Despite numerous economic benefits to both countries, current relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China are fundamentally strategic in nature. Concern over the expansionist policies of the Soviet Union first drew Washington to Peking, and it is the continued Soviet threat which motivates US policymakers to compromise with the PRC on the Taiwan issue.
What is troubling about Washington's strategic alliance with the PRC is that it may be based on faulty assumptions. Because of the possible tragic consequences of a continuation of the present policy, these assumptions should be reexamined.
* Friendly US-PRC relations will result in a continuation of the Sino-Soviet split.
The weakness here can be seen when one recalls that the Sino-Soviet split occurred at a time of great antagonism between Peking and Washington. Relations between the PRC and USSR are determined by a host of historical, ideological, political, economic, racial, territorial, strategic, and other factors far removed from US considerations. In other words, whether the Sino-Soviet split continues or is healed is largely independent of Sino-American relations.
The US can and should take advantage of the Sino-Soviet split, but it would not be wise for Washington to depend upon those differences for its own security. If the split continues, the PRC, regardless of the state of Sino-American relations, will continue to tie down vast numbers of Soviet troops. If rapprochement between the two communist governments occurs, US attempts to mold a strategic alliance with the PRC become meaningless.
* Friendly US-PRC relations will result if the US gradually withdraws its support from Taiwan.
The problem with this view is its shortsightedness. Without question, Peking would be grateful if the US cooperated with the PRC objective of establishing control over Taiwan. But other, more long-term objectives are clearly againt American interests and portend troubled relations in the future.
For example, Peking's current leaders - pragmatic labels aside - remain dedicated communists. Their goal in modernizing China is not to move it closer to the Western world but rather to strengthen the country so they may more effectively work to socialize the remainder of Asia. Our friends in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) understand this. Unfortunately, their warnings have been largely ignored in Washington's rush to play its China card.
At the risk of cliche, haste makes waste in dealing with the Chinese. We should not permit our relations with Peking to become dependent upon a withdrawal of our commitments to Taiwan. Unless a more substantive basis for friendship can be found, we should question Peking's sincerity in wanting to improve relations.
* The strategic value of Taiwan being considerably less than that of the PRC, the loss of Taiwan will not damage free world security.
This perspective might be true, in a Machiavellian sense, were it not for the uncertainty of the Sino-Soviet split. Morally, one would have difficulty accepting the assumption because, if the Sino-Soviet split continues, the US will reap the benefits of a diversion of Soviet forces regardless of relations between Washington and Taipei.
But there are other factors which also weigh against the validity of the above argument. Geopolitically, Taiwan sits astride two of the most important sea lines of communication in Asia. Roughly 80 percent of Japan's exports and 60 percent of its imports pass within a short distance of Taiwan's shores.
In friendly hands the island could serve as the backbone of the US forward line of defense and as a vital support base for logistical lifelines extending into the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. Conversely, a hostile power could use Taiwan to split the free world's defense in East Asia and mount crippling strikes against forward deployed units and critical bases in Japan, Okinawa, and the Philippines.
Additional assumptions could be examined, but the main point, I believe, has been established. Until differences between Peking and Taipei can be worked out peacefully, we need a balanced policy toward the two Chinese governments. It is in our interests to assist the PRC to modernize economically and to cooperate where possible to counter the common Soviet threat. But it is also in our interest to continue to support Taiwan's political and economic development along Western lines.
Washington should exercise greater caution in its pursuit of a strategic alliance with the PRC. We cannot afford to gamble with our China policy.