U.S. must push for a democratic Taiwan

The U.S. pro-democratic stance must hold, even if it compromises relations with China.

Upon his narrow re-election last month, Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian promised a renewed, aggressive campaign for independence from China. The United States publicly supports the “one China” policy but is also bound by the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which promises defensive support for Taiwan in the event of an attack.

The Bush administration clearly cannot become entangled in the aggressive rhetoric now spewed on both sides of the Taiwanese strait. But if the United States continues to send mixed signals, it will contribute to unstable relations and bring into question the administration’s commitment to global democracy.

The Pentagon announced last week that the United States will sell Taiwan two long-range radars designed to detect cruise and ballistic missiles, which U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said is in keeping with the United States’ established framework for relations with the country. The action was not accompanied by any political warnings or a statement from the U.S. administration. Just months ago, George W. Bush publicly reprimanded Chen when he attempted to hold a referendum to reaffirm Taiwan’s independence.

Now it is not clear whose side the administration will take if Chen’s actions force the United States’ hand. Recent history, particularly in Iraq, seems to suggest that the United States favors independent democratic states over dictatorships. But to maintain any credibility, the United States’ pro-democratic stance must hold – even when the country in question is not oil-rich and the ramifications for our position mean compromised economic relations with China.

As the Chinese economy improves, the United States must navigate an increasingly complicated web of international relations. It is in all the parties’ interests to open a constructive dialogue. So far the United States has not taken any steps to encourage China to meet with Chen. The administration must take constructive action now if they want to prove American democracy is not a Trojan horse for the U.S. consumer agenda.