The United States supports a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue and believes that it must be agreed upon by both sides of the Taiwan Strait under non-coercive conditions. U.S. interests in such a settlement are that it should contribute to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait region; allow continued good relationships between Washington, Beijing, Taipei, and other regional powers; and be of sufficient mutual benefit to Taiwan and the mainland so that the settlement is sustained over time without devolving into conflict or crisis.
These basic interests reflect considerations of important American security, diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural-ideological goals. For instance, by insisting that the Taiwan issue be settled peacefully, the United States is putting itself firmly behind Taiwan in its desire to maintain its way of life without excessive pressure from the PRC. Although the United States does not overtly or covertly support Taiwan's independence as a nation-state separate from China, Washington is supportive of Taiwan's developing democratic institutions and hopeful that Taiwan's experiment in "democracy with Chinese characteristics" can exert a moderating influence on political developments on the mainland. Recognizing that political evolution takes time, the United States is in no great hurry for a final political agreement between Taipei and Beijing -- although steps to reduce tensions are welcomed at any time.
The growing strength of the PRC is problematic for U.S. policy toward Taiwan. No superpower welcomes competition in a vital region of the world, such as in the Western Pacific. Also, the authoritarianism of China's current government grates on the conscience of many Americans, who see communism as anathema to American values. True, the United States and the PRC found many areas of overlapping security interests during the Cold War; but without a common threat to address, American and Chinese diplomats have to work hard to find areas of true collaboration and partnership. With the end of the Cold War and in view of China's global competition, the United States is less inclined than ever to help the PRC find an early resolution to the reunification issue biased in favor of Beijing. The issues on which Beijing and Washington can cooperate -- trade, intellectual property rights, counterterrorism, military transparency, maritime rules of the road, cultural exchanges -- do not bridge the fundamental strategic differences involving the future of Taiwan.
The key ingredient lacking in Sino-American relations is trust in each other's strategic intentions. While neither power seeks to dominate the other side or to prevent its exercise of "legitimate" regional influence, Washington cannot easily tolerate a rising new hegemon in East Asia; nor can Beijing easily live with a Western superpower constraining its influence in regions traditionally close to China politically, economically, and culturally. Unless the PRC becomes more democratic or the United States turns dramatically inward in its foreign policy, Taiwan likely will remain a flashpoint in Sino-American relations. Under these conditions, the initiative for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue rests firmly with Taipei and Beijing, not with Washington.
February 25, 2012