U.S.-CHINA-TAIWAN POLICY contains a host of formulations, complications, and nuances, all of which (at least most of which!) we are happy to discuss. But let's not lose sight of the forest for the trees.
Here is what has happened over the last month: The government of Taiwan proceeded about its democratic business in a legal and appropriate manner that threatened no one. The government of China decided to throw a fit to see if it could take advantage of U.S. preoccupation with Iraq and North Korea to tilt U.S. policy against Taiwan. And the U.S. government decided to at least partly appease Beijing.
Today, President Bush chose to chastise Taiwan because, allegedly, "the comments and actions made by the leader of Taiwan indicate that he may be willing to make decisions unilaterally to change the status quo." In fact, the referendum that President Chen plans to hold does not represent any kind of "decision unilaterally to change the status quo." Indeed, President Chen has made clear he will not seek to hold a referendum on the subject of independence. Can it really be President Bush's position that Taiwan is not permitted to hold any democratic referenda on any subjects whatsoever?
Furthermore, one topic on which President Chen apparently is considering a referendum is Beijing's missile buildup vis-a-vis Taiwan. About this missile build-up, and about Beijing's threats of war against Taiwan, President Bush said not a word.
The president's statement today is a mistake. Appeasement of a dictatorship simply invites further attempts at intimidation. Standing with democratic Taiwan would secure stability in East Asia. Seeming to reward Beijing's bullying will not.
William Kristol, Robert Kagan, and Gary Schmitt are directors of the Project for the New American Century.