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Less to Worry About?

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Drezner is a touch concerned about a potential EFCA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) between Taiwan and China:

While China’s economic leverage over the United States is limited, this kind of agreement would ratchet up the asymmetric dependence of Taiwan on the Chinese economy. Maybe Taiwan has already crossed the point of no return with regard to interdependence with the mainland — but this agreement would surely guarantee crossing that threshhold.

What would China do with this leverage? I don’t know, I really don’t. If Beijing plays the long game, they would allow for the build-up of political interest groups in Taiwan with a powerful incentive to appease the People’s Republic in order to keep the economic relationship unruffled. The thing is, China has often been clumsy in its initial attempts to translate economic power into political influence, and I could easily see such a misstep occurring a few years from now.

Perhaps I’m being paranoid about this. The one thing I’m certain about, however, is that the most likely flashpoint for a great power confrontation between the United States and China is anything involving Taiwan. So I get veeeeeeerrrrrrry nervous about anything that upsets that particular apple cart.

Concern about the US getting dragged into a militarized dispute between China and Taiwan is well taken; I share Drezner’s belief that this is the most plausible flashpoint for great power conflict between the US and the PRC. Key to this concern is democratic solidarity. I’m queasy about the idea of simply allowing an authoritarian country to devour and digest a democratic state*. Defending Taiwan from Chinese attack would be considerably different than invading Iraq in order to create a democracy; Taiwan is already democratic, the PRC most certainly isn’t, and militarized re-unification would be really, really bad for the political freedom (not to mention the physical well being) of the Taiwanese people. I’m not, however, interested in any kind of strategic rationale for the defense of Taiwan, such as the idea that the acquisition of Taiwan would mean a loss of US power relative to Beijing, or a loss of leverage over China, or that Taiwan represents China’s gateway to the Pacific, or similar arguments.

Thus, any obligation to defend Taiwan is based strictly on Taiwan’s commitment to de facto independence. If the Taiwanese people and government determine that they can reach some sort of accommodation with Beijing that results in formal reintegration without military conquest, the US has no business standing in the way. An EFCA may shift the Taiwanese calculus regarding whether or not its sensible to reach an accommodation with the PRC, but is unlikely to undermine the ability or interest of the US to respond to a Taiwanese request for assistance against China. As such, I think it works in favor of stability, rather than instability, by helping to remove the key point of contention between the US and the PRC. In short, if Taiwan wants to pave the way to peaceful reintegration with an EFCA, they’re more than welcome. “Saving” Taiwan isn’t worth a war with China if the Taiwanese don’t want to be saved.

*But then why didn’t I support military intervention in favor of Georgia in 2008? This commitment to democratic solidarity is only operative under conditions including a) the democratic state not actually having started the war, and b) a reasonable chance of success. The Georgian situation was further complicated by the facts that the population of South Ossetia favored Russia, and that Russia sought neither long term occupation of Georgia proper nor regime change in Tblisi. In the Taiwan case, I wouldn’t favor wasting a single cruise missile in defense of Quemoy, and would be reluctant to support Taiwan in the wake of obvious Taiwanese provocation, such as a declaration of independence.

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