaceful reunification and one country two systems” formula consists mainly of six points and thus is commonly called “Deng’s Six Points”. One point of the six is that after reunification the mainland will send neither administrative personnel nor troops to Taiwan. On June 26, 1983, in a talk with an American professor of Chinese origin, Winston L.Y. Yang of Seton Hall University, Deng Xiaoping said: “…it (Taiwan) may maintain its own army, provided it does not threaten the mainland. The mainland will not station anyone in Taiwan. Neither troops nor administrative personnel will go there. The party, governmental and military systems of Taiwan will be administered by Taiwan authorities themselves.” That the mainland will not send troops to Taiwan differs distinctively from the “one country two system” being applied in Hong Kong and Macau where PLA units have been stationed. So some Mainland scholars say that there exists “three models of the one country two systems formula”.
Since China has promised not to send troops to Taiwan after reunification as one of the key elements of the “one country two systems” policy, how could she use Taiwan as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier”? How could she use Taiwan as a “springboard” to project her naval and air forces into the blue seas? Hence, all the painstaking analyses of the military and strategic value of Taiwan in a reunified China are nothing but wild imaginations. To abandon Taiwan or not by the United States is not the question. The question is for the U.S. policy makers and China watchers to correctly comprehend China’s basic Taiwan policy of “peaceful reunification and one country two system”. By this policy, the Chinese mainland will never “coerce” Taiwan to accept reunification. The road to national reunification is through peaceful development of cross-Strait relations. And the mainland is prepared to be as patient as it requires. As the Chinese saying goes，where water flows, a channel is formed. When China is peacefully reunified, the most destructive core issue in Sino-American relations would be removed. That would prove to be a win-win result, believe it or not.
Xu Shiquan is Vice Chairman of the National Society of Taiwan Studies.