America, China, and the “Sanya Initiative”: too Together

There have been natural tendencies within the executive branch of America’s government to write Taiwan off, according to an article published at Taiwan Link which explores the reasons for the Obama administration’s apparent reluctance to clear pending arms sales to Taiwan. The Sanya Initiative is mentioned as a forum where Beijing had successfully influenced retired military officials, including Joseph Prueher, an admiral and U.S. ambassador to China from 1999 to 2001. In an op-ed for the New York Times in October 2009, the Sanya Initiative was described by Mark Brzezinski and  Mark Fung as an important program that brings together retired service chiefs from each of the armed forces of the U.S. and China.

The Taiwan Link article does not seem to take the possibility into account that the U.S. administration may currently try to avoid an open arms race with China in the Western Pacific, at least for now. But then, the F-16 fighter jets requested by Taipei would be bought and paid for by Taiwan, not by America. The same would apply when it comes to supplies of diesel electric submarines. Those, however, may not be available without Dutch and German cooperation, and Beijing seems to count on a European reluctance to take part in such cooperation.

This “division of labor” – America confronting China if need be, and other democracies or opponents of Chinese hegemony just standing by, keeping  their fingers crossed but doing business as usual with China themselves is not sustainable. America needed to remain engaged in Asia to balance China’s military and economic might, Singapore’s elder statesman and minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew suggested in November 2009. Which is actually happening, when it comes to Japan’s, Vietnam’s, and maybe South Korea’s opposition to Chinese hegemony. But each of these countries, plus Singapore, would need to contribute to make such an engagement sustainable. The European Parliament, more friendly towards Taiwan than most European national governments or the EU commission, could promote more active relations with Taiwan as a first step to help beefing up its defense by arms supplies.

For now, U.S. Congress may be able to help secure the immediate arms supplies to Taiwan currently discussed, as the Taiwan Link article points out. But other democratic countries, too, need to remember that there is something fundamental which they have in common with Taiwan, and which separates them from China. It’s important that America remembers that, too – but just America alone may not be able to maintain a pro-Taiwan policy in the long run.

Taiwan doesn’t threaten China. But China, a totalitarian country, threatens Taiwan. It may be convenient for ASEAN, East Asia, or Europe, to ignore the problem, but that wouldn’t be a far-sighted policy.

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