In his article in last week’s Record, Jonathan Chow ’03 questions the wisdom of US arms sales to Taiwan, arguing that they have “inflamed China and contributed to a spiraling arms race,” and that they “threaten to light the fuse” of a potential military conflict with China.
The question of US arms sales to Taiwan is certainly a delicate one calling for extreme caution. In my view, for example, including Taiwan in a US-based Theatre Missile Defense System—a topic currently being discussed by some in Washington—would be far too provocative to China and could prove counterproductive to the US goal of maintaining peace and stability in East Asia. However, I believe a level of arms sales sufficient to assure Taiwan’s self-defense capability is quite appropriate, even essential. Chow’s view is to the contrary, the purpose of US arms sales should precisely be “for Taiwan to be able to repel a Chinese invasion of the island” and to encourage “favorable terms of negotiation with the mainland.”
Chow mentions the Chinese “nationalist movement” that seeks Taiwan’s reunification with China, but nowhere in his article does he take into account the views of the people of Taiwan. Taiwan has been united with mainland China for only 4 of the past 105 years (1945-49). For the other 101 years, Taiwan has been politically separate from the mainland, so it is understandable that the Taiwanese people have developed a separate identity from the mainland Chinese.
In truth, many of Taiwan’s residents would actually prefer independence. A referendum on the issue would seem the fairest solution. But most Taiwanese understand that a declaration of independence is currently unrealistic, given the PRC’s determination to prevent this by whatever means necessary. Therefore, many feel that the next best alternative is to maintain the status quo or something close to it for as long as possible, until such time in the future as China may become more democratic. Perhaps, for the near term, a face-saving, mutually acceptable formula can yet be found whereby Taiwan accepts (or at least does not challenge) the “One China” principle and pledges to refrain from declaring independence in return for peace with the PRC. This “One China” would not necessarily have to be the “People’s Republic of China” but could be historical, cultural “China;” or some kind of federation including both Taiwan and the PRC.
Having, with great success, advocated democracy in Taiwan for several decades, the US cannot now turn its back on the people of Taiwan and allow China to dictate the terms of a forced reunification. Our government must be absolutely and consistently clear to both sides: Taiwan must understand that the US cannot currently support a declaration of independence; the PRC must understand that if it employs force against Taiwan, the US will intervene.
Cornelius C. Kubler
Stanfield Professor of Chinese
Department of Asian Studies