The authors of CA (correction: two of them), as you might know, are fans of Barnett, but bigger fans of Robert Kaplan (hence the title). Barnett and Kaplan are divided on how the U.S. should deal with China, and their divide really represents two views that are fighting for prevalence in Washington.
Kaplan’s view, which is more in line with official Defense Department policy since the Cold War (and also gets lots of nods on the Japanese right), is that China is an emerging military threat that the U.S. has to contain with ships, airplanes, and missiles. Barnett’s view is that the U.S. has to become partners with China, as the economies of the two countries dictate, rather than let political concerns screw up the countries’ mostly-beneficial symbiosis.
Which view prevails will necessarily determine the future of U.S. policy toward Taiwan. A Kaplan view means that the U.S. has to defend Taiwanese sovereignty at all costs, as a roadblock to Chinese ambition in the Pacific. A Barnett view leads to the U.S. maintaining the status quo in Taiwan until the two countries can be united without force, either through incorporation in a democratic China or as part of a larger EU-style Asian community.
It hurts to admit this, because I’ve been a Taiwan supporter for some time now, but Barnett has a good point. Is it worth it to antagonize China when the U.S. is dependent on China and China is dependent on the U.S.? Wouldn’t it be easier if both countries could focus resources on their own problems, rather than needlessly breathe down each other’s throats? Do we really need to be bracing for World War III right now?
These are all tough questions that Bush and Rumsfeld should be asking themselves. Perhaps the best answer is to do as Barnett advises: maintain the status quo until China and Taiwan have evolved to the point where they can discuss their differences without threatening to lob bombs at each other. I think this is more likely to happen if and when we see closer business ties and more transparent democracy on both sides.