When NATO ended its war against Yugoslavia, Bill Clinton said that
NATO reserved the right to go anywhere in Europe or Africa to defend
democratic or humanitarian interests. Well, Bill might get his wish much
sooner than he thought. Because of comments that Taiwan’s President made
last weekend, America’s military might have to go toe-to-toe with the
People’s Liberation Army of Communist China.
It is election time in Taiwan. During an interview with a German
radio station, President Lee Teng-hui said that “We have redefined
cross-strait ties as nation to nation, or at least as special nation to
nation.” This is not the first time that Lee has pushed the envelope.
During the 1996 elections, the Communists threatened to nuke Los
Angeles if the U.S. intervened in Taiwan. In fact, China mobilized
troops and fired nuclear capable missiles across Taiwan in an attempt to
influence democratic elections for president in Taiwan. The United
States, in response, sent two aircraft carrier battle groups to the
Straits of Taiwan in the strongest show of American naval power in that
region since the Vietnam War. Now, four years later, after China has
shown its disregard for human rights, religious freedom in Mainland
China and democracy in Hong Kong, the Taiwanese threat is much more
President Lee’s comments could not have come at a worst time for the
Clinton administration. The Chinese Communists likely see President
Lee’s act as another example of America’s expanding political and
military power. Administration representatives are scheduled to meet
with the Communists to talk about reparations for NATO’s “mistaken”
bombing of their Belgrade embassy. They also have to get the Communists
to agree to compensate us for damage that Chinese citizens did to
America’s Beijing embassy.
Beijing’s official position has been that they cannot allow Taiwan to
achieve full independence. The Communists have repeatedly said that they
would use force, if necessary, to prevent Taiwan from becoming fully
independent. That is where it gets interesting for Clinton and America.
Because according to the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States is, by
law, committed to defend the island against attack by China or any other
The Clinton Administration is trying to downplay the seriousness of
this issue. However, ever since NATO attacked Yugoslavia over Kosovo,
expectations have risen about America’s willingness to use its military
might to enforce a new “Manifest Destiny” around the world.
Clinton’s words about the long reach of NATO’s power may have been
bravado, but they are already coming back to haunt the rest of America.
China is on a decade long march to turn its military into a high-tech
first world power. They have invested billions in new technology –
legally and illegally obtained — and have set the end of the next
decade for full military parity with the United States. The People’s
Liberation Army will lose much of its clout and political muscle if it
is unable to prevent Taiwan from pulling away due to America’s military
As you read this column, the BBC reports that “Taiwanese defense
forces have heightened combat alertness on the frontline Kinmen island
in case of possible invasion by China.” NATO’s decision to attack
Yugoslavia over Kosovo has opened up a Pandora’s box that we will ask
our military people to close. In Yugoslavia, NATO’s attacks represented
a broad stretch of its treaty to protect Western European democracies.
In Taiwan, no stretch is necessary. We are bound, by treaty, to protect
Taiwan. Full stop.
Given the Clinton administration’s close ties to the Communist
Chinese, will they be as willing to defend Taiwan as they were willing
to attack Serbia? Once again, America’s credibility depends upon whether
we can trust Bill Clinton to say what he means and mean what he says.
What Clinton does about Taiwan will determine the future value of all of