Coming Clash Over Taiwan

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A collision between the United States and China over Taiwan now seems certain. And Bill Clinton’s gratuitous assertion in China that the United States opposes Taiwan’s membership in any organization that requires nationhood as a condition makes it more certain.

Why did Clinton have to pander? Apparently, Taiwan had been given assurances he would do nothing to harm its interests while in China. Yet the president went out of his way to recite China’s “three noes”: no U.S. support for Taiwan independence, no U.S. recognition of a separate Taiwanese government, no backing of Taiwan’s entry into international organizations.

Unless communism is overthrown in China, and Taipei and Beijing freely agree to reunite, it would appear that unification, if it is to come, must come by force. And China has indicated it will go to war rather than see Taiwan go free.

With no allies willing to stand beside it in a confrontation with Beijing, except perhaps the United States, Taiwan is in the position of Czechoslovakia in 1938. And like the Czechs, the Taiwanese would be advised not to put all their eggs in one basket.

Looking back over the 50 years since Chiang Kai-shek and his army fled the mainland after their defeat in the civil war, two facts emerge crucial to Taiwan. One, Americans have been their only true friends in need; two, the U.S. commitment grows weaker each decade.

In the 1950s, Dwight D. Eisenhower provided the Nationalists with air-to-air missiles that enabled them to sweep Mao’s MIGs from the skies over the Taiwan Straits, and sent to Quemoy and Matsu 8-inch howitzers capable of firing nuclear shells. Mao’s army, which had been shelling the island, got the message. The crisis eased.

In the 1960s, Mao preached “people’s wars.” Third World revolutionaries were urged to take over their countries and expel Westerners, as Mao’s guerrillas had overrun rural China before they overran the cities.

By the end of the ’60s, however, Russia and China were close to war over border disputes and China’s nuclear weapons.

China turned to the United States, and America, withdrawing from Vietnam, played the China card against the Russians, who were on the move. In Richard Nixon’s Shanghai Communique, the United States conceded that the Chinese on both sides of the straits believed there was but one China, and Taiwan was a part of it. The worm in the apple? While there were 2 million Chinese on Taiwan, there were more Taiwanese there than Czechs in Czechoslovakia in 1938. And while these native people chaffed under Chiang’s rule, they wanted no part of Mao’s.

However, in 1979, Jimmy Carter abrogated the longtime U.S. security pact with Taiwan, and in 1982, Ronald Reagan told Beijing the United States would begin to restrict military sales to the island. To his credit, in 1992, George Bush broke the mold and sold jets to Taiwan, and Clinton in 1996 sent aircraft carriers into the nearby waters to signal Beijing that if its policy of intimidation went beyond bluster and bluff, Beijing might have to deal with the Seventh Fleet.

But that is yesterday. Today, U.S. power continues to contract as Reagan’s 600-ship navy heads for the mothball fleet, and China’s air and naval power is growing, subsidized by a U.S. trade deficit that now pumps $1 billion a week into the coffers of Beijing.

Query: If the native people of Formosa, ruled in the first half of this century from Tokyo and in the second half from Taipei, wished to declare independence, why do they not have the same right as Balts and Ukrainians to break free of Moscow, and Bosnians, Slovenians, Croatians, Kosovars and Macedonians to break free of Belgrade?

In population, wealth and military power, Taiwan is superior to 85 percent of the member-states of the United Nations. Why would the United States, the United Nations or any free nation refuse to recognize a free and independent Taiwan? Simple — abject fear of Beijing’s wrath.

Mao was right: Power comes out of the barrel of a gun.

In the recent crisis in the Taiwan Straits, free Asia stood aside and observed, as though it had no stake. Taiwan can expect no help from this quarter. America, Clinton has now warned, will not recognize an independent Taiwan, let alone fight for it. And now that Hong Kong is securely under Beijing’s control, it is Taiwan’s turn.

The United States had best think through what we do when Beijing issues the first of its non-negotiable demands. For they are coming, and Clinton’s formulaic recitation of the “three noes” has advanced the day.

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