As the African proverb goes: ‘When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.’
The News Lens
By: Yuan-kang Wang, Taiwan Insight
The most important geostrategic event of this century is the rivalry between the United States and China. International competition between these two countries is heating up. As the African proverb goes: “When two elephants fight, it is the grass that gets trampled.” How should Taiwan avoid being trampled?
Broadly speaking, there are four guidelines to follow.
“When Washington has bigger fish to fry, Taiwan’s democratic aspirations can be sacrificed. This is no doubt dispiriting, but it is how international politics works.”
First, Taiwan needs to recognize the supremacy of national interests in international politics. Although the U.S. has a security commitment in the Taiwan Relations Act, this commitment is guided first and foremost by U.S. national interests (instead of those of Taiwan). In a system without overarching authority to adjudicate disputes, states make decisions based on their national interest, not on moral principles. The United States is no exception. For example, the U.S. supported autocratic regimes that abused human rights during the Cold War because it was in its national interest to do so. Similarly, in the midst of the North Korea nuclear crisis in 2003, U.S. President George W. Bush publicly chidedTaiwan President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) for holding a referendum that might upset the status quo (“as we define it”). When Washington has bigger fish to fry, Taiwan’s democratic aspirations can be sacrificed. This is no doubt dispiriting, but it is how international politics works.
Second, Taiwan should synchronize its security interests with those of the United States. The U.S.-China security competition presents an opportunity for Taiwan to strengthen mutual defense cooperation with the U.S. As China rises in power, there is growing fear in the United States about being overtaken. An emerging realization in Washington is that the policy of engagement has not delivered the results as advertised. Hopes of a Chinese democracy remain as distant as ever and China has not behaved – in the eyes of the U.S. – as a “responsible stakeholder.” Instead, China is expanding in the South China Sea; establishing footholds in Africa, Latin America, and across the world; building alternative institutions to U.S.-preferred ones; and becoming increasingly assertive in protecting its interests. Rising powers tend to expand, and China is just following this historical pattern. These actions, however, have awoken the United States. President Obama’s Asia rebalancing strategy and President Trump’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy are both efforts to shore up America’s declining power position in the face of a rising China. In the context of this changing international structure, Taiwan is a strategic asset Washington cannot ignore. [FULL STORY]