The Wilson Quarterly

Every year China publicly grumbles about the United States' support of Taiwan, and every year Washington pretends not to hear. Some U.S. foreign-policy specialists are sick of this dynamic, arguing, according to Georgetown University historian Nancy Bernkopf Tucker and analyst Bonnie Glaser of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, that Taiwan is a “strategic liability, an expensive diversion and . . . an obstacle to more important U.S.-China relations.” Don’t take the bait, say Tucker and Glaser. If anything, the United States should increase its support of the small democratic island.

Even if the United States did bow to China’s wishes and pull the plug on its Taiwan support, there is no guarantee that relations between the rival superpowers would get any smoother, the authors argue. China would continue to oppose U.S. interests on nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea. And Beijing would be more likely to view U.S. capitulation on Taiwan as a cowering dodge than a proffered olive branch. Walking away from Taiwan could sap the United States’ negotiating power throughout the region, moreover, and possibly send friends in the area, such as Japan and South Korea, into China’s arms.

Scrapping ties to Taiwan would also hurt the U.S. economy. The two nations have a vibrant economic relationship: Taiwan ranks as America’s ninth-largest trading partner, and the United States is Taiwan’s leading foreign investor. Furthermore, U.S. arms sales to Taiwan are big business; the United States has sold almost $13 billion in weapons to Taiwan over the past two years.

To prevent the Chinese from even thinking that Washington is going to relinquish its commitment, the United States should step up its engagement with Taiwan, Tucker and Glaser argue. The priorities: making progress on stalled negotiations on trade, a U.S. visa waiver program, and a bilateral extradition agreement. Without the United States’ support, Taiwan would almost certainly “be compelled, in some form, to accommodate China’s unification agenda,” possibly laying to rest one of Asia’s most successful forays into democracy.

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The Source: "Should the United States Abandon Taiwan?" by Nancy Benrkopf Tucker and Bonnie Glaser, in The Washington Quarterly, Fall 2011. 

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Li Jen Jian

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