Nimble Touches and Loyalty to Taiwan

19 May

, but it’s still possible for Washington to do the right thing:

For the United States, which issued nuclear threats to defend Taiwan in the 1950s and moved forces closest to its shores as recently as the mid-1990s to counter Chinese missile launches, ensuring the survival of a young democracy is not only a matter of principle, but a necessary demonstration to the world that America does not abandon its friends and that its word and commitment need be taken seriously.

The chances of imminent war over Taiwan are not high. But after a calm couple of years, current events between China and Taiwan are developing in a way that makes us worry the potential for conflict remains.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian, in order to keep his party in power after the presidential election next March, is playing up sovereignty themes. China is getting pretty paranoid. It worries that when Mr. Chen says he wants to promote Taiwan’s "sovereignty" through a new constitution and greater stature in the world community, he really wants full independence. Although the objective odds of Mr. Chen actually changing Taiwan’s legal identity in a way that challenges China’s fundamental interests are pretty low, Beijing is imagining all the ways Mr. Chen can pull an independence rabbit out of his hat. China is trying to convince Washington of the danger, but the Bush administration has apparently not responded as robustly as Beijing would like it to restrain Mr. Chen. Ingredients for miscalculation exist.

Even if the odds are fairly low of miscalculation leading to war, and war then bringing in the United States, this scenario is scary. It could result in the first major war between nuclear weapons states in history, with no guarantee it would be successfully concluded prior to a major escalation.

While there may not be "fire in the Far East" or a looming conflict against China, there are ample grounds for American policymakers to grapple with the rise of China every bit as much as they focus on the long war. They can succeed, but avoiding conflict over Taiwan will be their most daunting challenge.

This is where I agree with Secretary of State Rice. Practically, there is no choice between realism and idealism, power and values.

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