Washington, June 10, 2013
IN LAST week's U.S.-Chinese war over Taiwan, the president was propelled towards conflict by strategic miscalculation, rather than a bold defense of a popular but geopolitically dispensable ally, according to a senior administration official. The president had hoped to repel China's rising bellicosity with a show of force, rather than the actual use of force. After Beijing responded by ratcheting up tensions in the Taiwan Strait, both sides feared that a subsequent climb-down would damage their global credibility and leadership, the official said.
In addition, Washington misread Taiwan's own perceptions of its national interests, according to a Western diplomat stationed in Asia. Taiwan's ruling party saw its opportunity to assert itself vis-à -vis Beijing rapidly waning, and believed it had to be claimed. Washington's intelligence deficit regarding Taipei's leadership further undermined its ability to anticipate and therefore control events, and contributed to the spiraling of tensions.
"The national security advisor from the start recommended military force, arguing that China had dangerous expansionist ambitions. He argued that China's rapacious consumption of the world's raw materials was a liability. He said China had become a strategic, economic and cultural rival", said the senior administration official, who declined to be identified. "The secretary of state argued against that. He pointed to the technical advantages Beijing had gained since the European Union relaxed its moratorium on arms sales. The president opted for a third-way approach between a military response and diplomatic maneuvering, hoping to intimidate Beijing by flexing some military muscle in the Taiwan Strait. It ended up being a third way to war."