Mad Minerva notes that America's policy toward China and Taiwan does not reflect our ideals of promoting democracy. That is, we persist in stating our policy is that there is but one China even as Taiwan's development of democracy on its side of the strait makes a one-China policy that risks Peking controlling both China and Taiwan rather at odds with democracy.
This is true. Yet pursuit of democracy cannot be done without heed to circumstances. In the Cold War, with a powerful Soviet Union to face, democracy could only be pursued in safer areas or gingerly.
Since 9-11, we have pursued democracy more forcefully but still circumstances compel us to bypass hard targets such as Saudi Arabia whose oil exports cannot be replaced if the Saudis collapse under too much pressure. Likewise, Taiwan can be bolstered as long as we don't rub China's nose in the fact that in practice we support Taiwanese self determination.
In both cases, very bad things could happen if we openly and directly supported democracy and freedom as the most important goal for Taiwan and Saudi Arabia. And if those bad things happen, pursuing democracy anywhere will be impossible as economic dislocation followed major war or the loss of Saudi Arabia's oil.
As long as our goal remains democracy and freedom, we can look for opportunities to expand freedom and democracy. In 1988, had we insisted on a unified Germany under West German control and the extension of NATO to the Baltic States of the USSR, we would have had a nuclear war on our hands with Moscow. But wait a few years and the way east was opened at no cost.
So we must wait for an opportunity to reconcile our goal of freedom and support of democracy with the reality that China is unlikely to just go along with formal Taiwanese independence and recognition. In retrospect, we probably should have recognized Taiwan in 1992 after the Soviet Union collapsed and before China could attempt to make good on its threat to invade Taiwan.
But right now, if we recognize Taiwan, China could scrape up an invasion force and make Taiwan pay a price for their declaration. At worst, China might win.
In the future, we may have an opportunity to exploit Chinese difficulties to expand freedom just as we exploited the collapse of the Soviet Union. If China faces inward and loses temporarilyt the will to control or the means to fight, we should take that chance to settle the Taiwan question by formally recognizing the island as a nation.
Certainly, if China attacks Taiwan, we should recognize Taiwan as part of the price China will have to pay for upsetting the delicate balance.
But above all I try to remember that our national interest is paramount when deciding what we must do. Not to put too much on our future, but if America goes down, there will be little democracy spreading. Our national interest requires more democracies--but not at all costs and not always right now. And I don't feel guilty about this concession to reality one bit.