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Are American Politicians To Blame for The Chinese/Taiwanese Fallout?

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I wrote an article here at BlogCritics in August wherein I questioned the United States’ wisdom in selling “billions of dollars” worth of weapons to Taiwan, consistent with The Taiwan Relations Act which requires the U.S. to provide the tiny island nation of Taiwan with weapons for defense. Taiwan lies a short distance across the Taiwan Strait, formerly called the Formosa Strait, from mainland China. Since I wrote that article, Chinese/Taiwanese relations have taken an alarming downturn. US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates blames the new tension on American politicians, as opposed to the US Military. Gates has made the statement that military relationships should not be held hostage to what is “essentially a political decision.” 

My position in August was that since there was no ongoing hostility between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, there was no requirement for the weapon sale. China indeed has declared that force against Taiwan would only be considered if Taiwan should declare formal independence. China still claims sovereignty over Taiwan, since a hard fought civil war in 1949, during which Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalists escaped to the island. China for many years has claimed an option that they may reunite mainland China with Taiwan. The United States has said it will protect Taiwan; that promise played a major part in the contentious weapon sale. In May, 2010, President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan said the island will never ask the United States to fight against China on its behalf. “We will continue to reduce the risks, so that we will purchase arms from the United States, but we will never ask the Americans to fight for Taiwan, this is something that is very, very clear.”

The substantive fact is that China and Taiwan have in recent years enjoyed increasingly good relations. Longstanding trade tariffs have been lifted; commerce between the nations has much improved. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between trade representatives from mainland China and Taiwan was signed in late June, bringing with it new, improved ties across the Taiwan Strait. The nations formulated a 16-part act to “…gradually reduce and remove trade and investment barriers and create a fair environment.”

The other side of the coin remains intact; the people of Taiwan feel an ongoing pressure from China — they feel a daily threat to their well-being. One commenter to my earlier article said that China has 1500-2000 missiles pointed at Taiwan and has threatened to use military force time and time again. “Taiwan’s only enemy is China”, he wrote. “I don’t understand how anyone can say Taiwan doesn’t have an enemy.”  The commenter felt that at any time 23 million Taiwanese people are endangered by Communist missiles. He concluded, saying that Taiwan has not asked the U.S. to fight China. Taiwan  wants only to buy weapons from the U.S. to protect the 23 million people who “practice democracy and support human rights — the same values Americans support.”  Reliable sources confirm that China has some 1400 missiles ready to pummel Taiwan at short notice.

The weapon sale went forward. It is noted that neither submarines nor fighter aircraft were included. Since that sale, Chinese relations with America have taken a significant turndown. Retaliatory measures for the sale include sanctions against American companies who produced or supplied the arms. Beijing has canceled military exchange programs.  A planned visit to China by U.S. Defense Secretary Gates in June was canceled. The United States is charged with “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs. Guan You Fei, deputy head of external relations with China’s defense ministry stated that the biggest obstacle in defense relations between the U.S. and China is U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

This brings us to October of 2010.  The sale of weapons, long completed, is still being discussed and Sino/Taiwanese relations have nose-dived. Secretary of Defense Gates met with his Chinese counterpart, General Liang Guanglie, during an Asian Security Forum in Hanoi on Oct. 11, 2010, this, 10 months after the weapon sale. In the course of the meeting Secretary Gates stated his position that the sale was not a military decision. He blamed the disconcerting issue on the U.S. Congress; on political leaders. He disavowed any role of the American military in the decision. “If there is a discussion to be had, it is at the political level,” Gates said. Did domestic political issues play a part in this important decision process?

Now, the situation has exacerbated, perhaps encouraged by the receipt of the America weaponry. A news story dated October 13, 2010, says Taiwan has begun development of a system of drone aircraft; Yu Sy-tue, spokesman for Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu, said the Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology near Taipei, an institute run by the Taiwan military, has started research on drones aircraft. Reports surfaced that Taiwan is taking steps to acquire one or more Global Hawk high altitude drones, and a number of new fighter jets from the U.S.

As news of the Taiwanese interest in drone aircraft surfaced, China immediately suggested that military talks were in order. A news story from Beijing relates that China has called for these talks on military issues with Taiwan, based on the issue of the development of unmanned surveillance aircraft. Yang Yi of the Taiwan Affairs Office on mainland China issued a statement: “We advocate conducting contacts and exchanges on military issues, including the cross-straits military deployment issue, in a proper way at a proper time.”

But Taiwan sees the situation differently. They will not participate in such talks until China removes the 1400 missiles — the “military deployment targeting Taiwan.”  The Mainland Affairs Council in Taiwan tells of a “widespread and solemn demand by Taiwan people”.  They go on to say, “We must keep our self-defense capability, to keep a healthy and stable cross-strait relationship, on the condition that our safety is not threatened.”

As a result of a questionable weapon sale by the United States Congress the world is now less stable. China and Taiwan are at odds. Taiwan seems to be moving toward self regulation in spite of a potential for conflict. China, until these decisions were made, was increasingly tolerant of the United States, and potentially valuable talks were in the offing.  We must consider, does Taiwan seriously consider escalation of new tensions, or is this a thinly veiled ploy for talks and the hope for more security with the removal of the offending missiles?

These sales to Taiwan have been going on for decades.  Maybe the U.S. resolve to defend Taiwan is outdated, and no longer consistent with real matters in the real world.  America is in a phase approaching ‘isolationism’ in regards to defense issues. The cost of liberating Iraq, the difficulty in policing Afghanistan, have proven a burden in lives and dollars.  Then is this not a time to reconsider the recurring sales of arms to Taiwan?  We see that these sales involve vast amounts of money; is that money being wasted, or worse, is it  creating global unrest?  The American Congress might do well to consider these matters in a non-political light. America’s ties to China, each nation seeking to be the world leader in sophistication, economics, and moving toward the future, are indeed at an important juncture.

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About John Lake

John Lake had a long and successful career in legitimate and musical theater. He moved up into work behind the camera at top motion pictures. He has done a smattering of radio, and television John joined the Blogcritics field of writers owing to a passion for the liberal press, himself speaking out about the political front, and liberal issues. Now the retired Mr. Lake has entered the field of motion picture, television, and video game (now a daily gamer!) critique. His writing is always innovative and immensely readable!
  • John Lake

    Easy! At the top right of the BC homepage, still in the purple area is a link to
    “Write for BlogCritics. Find out how”.
    Click, and follow.

  • That’s an interesting idea. What do I need to do?

  • John Lake

    As a natural born American, I can claim no expertize in these matters. I do what I can. When I see billions of dollars changing hands for weapons, in a way that seems to decrease harmony, I feel a need to shed some light on the matter.
    You, Michael Turton, might consider doing some more writing for this BlogCritics magazine. It could over time evolve into something even more substantial. If it were picked up by Kindle ebooks, we could reach a much larger audience

  • Thank you for reading them. We don’t have different “points of view.” What we have is a disjunct between you, a liberal still viewing East Asia through an obsolete cold war lens now 40 years out of date, and me, a progressive living on an island actually threatened by Chinese expansionism. The US isn’t causing China to expand into Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. It didn’t make China claim that the South China Sea islands all belong to China. It didn’t force China to claim that Senkakus (watch for the next step, Okinawa, which many Chinese claim is part of China). Quite the contrary: US elites were delighted to help China’s economy grow, to provide it with needed resources, investment, and technology. None of this expansionism was necessary. China is like Japan c. 1930. Time for liberals in the US to wake up.

    I blog on these topics at my popular Taiwan blog, The View from Taiwan. I also post at DKOS occasionally. Here’s my last one on the south China sea fracas; and my blog.

  • John Lake

    I have read these responders remarks and am thankful that we can share our various points of view.

  • John, it would behoove you to do some more reading on the Taiwan-China-US relationship.

    “As a result of a questionable weapon sale by the United States Congress the world is now less stable. China and Taiwan are at odds. Taiwan seems to be moving toward self regulation in spite of a potential for conflict. China, until these decisions were made, was increasingly tolerant of the United States, and potentially valuable talks were in the offing. We must consider, does Taiwan seriously consider escalation of new tensions, or is this a thinly veiled ploy for talks and the hope for more security with the removal of the offending missiles?”

    Every line here is wrong.

    Tensions are created by China, not Taiwan or the US. The source of tension is the desire of China to annex Taiwan, an idea that came to Chinese elites in the late 1930s (prior to which time, Taiwan had always been considered outside of China).

    China thus uses “tension” in this relationship to gain leverage over the US government and observers such as yourself. “Tensions” increase when other actors do something that China does not like, and decrease when they serve China’s interest. Hence to write as if “tensions” just occur or “worsen” is to miss how China deploys “tension” to gain control of its bilateral relationships. To augment this policy, China also insists that its relationships be bilateral, to weaken the position of its smaller opponents.

    The US did not raise tensions with arms sales. Rather, Beijing decided as a matter of policy — tensions are a policy tool — to raise tensions hoping to gain leverage over observers. Like you, for example. The recent package of arms sales dates back a decade and consists of no weapons that can harm China, only systems to repel its invaders.

    China has threatened to plunge the region into war if it does not get its way. How do you plan to respond to that? By blaming the US because China wants to annex a piece of land no ethnic Chinese emperor has ever owned? How are we in Taiwan expected to defend ourselves?

    The current government is pro-China and the President is a nationalist ideologue who believes his government owns China. of course relations are “not tense” since President Ma on the whole serves China’s interests. The previous president was pro-democracy and pro-Taiwan, so he “provoked” China and caused “tension.” Beijing deploys accusations of “provocation” and “tension” to discredit its opponents.

    We need these weapons because a pro-China dreamer will not always be the president of Taiwan. How do we handle the threat to Taiwan’s freedom and democracy without the support of other nations?

    This is not a ploy to get the missiles removed because (1) China will probably never remove them because only the threat by Beijing to murder and maim Taiwanese keeps them from declaring independence and (2) I don’t think the ruling KMT wants them removed because of (1) above and because of other issues too complex to list.

    China was not “increasingly tolerant” of the US until the arms sales. What had happened was that the Bush Administration had put in place an undeclared embargo on Taiwan arms sales to please China. The Obama Administration came in and played pretty much the same game. In the last two years China has been ramping up tensions all along its borders — note that as “tensions fall” with Taiwan they rise elsewhere, since China is now free to focus on its other territorial expansion plans. Please review news relating to Arunachal Pradesh, the Senkakus, and the South China Sea, for example. China was not tolerant — it merely was happy with our policy of serving its interests and being obsessed with the Middle East.

    You do the US and the cause of democracy everywhere a disservice by following the Beijing propaganda line on US arms sales and on Taiwan history. Please do some reading. Email me and I can supply you with a list of books.

    Michael Turton

  • A Taiwanese in the U.S.

    After reading the entire 3-page article, I wonder, where the slightest mentioning of desires of residences in Taiwan. Does it ever exist in this sort of political discussion?

    Don’t forget, Taiwan is a democratic country. Politics may be young still. Taiwanese identity in the international communities continued to be bullied around. There is one fact that even the most pro-China politicians in Taiwan can not afford to ignore. That is, ninty percents of 23-million residences in Taiwan oppose to the idea of Chinese unification.

    We’ve seen enough identity ambiguities for the Taiwanese seatings in the world. But make no mistake. Inside that small island, despite current warmth and economic tides across the strait, you are unlikely to find such identity crisis from the people in Taiwan. So Mr. Lake, I am sure you will look the strait differently after you understand a little more of people factors in both Taiwan and China.

  • Taiwan Tracker

    First of all, it appears Mr. Lake must be sitting in a comfy chair in the US and letting his imagination run wild by surfing the net. Clearly, he’s not in Taiwan or China.

    What’s all this talk of “downturn”? I don’t see any fewer busloads of Chinese tourists disgroging in front of Taipei 101 and the Chiang-Kai Shek Memorial. Over 70,000 Taiwanese business are currently doing business in China, and active business and cultural exchanges are happening in both places on a weekly basis. Mr. Lake, do you bother to read the Taiwan local news? It’s on the Net, BTW, IN ENGLISH.

    The Taiwan government’s lofty rhetoric of late means it’s election time in Taiwan, and the sitting government is likely to lose most of the mayoral elections this year due to their unpopularity with voters. So, they’re pumping up all the pro-Taiwan talk – talk which, by the way, isn’t mentioned the rest of the year.

    Let’s also put an end to this constant use of synechdoche when referring to these places.

    “Taiwan” in most media, including this blog, means the Kuomintang (KMT) government that fled to Taiwan in 1949. This is rarely made clear in the media. It does not refer to the majority (millions) of Taiwanese people or to the nation of Taiwan. The island is officially named the “Republic of China” to the KMT. It’s the name in the constitution and on the postage stamps. The name ‘Taiwan’ is permitted as a geographical reference.

    “China” refers to the CCP in Beijing, not to the nation or people of China. Sometimes you hear “mainland” which is a geo-political misnomer to differentiate the two Chinas, only one of which apparently exists.

    The current KMT government in the ROC/Taiwan has made it very clear that it intends to restore itself in (Mainland) China and include Taiwan with it. This is considered the fulfillment of the mission of the KMT begun in 1911. The ROC constituion claims all of China, including Taiwan and Tibet as its own. It does not recognize the CCP or the independence of any section of China.

    The CCP claims Taiwan and etc., as part of its territory (plus parts of Japan, Vietnam, and India, and a lot of the seas around it for good measure, and considers the KMT a non-entity that lost a war long ago.

  • china is evil

    Previous US arms sales (prior to 2008) were released in small packages not in big packages. Big arms deals attract alot of attention and hence become the target of Chinese retaliatory measures (suspension of military ties etc). If the US were to release arms on a more regular basis in smaller packages, China would be less inclined to retaliate. If Taiwan receives more arms, it would improve the military capability to defend itself and act as a deterrent, so that China would not use force. Also Taiwan already produces some weapons itself, Taiwan is only buying weapons from the US that it can’t produce. If the US doesn’t want to sell weapons to Taiwan why not let them have the technology to build it themselves?

    Also on the issue of arms sales, if the US were to sell Taiwan more advanced arms sales it would be better for the US in the long run. This is because the more advanced weapons Taiwan gets, the less likely Taiwan would want to buy new ones in the short term future. Meaning the US could enjoy a stable relationship with China (and more longer lasting) and Taiwan would be happy.

    Taiwan and China relations are good only on the ‘economic’ side of things.

    I believe that Secretary of Defense Gates was attempting to play down the impact of arms sales to Taiwan . The current status of Taiwan is important to US interests in Asia. If Taiwan were to be “annexed” by China, it would present a large problem for the US: a) Japan becomes extremely vulnerable to China’s persistent aggressive behaviours (The US has a defence treaty with Japan) b) US interests in South Korea will also be at risk, as China expands it’s control around the Pacific, North Korea ‘could’ see opportunities in starting conflict. (The US also has a defence treaty with South Korea) c) There would be less opposition in stopping China from claiming the entire South China Sea (Many parts are disputed/claimed by Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines etc) d) China would be able to operate more freely in the South China Sea, Philippine Sea and Pacific Ocean which ‘could’ threaten Guam, Singapore, the Philippines and other US friendly/ally countries.

    The drones you mentioned were in development from 2002, and prototypes were shown in 2006 and displayed in the National Day military parade in 2007.

    Taiwan is not willing to conduct military or political talks with China at the moment or anytime in the short-medium timeframe is because China has a military edge over Taiwan. Taiwan simply does not want a gun to it’s head (the 1400+ missiles), if they were to negotiate (political, military). While Taiwan would prefer to be formally independent, the people of Taiwan believe in maintaining the status quo. The US has been preaching freedom and democracy for a long time all of which Taiwan has embraced. If it abandons Taiwan what message does that send to the rest of the world? What will US allies think of US commitment and trust?

    I believe that the Taiwan Relations Act is still consistent in the modern world. As it acts as somewhat an assurance that China’s rise is as ‘peaceful’ as it claims. Also China is still a Communist country and it does not support human rights or democracy. If China can still holds a grudge against Japan, now a pacifist country against something that happened last century and everyone else has moved on from, anything can happen.

  • gummi

    One should study success and failure of other countries’ dealing with China.

    The most successful were the Russians and the British Empire.

    When Russian coast guard machine gunned and killed Chinese fishermen, the Chinese government did not protest and actually thanked the rescue of Chinese sailors.

    Lord Palmerstone, the foremost British diplomat once said, ‘The only intelligible language to the Chinese is the language of force.’

    Chinese mentality is a product of long history of tyranny and foreign subjugation. The survivors of these holocausts share the traits of selfishness to the point of betrayal, temporary pliancy to the dominant power, and brutality against the weak when they themselves assume position of power.

  • Chris W

    Has the author ever thought why the U.S. does not support Taiwan independence when it supports independence movement from Kosovo to East Timor?

    And for those who think that Taiwan should not be a U.S. burden and the Taiwan Relations Act is outdated: If it’s not for the U.S., people of Taiwan (Formosa) would have been able to decide their own fate after the WWII. The U.S. loves to be the world police and I have no problem with that. However, a world police should not be a party crasher, mess up people’s houses and say it’s not their responsibility. Just take a look no further than Iraq, Afghanistan, and Taiwan.

  • Rock

    I’m not sure if the author has ever lived in Taiwan. Maybe he has, but his opinion makes me almost feel sick. How can he call himself a liberal, it’s almost mind-boggling. The opinion is extremely selfish. I’m not saying this to be insulting, but let’s consider a few points here,
    First, Taiwan and China never merely split amongst a civil war in 1949. Taiwan is much more than just some common “part of China.” Taiwanese history is much deeper than 1949. Taiwan had a 50-year colonial period under Japan, as well as a lengthy period as a frontier area during the Manchurian Qing Empire of China. The overwhelming majority of Taiwanese people have been treated as second-class citizens in their own land by the mainlander class that moved there in 1949-1950. Now with democracy, the common people can express themselves, but they still have a major issue due to China’s constant refusal to accept anything but annexation. Taiwan is among the world’s more advanced nations, it is not some backwater place America can easily betray like the author seems to want. Yes, America can ditch Taiwan so then China’s government appear less angry, then what? China will still whine about the Senkaku islands, China will still fight over the entire South China sea. Whether we like it or not, the world has power pushes and pulls. To just abandon Taiwan is more than covering US-ass in trade negotiations so US corporations can make more money. It is also deeply rooted in the PLA’s dream of developing naval supremacy around China. Can you imagine how weak this will make America appear? That loss of face is far more costly than selling Boeing airplanes in China. China is riding high upon a feeling that American power will decline or collapse; just giving up support for Taiwan is giving the PLA exactly what it wants.

    But perhaps more importantly, to give-into China’s demands is just plain ridiculous. Did this author forget that China claims the entire South China sea, a set of rocks NE of Taiwan called Senkaku/Diaotaiyu, parts of the country Bhutan, and the Indian province of Arunachal pradesh? America has no interest in supporting China’s claims to any of these areas, it would be far disastrous to allow China to overwhelm the most advanced of all the areas it wants to annex.
    But let me add one further point. As a previous commenter stated, China is playing games here. At risk of sounding too simplistic, China acts like a big baby in these types of matters. China had no problem recognizing 2 Koreas, China even recognizes the sovereignty and independence of East Timor, yet it whines and complains that it can’t possess sovereignty over this small island. For years after the end of the Qing Dynasty, China claimed Mongolia and Tuva as an integral part of China, but China has totally forgotten about them because Russia was very clear it absolutely supported their independence. China whined and complained about them, but now its gone. If anything, America’s mistake was playing this game and “switching” recognition to the PRC, it should have opened talks with China and insisted there be a Taiwan/China (or because the KMT was still in power, a 2 china policy). This is the big failure of Henry Kissinger, who vastly overplayed America’s much stronger hand. If China could accept 2 koreas, China would have easily accepted a small island that had some other political system as well.

  • Al

    Taiwan’s status is this: it faces China as a stalker, and all it wants is a restraining order to reduce the stalking. If someone constantly threatened to rape me, wouldn’t I want measures for self-defense? To say that we have to kowtow to China’s tantrums and to appease it in order to maintain stability and harmony is kinda sick. And sadly, comments from so-called liberals that sound like advocating the abandonment of Taiwan is the reason that many Taiwanese immigrants in the US initially support Republicans (although later when they look into US domestic politics rather than US foreign policy that they might switch to Democrats).

  • Glenn Contrarian

    John –

    As long as America continues to keep bases in Guam/Okinawa/Japan/Singapore in order to keep our Navy close to Taiwan, China will keep rattling their sabers…but that’s all they’ll do.

    If we were to close our bases in the region, China’s threats would become deadly earnest…and so would North Korea’s. What’s more, if Taiwan falls, what happens to Japan as the years go by?

    As much as I’d like to close our bases overseas, the ones we have in east Asia really are keeping the peace. The Chinese hate seeing our carrier groups cross the straits between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland…but they know better than to attack as long as we’re there.