The ingredients for a confrontation between China and Taiwan are growing and the United States' mediation is a precarious lid on the pressure pot of rising East Asian tensions.
With Beijing's growing belligerence towards an uncooperative separatist entity, we may be heading for a violent collision within a decade, warned Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, at a Capitol Hill briefing, Friday.
Carpenter summed up the current policy of the People's Republic of China towards Taiwan, which it regards as nothing more than a renegade province.
Carrots held out to the Taiwanese if they accept the one-China principle without reservation but also a warning that there would be dire consequences to Taiwan if that entity continued its separatism phase.
It is not just scare mongering rhetoric that is a cause for concern amongst American policy makers. The PRC is taking actions that point towards Taiwanese-targeted aggression.
Carpenter drew on the mainland's continuing deployment of missiles that now number over 500 as a disconcerting threat on Taiwan's security and expressed anxiety over the PRC's exercise to take place later this month, which will simulate an amphibious invasion.
This is something that the PRC would not be likely to do unless it was at least considering the action of employing force against Taiwan at some point, said Carpenter.
The defense and foreign policy expert criticized the U.S government for failing to take due recognition of the situation.
American officials do not seem to appreciate the shift in attitudes in the PRC, he said.
Two decades ago the Taiwan issue was not seen as a matter of urgency for the PRC, he explained.
However, the troubling signals currently coming out of Beijing show that this attitude is now obsolete. Given recent developments in Taipei, such as the reelection of President Chen Shui-bian and the growing strength of the Democratic Progressive Party General, it seems that the rift in China-Taiwan relations is only going to widen further.
Chen's government is girding the Taiwanese people with an increasingly isolationist agenda, much to the chagrin of PRC diplomats who view the island as part of mainland territory and are pushing for reunification with communist China.
The issue follows many decades of struggle, dating as far back as 1693 when Taiwan first became Chinese territory under the Qing dynasty. The island remained a domestic colony for 212 years, after which it was stolen by Japan in 1895. The desire then was for independence from Japan and restoration to the Qing dynasty.
The Chinese Communist Party offered to assist the Taiwanese as well as the Koreans in their anti-Japanese struggle for independence. This struggle against Japanese imperialist control continued for almost half a decade, culminating in Japan's surrender in 1945.
However, reinstated under Chinese control, Governor Chen Yi's oppression and exploitation of the Taiwanese people exceeded that of the Japanese, spurring resentment amongst the Taiwanese population and sewing the seeds of separatist sentiments which have continued until today.
This came to the fore in a referendum held in Taiwan, March 20, regarding the issue of missile purchase by Taiwan and the question of cross-strait negotiation.
This enraged Chinese leaders who saw this as just the thin edge of the wedge, suspecting that it presages a referendum on a Taiwanese declaration of independence. According to Carpenter's analysis, these fears are substantiated.
Cultural, political and social differences are augmenting the Taiwanese desire to break away, especially among the young.
For young people living in Taiwan, the mainland is an alien place, he said and they will not accept reunification with the mainland under any conceivable circumstances.
The United States once again finds itself implicated in a hot button issue, trying to restrain two overseas parties battling increasingly sour relations in a conflict that cannot be ignored.
Washington's arms sales to Taiwan and its growing reluctance to put pressure on Taiwan to concede to Chinese reunification demands are incensing the PRC government.
President Bush sent out a strong message primarily directed at Taiwan last December, opposing any unilateral changes by either side, yet is continuing its sales of arms to the island. In 2002, Taiwan's defense minister informally met with deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz during a security conference sponsored by a think tank in Florida. During the Clinton years the U.S. government was so resolute on a one-China policy that meetings with Taiwanese officials was hardly tolerated.
The Bush administration's policy attempts to cross a diplomatic tightrope in adhering officially to a one-China policy while continuing its arms sales and maintaining the implicit obligation to come to Taiwan's aid, a commitment under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
China, in a strongly worded statement Monday called this Congressional act an infringement on its sovereignty.
However, it seems that the U.S. is failing to achieve the balancing act that it is desperately groping for.
The United States is following a dangerous policy of strategic ambiguity. This means that Taiwan is left in a state of uncertainty over whether the U.S. will run to its aid in the event of Chinese invasion, while China simultaneously fears that American arms sales to Taiwan means an unequivocal assurance of friendship. This, it is hoped, will act as sufficient deterrence on both sides from taking the first decisive military step.
Carpenter, the Cato Institute expert, stated that the United States is content with the current situation and would like to see it continue indefinitely.
The problem is that although we may be satisfied with the status quo there are growing indications that the other two parties are not.
Taiwan is tired of being in this political and diplomatic twilight zone and wants clarity and clarity on its terms, Carpenter said.
Beijing is becoming increasingly impatient with the status quo and wants the issue resolved within years, not decades.
Carpenter advocated a decisive turn a round of the U.S government's current mediatory role.
Washington had better change its policy, he said.
Trying to protect Taiwan is going to become increasingly dangerous as the economic and military power of the PRC continues to grow.
He stated that the U.S.'s highest priority must be to get America out of the line of fire.
U.S relations with China have always been very good, said a Chinese reporter who wished to remain unnamed.
However, this could soon change if Carpenter's grave predictions were realized.
If the U.S does not change its policy, he suspects it takes a risk which will very likely mean war with China.
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