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What to do About Taiwan

11:01 AM, Jun 25, 2011 • By JOSEPH A. BOSCO
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A senior U.S. official later said “it was our own Cuban missile crisis . . . we had stared into the abyss.”

We don't know whether we deterred more serious Chinese aggression against Taiwan on that occasion. But China now knew what it had to do to succeed in such an attack: create “circumstances” to deter or delay U.S. intervention. It has since built a formidable arsenal of “anti-access” weapons, including advanced submarines and the world’s first ship-killing ballistic missiles.

In 2001, President George W. Bush seemed to restore the clear U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s security that prevailed from 1950 to 1979 when he said he would do “whatever it took” to defend now-democratic Taiwan. But shocked China experts within and outside the administration soon walked that back and restored the venerable ambiguity policy.

After September 11, the Bush and Obama administrations convinced themselves that China is a reliable partner on anti-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and North Korea. Taiwan is seen increasingly as an irritant to good Sino-U.S. relations.

Mao’s successors have significantly shortened the fuse on Taiwan’s unification deadline. The 2006 Anti-Secession Law said China could attack if Taipei simply took too long to surrender, and in a 2007 Asia Society interview, Kissinger warned that China “would not wait forever.”

To prevent another Asian war by miscalculation, Washington must state clearly, decisively, and publicly that it will defend Taiwan against Chinese aggression or coercion.

Joseph A. Bosco served in the office of the secretary of defense as China country desk officer from 2005 to 2006 and previously taught graduate seminars on China-U.S. relations at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is now a national security consultant.

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