Peter Rodman's Aug. 23 op-ed column, "Too Little Talk on Taiwan," calls for radical changes in U.S. policy toward the security of Taiwan.
Mr. Rodman suggests that the United States should increase military-to-military contacts with Taiwan. But U.S.-Taiwan military ties already have expanded significantly and are continuing to expand. For example, the two sides now share intelligence regularly, and the United States has advised Taiwan as to how it might best improve its defensive capabilities. (Washington has been particularly active helping Taiwan enhance its anti-submarine warfare capabilities.)
Moreover, Taiwan's F-16 pilots receive training in Arizona, and U.S. military personnel have traveled to Taiwan to inspect military installations and exchange views with their counterparts on the island's defense needs. Several months ago, Defense Secretary William Cohen met with Gen. Tang Fei, Taiwan's chief of general staff, in Washington to discuss the prospective Theater Missile Defense System for East Asia.
Finally, the Clinton administration has approved the transfer of military equipment to Taiwan. Recent arms sales have included Stinger missile launchers, missile rounds, MK-46 torpedoes, Chinook CH-475 military transport helicopters, Knox-class frigates and flight guidance equipment for Taiwan's warplanes. Nevertheless, a strong case may be made that U.S.-Taiwan military links should continue to grow.
But the United States should not, as Mr. Rodman suggests, commit itself to an "unambiguous and unconditional" defense of Taiwan. The ambiguity associated with the U.S. position provides American decision-makers with many options -- a fact that one hopes would lead those on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to act with restraint. Even high-ranking Taiwanese officials have acknowledged that it makes sense for the United States to retain a vague position toward the island's security.
Mr. Rodman's proposed alternative represents a radical change in long-standing U.S. policy. It would succeed only in enraging mainland China while emboldening Taiwan's independence activists. The likely consequence would be turmoil and conflict.
Of course, the United States should continue to maintain a close relationship with Taiwan. But it is in Washington's best interest to maintain a stable, constructive relationship with both Taipei and Beijing. China's cooperation is essential if the United States ever hopes to address a range of global problems, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, environmental degradation, health issues, the standoff on the Korean Peninsula and the world's dwindling energy supplies to name just a few.
DENNIS V. HICKEY
The writer is a political science professor at Southwest Missouri State University.