DOD rebukes private Chas Freeman

In its September / October 1998 issue, Foreign Affairs Magazine published a strong rebuttal by the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense to an earlier article by former Clinton Administration official Chas Freeman, now a private citizen, who had written that the U.S. should reduce weapon sales to Taiwan in order to pressure Taiwan into negotiations with Beijing.

To the Editor:

Chas W. Freeman, jr. draws the wrong conclusions ("Preventing War in the Taiwan Strait", July/August 1998). If the United States followed his recommendations, conflict would be more likely.

Freeman fails to distinguish between peaceful and non-peaceful approaches to changing Taiwan's status unilaterally, either by Beijing or Taipei, and prefers a status quo maintained through military intimidation to promoting democracy in the region.

He fundamentally misreads Taiwan's domestic policies by stating that Taiwanese politicians think they have "wide latitude to ... maneuver the island towards independence" and mischaracterizes the results of U.S. arms sales to Taiwan by saying that they no longer "boost Taipei's confidence that it can work out its differences with Beijing."

And he strongly implies that independence sentiments in Taiwan -- not Beijing's inability to offer Taiwan an attractive alternative -- are the greatest impediments to resolution of the cross-Strait dispute.

Freeman's policy recommendations endorse a zero-sum notion of the U.S. - China - Taiwan relationship: that improvements in either the Washington-Beijing relationship or the Washington-Taipei relationship must come at the expense of the other.

This approach would create insecurity in Taipei, reward Beijing's military intimidation, and undermine Washington's regional strategy for promoting democracy, peace, and stability.

Reducing security assistance to Taiwan, particularly in the light of China's military modernization, is most worrisome. It would be misread in every capital in the region, making a Chinese attack more likely.

The United States should not inject itself directly into the dispute. Rather, it should focus exclusively on process and not pressure either side towards any one outcome, including the unlikely option of Taiwan independence.

The administration may not actively support independence, but neither should it reject or oppose it. The United States should limit itself to creating an atmosphere conducive to peaceful resolution.

The administration is right to engage China. It should now build on the Clinton-Jiang summit and improve relations with Taiwan as well. Not to do so, whether by calculation (Freeman's approach) or neglect, will dangerously destabilize this unique triangular relationship.

Parallel engagement of Taiwan should involve the Clinton Administration's offering Taiwan security assurances not only through continued arms sales but through high-level dialogue to encourage Taiwan to proceed with a cross-strait dialogue.

Washington should support greater international participation for Taiwan, help integrate it into the international economic system, and support its bid for membership in the World Trade Organization.

Taiwan's democracy should be allowed to mature. America needs to engage both countries because the prosperity and security of all three are closely linked. One insecure participant can disrupt progress, and today Taipei is not feeling very secure.

Randall G. Schriver

Senior Country Director for China, including Taiwan

Office of the Secretary of Defense

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