The U.S.-China-Taiwan relationship remains one of the United States' most challenging foreign policy issues. The stakes are enormous; it isn't simply the real prospect of U.S. forces involved in a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait, but that such a conflict
would have a devastating effect on America's economy.
Although media coverage of the blazing Asian economic engine is extremely Sino-centric--something that isn't necessarily unwarranted--so much of that story is actually about Taiwan.
Taiwan is the lubricant in America's commercial relationship with China, because it is Taiwan companies in China that build our cellphones, laptops and iPods. If that supply chain is ever severed, as it would be in a war, the effects would ripple over our economy in a manner more remnant of the 1970s oil crisis than the present sub-prime mortgage situation.
China's political influence in the U.S. is growing as well. We see it on Capitol Hill, within the Executive Branch, and in the love-hate relationship many American companies maintain with China. As the PRC becomes increasingly able to press its interests within our political system, U.S. relations with Taiwan are left in an increasingly precarious position.
Taiwan policy issues are frequently subject to timing and atmospherics--of the next Chinese delegation visiting Washington or the next U.S. cabinet officer traveling to Beijing--and the timing rarely seems right for positive, long-term steps forward.
Taiwan finds itself in an unenviable political situation. In a recent interview with Hong Kong's Phoenix TV, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte made
some critical comments in response to an effort on the part of Taiwan's government to implement a referendum on membership in the United Nations under
the name Taiwan--as opposed to Taiwan's official name, the Republic of China.
The proposed referendum would take place on March 22, 2008 to coincide with the island's next presidential election. Commenting on the proposal in a speech at the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council's Defense Industry
Conference, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Tom Christensen stated, "We do not recognize Taiwan as an independent state and we do not accept the argument that provocative assertions of Taiwan independence are in any way conducive to maintenance of the status quo or peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait."
Communication--or the lack thereof--is very much at the heart of the inability of the U.S., Taiwan and China to deal with the recent changes in the Taiwan
Strait. There is currently excellent communications between the United States and China, partial communication between the U.S. and Taiwan and no
communication between China and Taiwan. It is very difficult to comprehend how the triangular relationship between the three will improve when the quality and
level of dialogue over shared concerns is so erratic and unbalanced?
As a practical matter, America is in an increasingly untenable position vis-'-vis maintenance of the status quo, particularly as the facts on the ground have changed so dramatically. China's emergence as a global
economic power and an emerging regional military power has placed an increasing U.S. emphasis on managing our myriad interests with China.