Posted on Monday, March 10, 2014 by Project2049Institute
By Dan Blumenthal
|Photo: MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images|
The government-to-government talks between Wang Yu-chi, head of Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council, and Zhang Zhijun, head of China's Taiwan Affairs Office, are significant, but not for reasons many think. Indeed, the talks are most noteworthy because they happened at all. A key element of China's Taiwan policy has been to isolate the island and get all countries to accept the Chinese position that Taiwan is not a country, but a province of China.
Now Taiwan and China have had government-to-government talks. China has moved a step closer to accepting Taiwan's de facto independent status as a country with its own national government. The substance of the talks will be far less noteworthy as Taiwan does not want to make any concessions or agreements on political issues such as its international status.
U.S. policymakers should insist that this is now the precedent: China has to work out its differences with Taiwan on a government-to-government basis. The talks also provide us a chance to reflect on five faultyassumptions about Taiwan, many developed during and since the normalization process with China in the 1970s. Here they are:
Well, Taiwan did invest heavily in China and in the process grew both the Chinese and Taiwanese economies. But as economic ties have expanded, the Taiwanese feel an ever stronger sense of uniqueness. Close contact did not make the heart grow fonder. The more contact the Taiwanese have with China, the more they feel different from the Chinese, including when it comes to the openness of their society and how modern and advanced Taiwan is compared with China. The other issue is a generational shift as fewer Taiwanese feel a historical emotional attachment to China. "Reunification" is now only possible for Beijing if it chooses to start a war.
The argument is that Taiwan is indefensible and that the United States won't risk its relations with China over Taiwan. But there is a credible argument that Washington gets into conflicts because potential adversaries underestimate U.S. willingness to abide by its commitments. It is worth remembering that the United States was not supposed to "die for Danzig," that Berlin did not seem worth it either in the Cold War, and that South Korea was outside the U.S. defense perimeter before the Korean War.
Dan Blumenthal is the director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. This article was originally published in Foreign Policy on February 12, 2014.