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Rethinking the Triangle: Washington-Beijing-Taipei

This week, the Miller Center will host an international workshop on "Rethinking the Triangle: Washington-Beijing-Taipei.” The workshop is an attempt to bring the three sides of the Washington-Beijing-Taipei triangle together to discuss the possibility of moving from the Cold War model of an exclusive security triangle to a more realistic inclusive, opportunity-driven triangle. Public sessions on Thursday, March 28 will feature three perspectives from experts from China, Taiwan, and the United States in an attempt to explore a new paradigm for these interrelationships based on inclusiveness and opportunity rather than each hedging against increasingly unlikely crises.

Brantly Womack, the Miller Center’s C. K. Yen Chair, Professor of Foreign Affairs at the University of Virginia and the workshop’s organizer, recently published an article in the Asia Times Online explaining the need to rethink the relationship between China, Taiwan and the United States. Although the Cold War defined the relationship between the three states for several decades, since 2008, the relationships have become fundamentally unstable and more complex. According to Womack:

The rivalry in the relationship between Washington and Beijing has become more global but also more cautious since each needs the other in many facets of global governance.

Meanwhile, the relationship across the Taiwan Strait has become a mainstay of Taiwan's economic prospects, and avoiding crisis is now vital to the careers of the leadership on both sides. The Washington-Taiwan relationship was strained by the brinksmanship of Chen Shui-bian, president of Taiwan from 2000 to 2008, and currently doubts are raised about continuing arms sales.

Meanwhile, China has developed the military capacity to render American military assistance to Taiwan either ineffective or too costly. Thus many American analysts consider "the Taiwan problem" the greatest strategic flashpoint in Asia.

Womack argues that the relationships between the states have been too focused on the security aspect and should instead shift to creating new opportunities. Womack asserts that the United States can take concrete steps to facility the transition from a security triangle to an opportunity triangle. He writes:

Delicate diplomacy is called for, since at present each side is suspicious of unilateral initiatives. The PRC watches for collusion between the US and Taiwan, while Taiwan is afraid that deals between the US and the PRC might sacrifice its status. Thus the first task is to have an awareness of the possibility of paradigm change and to be responsive to diplomatic opportunities as they emerge.

Second, the US should encourage track two and private initiatives that further inclusiveness. The specific challenge is to foster relationships with Taiwan that presume a peaceful cross-strait relationship and benefit all sides.

Third, the US should focus attention on the economic and societal aspects of its relationship with Taiwan. Presently Taiwan is most often discussed at "the Taiwan problem" or as a purchaser of American weapons. In fact, the US-Taiwan relationship has always been more multi-faceted than these security matters, but the American contribution to Taiwan's socio-economic development has been shadowed by the security triangle. The existing economic realities and future regionally-embedded opportunities should be highlighted.

Fourth, the US needs to show respect for Taiwan as an international voice. Taiwan should not be left out of American diplomatic activity regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands and the South China Sea. Taiwan is not a sovereign state, but it is a stakeholder in these disputes. Its continuous occupation since 1956 of Taiping Island in the Spratlys is one of the strongest legal grounds for the Chinese claim in the area, and Taiwan's commitment to a peaceful resolution cannot be doubted.

Similarly, the Chinese claim to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands rests on them being part of Taiwan. President Ma Ying-jeou's proposals for participating in a negotiated solution should be taken seriously.

Read the full article by Brantly Womack in the Asia Times Online here and join us on Thursday for the workshop featuring perspectives from experts from China, Taiwan, and the United States.

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