By Richard Bush, Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Reviewed by David T. Jones
Speaking at Brookings Institution where he is a Senior Fellow and Director of its Northeast Asia program, Richard Bush reviewed China-Taiwan circumstances (detailed in his recently released book Uncharted Strait: The Future of China Taiwan Relations). Bush is well qualified, having been Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan as well as working on the National Intelligence Council and House Foreign Relations Committee.
Bush’s essential point is that cross-strait bilateral relations, increasingly perilous in the decade before 2008, have improved. Such improvement benefited the United States, long at loggerheads with Beijing over its relations with Taipei. Bush credits the mutual relaxation to creative flexibility by both Beijing’s and Taipei’s leadership. They implicitly agreed to set aside ultimate nomenclature/political issues (“one China,” “one country, two systems,” “one China; one Taiwan”) and concentrate on profitable economic relationships.
Thus, Bush notes that the 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement has barely begun operation and leaves considerable leeway in cultural and educational areas that could expand, before one has to broach national security/political problems.
Nevertheless, Bush believes the intensity of expanding relations will slow for the next several years–partly to digest and embed what has been accomplished. He does not see Taiwan moving toward a closer political relationship with China; he projects Taiwan nurturing its U.S. bilateral relations to assure the rising power disparity between Taipei and Beijing does not implicitly push Taiwan into Chinese control.
In that regard, Washington must not abandon Taiwan–more for the lesson it would deliver to Tokyo and Seoul than for Taipei’s sake. Instead, the United States must engage/compete with China effectively on the great 21st century issues, from North Korean nukes to climate change. How we deal with Taiwan will be the “canary in the coal mine” informing both Beijing and other East Asians of U.S. attitudes for the region.