TWQ: Should the United States Abandon Taiwan? - Fall 2011

  • Oct 1, 2011

    Is it time for the United States to rethink its Taiwan policy and walk away from Taiwan? Prominent Americans in influential publications insist that it is. The argument is not unprecedented. In a long and often discordant history of dealings between Washington and Taipei, there have been repeated calls for severing this uncomfortable and dangerous relationship. Taiwan has been characterized as a strategic liability, an expensive diversion, and most often, an obstacle to more important U.S.—China relations. In the past, a prosperous, strong, and self-confident United States chose to ignore such calls. Today, however, China is rapidly becoming more powerful, and many fear the United States teeters on the brink of decline. Is U.S. support for Taiwan about to end? Would it be a good idea?

    Taiwan remains the single issue which could spark war between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, a war that might quickly go nuclear but would be devastating even were it to remain conventional. Apart from being a potential trigger for war, Taiwan impedes improvement in U.S.–China relations because of suspicion and mistrust. Beijing firmly believes that Washington seeks to keep the PRC weak and divided to obstruct China’s rise. Meanwhile, Americans are adamant that resolution of the cross-Strait impasse happen peacefully and with the assent of the people of Taiwan, although the United States is uncommitted to any specific resolution.

    China, therefore, is the most critical variable in determining future U.S. policy toward Taiwan. There will occasionally be times when U.S. officials are angered by Taiwan’s policies or distracted by crises at
    home and abroad. But if anyone in the U.S. government thinks about severing ties with Taiwan, or significantly reducing them, it is because of China. Diplomats, statesmen, and politicians in and out of
    government—as well as businessmen, scholars, and the military—agree that good relations with the PRC will be vital in the new Pacific century. The big questions are whether sacrificing Taiwan would improve those relations, whether conditions are ripe for such a determination, and in what ways a change would affect other U.S. interests, including American friends and allies in the region. Careful examination of these variables leads us to conclude that the United States should neither abandon nor reduce its commitments to Taiwan, but strengthen them.

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Bonnie S. Glaser