The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating conversation with U.S. Senator, Dianne Feinstein, who recently came back from a trip to China speaking with Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji. It reported, “A Conversation With Dianne Feinstein,” where the senator (who is also the chairwoman of the powerful Senate Intelligence Committee) admitting the February 2010 $6.4billion arms sales to Taiwan, “I believe that’s a mistake on our part.”
(Also read our featured post: “Open Letter to President Obama from Chinese netizen, LTML.”)
Here is a snippet of that WSJ conversation:
WSJ: What are the problems in the relationship?
DF: I think there’s a problem over the $6.4 billion arm’s sales to Taiwan. I believe that’s a mistake on our part. The relationship is now proceeding I think very well.
I have followed it closely.…I have followed it for 30 years.
I think right now the Chinese have extended the so-called ECFA, the [China-Taiwan] Economic Framework Agreement, which is in discussions. When it is signed by both then there will be negotiations on how to expand trade.
What’s been achieved recently are the “three links,” air, postal and sea traffic direct. Now there are 270 flights a week between Taiwan and China. Everyone is thrilled I’m told.
So I think the right things are happening in terms of a stable, status quo relationship.
WSJ: Did you discuss North Korea?
DF: We did discuss that. I chair the Intelligence Committee of the Senate. Before I left we had a full classified briefing. There is no question in my mind based on the forensic evidence, not the least of which is the torpedo itself, that the attack came from North Korea.
The question is why. And that answer is ephemeral. Nobody quite knows. There are a number of hypotheses. There are also questions, will it be followed by something else?
There is a distinct need for China to assert itself with North Korea. China has seemingly up to this point been reticent to do so. I think it’s very important that China step up. And we have said as much.
WSJ: What did you hear from Beijing on this issue? The officials you spent time with don’t sound like those making policy now?
DF: That’s probably true, with the exception of Wu Bangguo who certainly would. I didn’t meet with [President] Hu Jintao if that’s what you mean.
But I think one of the things about dialogue in China – what you say gets around. The United States would clearly be very appreciative of help with the situation. That message was transmitted very clearly.
What’s the significance of Feinstein’s comments?
This is the first time an U.S. official (the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, no less) publicly referring to the February 2010 $6.4billion arms sale to Taiwan as a “mistake.” It is signaling either that the Obama administration has “come around” on this issue or a faction of the U.S. leadership is beginning to see eye to eye with the Chinese.
On the Cheonan incident, it is clear that the U.S. is still publicly taking the position that North Korea was behind the attack per Feinstein comments.
Chen Hui says
Like the old Soviet, China cannot be bullied. Unlike Soviet, the chance for China to collapse is probably not very high. It is unrealistic to expect that China will follow Soviet’s path to democracy and modernization. China will follow its own; and in the end it will be an open and participatory society, albeit not going to be exactly the same as that of the U.S. This is a tough task for the U.S. One that you wish to build relationship, yet you are also dealing with the unknown of what the other party (China) will eventually turn into. As no country can forever dominate all others, China’s fall in history is a good example. How U.S. can preserve itself yet engage China the same time tests repeatedly the political wisdom of the U.S. Selling arms to Taiwan to “help the island to defend itself,” is not a wise choice. Even folks in Taiwan don’t necessarily agree. Personally I feel U.S. just needs to be more patient, this is the time for U.S. to pay more attention to domestic issues.
US’s policy on Taiwan, like many of its strategic policies, is one of “ambiguity”. But China’s policy can also be called “ambiguity”. But there is a huge difference.
US’s ambiguity is more a paradox. It recognizes China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, and yet its military aid to Taiwan clearly violate that sovereignty.
China’s ambiguity toward Taiwan is one of secrecy and unclarity. China openly uses a very consistent “carrot and stick” approach to Taiwan, but does not publicly acknowledge whether it will or will not commit to any specific policy.
Like most Chinese policies, China’s policy on Taiwan is fluid and evolving, like testing the water over time.
US’s policy is one of self-polarization, like most US policies, or have one’s cake and eat it too.
China’s policy is designed to stabilize the “status quo”, and influence it over time. As such, China will not push Taiwan too hard to risk a war, but just hard enough to make slow progress.
US’s policy, on the other hand, simply cannot make up its mind as which side it wants to side with, nor take an stands of neutrality. That is because some in US sees the inevitability of China’s rise, and pragmatically acknowledge “accommodation and influence”, but others sees China’s rise, and want nothing less than open “confrontation,” ie. the “line in the sand” policy.
US’s aid to Taiwan is nothing more or less than a counter to growing Chinese influence in Taiwan. Afterall, it’s not the weapons that they sell, but a symbolic hand of alliance in defense. (The weapons, frankly, would not add much to Taiwan’s strategic capabilities.)
But Feinstein is correct, this is a foolish mistake. US is building up expectation of its continual defense of Taiwan, and that only causes further divide in Taiwan itself. It will not deter China by any means.
@Chen Hui, RV,
I generally agree with you.
Some might say this is the playing out of how politics works in the U.S.. Opposing factions within the country vie for directions in foreign affairs. It’s like Congress trying to pass law relating to U.S. foreign policies and duking things out with the Executive branch of the government.