Time for Obama to rethink Washington's mild-mannered stance toward China
Before 9/11, the Bush administration was beginning to take a stronger stance against China on Taiwan. But after 9/11, Washington resumed a conciliatory relationship that has colored – for the worse – US-China relations.
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But even after Taiwan’s 2008 election produced the most pro-China administration in Taiwan’s history, Beijing has maintained its threatening posture toward Taiwan, both rhetorically and in its military and naval preparations.Skip to next paragraph
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Most recently, as Taiwan prepares for its next presidential election in 2012, Chinese officials, lacking their own democratic process, have begun to meddle again in Taiwan’s. As they did in earlier elections, they have warned Taiwan’s voters not to make “the wrong choice” by electing anyone not sufficiently receptive to integration with China.
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The Obama administration has chosen to continue the latter Bush policy of conciliation with China rather than the more candid, some would say confrontational, approach Bush was beginning to take before September 11 changed Washington’s worldview. As a result, the US and China are once again heading toward a situation where strategic miscalculation by China could lead the countries into direct conflict over Taiwan, or over China’s claims in the South and East China Seas where Southeast Asian countries have described China’s actions as “aggressive.”
The administration has correctly admonished Beijing that freedom of navigation in those waters is a critical US national interest and that territorial and resource disputes must be resolved peacefully. Similar firmness and clarity on Taiwan – as in Bush’s transitory pre-9/11 commitment and by approval of new F-16s for Taiwan – would go far toward assuring stability in the entire region.
This past March, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, to identify “the greatest mortal threat to America.” Even though Osama bin Laden was still alive at the time, his response was not Al Qaeda, but China. It is time to pick up that untended thread and reassess Washington’s China policies over the last decade to determine what changes need to be made over the next.
Joseph A. Bosco served in the office of the secretary of Defense as China country desk officer and previously taught graduate seminars on China-US relations at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is now a national security consultant.