TAIPEI IS NOT HELSINKI
In "Not So Dire Straits" (January/February 2010), Bruce Gilley seeks to explain the dynamics underlying current relations among the Republic of China (Taiwan), the People's Republic of China (PRC), and the United States. Yet his use of post-World War II Finland as a model for understanding recent developments in cross-strait relations, although superficially intriguing, does not hold up under detailed examination. And his attempt to portray the diplomatic strategy of Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan's president, as an effort to advance the "Finlandization" of Taiwan is both inaccurate and unjustified.
Gilley acknowledges some of the key building blocks that have helped the American people and the people of Taiwan forge a common set of values and interests: shared objectives during World War II, enduring strategic interests embodied in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, and a mutual commitment to democratic and economic freedom, to name a few. But by using the model of Finlandization to describe Taiwan's present course and by pairing this with an unsubstantiated claim of a "stark choice" facing U.S. policymakers, Gilley fails to grasp current political realities.
Consider, for example, the key elements of the theory of Finlandization. Gilley notes that in its 1948 agreement with the Soviet Union, Finland agreed not to join any alliances challenging Moscow and subsequently pursued a policy of appeasement and neutrality on U.S.-Soviet issues. Moscow, in turn, upheld Finland's autonomy and respected its democratic system. According to this theory, the "Finlandized state" sustains a peaceful relationship with the neighboring superpower by making strategic concessions to it, while the superpower need only make vague threats -- rather than pursue military coercion -- to influence the smaller neighbor's policies.
In many ways, relations between Taiwan and mainland China over the past half century have represented the exact opposite of the Finlandization model. Taipei has maintained an alliance with the United States over six decades, has frequently been at odds with Beijing, has rejected concessions and appeasement when its core