Taiwan: The Tail That Wags Dogs
This essay explores how Taiwan has been able to seize the political initiative
from China, Japan, and the United States.
Taiwan has attained this leverage due to the interrelationship of four factors:
- Strategic considerations stemming from Taiwan’s geographic position lead
Tokyo and Washington to prefer the status quo, while leading China to
strive for reunification. China’s increasing military power, however, may
suggest a Chinese intention to change the status quo.
- Shared democratic values and the fact that the “democracy issue” has greatly
prolonged the timetable for reunification give Taipei political influence
in both Washington and Tokyo.
- China’s constant threats of force actually empower Taipei in its relationship
with Washington, and cause the United States to plan for the worst.
- Taiwan is a litmus test of U.S. credibility as an ally, a condition that in turn
creates a perception on the island that U.S. military backing is unconditional.
- Taipei’s high-risk diplomatic approach carries with it the very real possibility
of miscalculation, which could easily lead to great power conflict.
- The United States would benefit from exploring with Beijing ways in which
to demilitarize the issue of Taiwan independence so that the threat of great
power conflict over Taiwan is greatly moderated.
- Tensions may eventually lessen substantially if Beijing can be encouraged to
substitute political deterrence for military deterrence.
- In order to ensure that the U.S. position in the region would survive a
Taipei-provoked conflict should the United States choose not to become
directly involved, Washington can undertake extensive talks with Japan designed
to ensure that Japan does not lose confidence in Washington.