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Foreign Relations Council Provides Terrible Advice on Taiwan and China

This post is part of a series on themes Nuclear Weapons in the Taiwan Strait

Foreign Relations Council Chairman Richard Haass recently called for a major change in the US policy on Taiwan. The United States asks the island to guarantee US military protection from China. He argues that it is the best way to keep the peace. He’s wrong.

Threatening China is not working

Haass believes that threatening to use military force against China will prevent them from using military force against Taiwan. In retrospect, we see that this is not a clever tactic to apply. President Truman believed that US threats to use force, including nuclear weapons, would prevent China from intervening in Korea. He was wrong. President Eisenhower believed that the US threats to use force, including nuclear weapons, would force China to stop the war in Korea and stop bombing the Taiwan-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu. He was wrong twice.

Presidents Kennedy and Johnson faced Chinese military intervention in Southeast Asia. But like Truman and Eisenhower, they refused to recognize the communist government in Beijing or to speak with its leaders. Their decision to opt for military escalation over dialogue prolonged the war in Vietnam without changing the outcome.

President Nixon finally admitted that his predecessors would not accept. Talking to Chinese leaders was a better way to deal with problems than to try to push them.

China’s red line

Since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, the main problem in US-China relations has always been Taiwan.

As the talks began, Nixon quickly discovered that China’s stance on Taiwan’s sovereign status was not negotiable. After seven years of debate, President Carter agreed to establish diplomatic relations that Taiwan is part of China and that the United States will not support Taiwan’s independence.

Carter also pledged to meet the three prerequisites required to prove that in China’s eyes the United States will keep its promise. The first was the severing of diplomatic relations with the Republic of China on Taiwan. The second was to abolish the US defense agreement with Taiwan. The third, and often forgotten, was “to remove all US military forces and facilities from the Taiwan and Taiwan Strait”.

In response, US negotiators asked the Chinese administration to give up the option of using military force to force the authorities in Taiwan to accept unification with the People’s Republic. Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping has made it clear that China cannot make such a promise. Deng reminded US national security adviser Zbignew Brzezinski:

I told Minister Vance that the Chinese side would not accept the proposal that the Chinese people should undertake the commitment to liberate Taiwan only by peaceful means, because this is an internal issue for China’s sovereignty and China. … You can express your views, but you shouldn’t make it a precondition. “

Carter chose not to make this a prerequisite, and diplomatic relations were formally established in January 1979. However, the US continued to seek assurances that China would not use force. During a visit to the White House, Deng directly told Carter that if “Taiwanese officials absolutely refuse to talk to us,” there is a possibility that military force would be used to force reunification.

Deng also stressed that the Chinese leadership believes the threat of power is necessary to get Taiwan’s leadership on the negotiating table. “Please do not create a condition,” he warned, that the Taiwan leader “thinks he has nothing to fear and will thus block negotiations.”

That’s exactly what the head of the Council on Foreign Relations recommends.

Cross the rubicon

The current Chinese leadership sees the Taiwan problem as Deng did. Taiwan believes that a peaceful negotiated solution is not possible as long as it believes it has US military protection. The Chinese military exercises near Taiwan are aimed at showing that China is ready to use force, whatever the US does.

A clear US military protection guarantee cannot prevent Chinese leaders from continuing to prove that they can and will use military force, if necessary, to force Taiwan to negotiate. The United States will respond by trying to prove that it can inevitably stop them. The two countries will be stuck in an arms race. The tension will increase. Allies will be worried. Trade will suffer. Cooperation on other issues such as climate change will become impossible.

The risk of war never goes away. Any peace achieved will be temporary, precarious and expensive. The only predictable consequence of taking Mr. Haass’s advice would be a constant massive flow of work for US defense contractors.

Preferred alternative

Instead of wasting a fortune to discourage China from pursuing its most vital national interests, the United States should actively seek a peaceful solution to the problem. It can work with both governments to find a way to satisfy China’s sovereign claim while permanently preserving the democratic rights of the Taiwanese people, whose desire to live under an oppressive communist government is clearly lacking.

It will be extremely difficult to reconcile these two requirements. However, as the parties continue to negotiate in good faith, a war is much less likely to break out. Dreaming of a peaceful diplomatic solution to the Taiwan problem has never received the same level of attention and effort as preparing for war. This is a very good reason to hope that a peaceful solution is possible.

The featured image on this blog is by Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon and Deng Xiaoping at a state dinner for the Deputy Prime Minister of China on January 29, 1979. Source: US National Archives and Records Administration.

Posted in: Foreign Policy Tags: China, Nuclear Weapons in Taiwan Strait, US-China relations

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