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US ambassador says “US will fight” if China invades Taiwan

Posted by theonlinecitizen on August 30, 2007

By Gerald Giam

If the People’s Republic of China decides to take Taiwan by force, the US will fight on behalf of Taiwan against the Mainland, said a former US ambassador.

Chase Untermeyer, who just completed his tour as ambassador to Qatar and is on his way back to the US, made these personal comments on Tuesday at a public lecture on “US policy in the Middle East” at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, which was attended by about 80 government officials, foreign diplomats, academics and students.

The ambassador used the Cross Strait example to illustrate the importance the US government — in his opinion — places on the principles of democracy and freedom in making its foreign policy decisions. He pointed out that successive US administrations had made decisions to enter military conflicts not simply out of national interests or detailed calculations of the costs and benefits of entering the wars, but based on deep seated principles that are “as old as the US itself”.

Untermeyer cautioned that many countries would be mistaken if they think the US conducted its foreign affairs solely on hard-nosed pragmatism, like securing oil supplies.

Defending democratic principles

In the case of an invasion of Taiwan by China, Untermeyer believes that the US will fight China not because of treaty obligations or even out of national interest, but based on its principles to defend its democratic allies against aggression. (The US‘ Taiwan Relations Act obliges the US to supply Taiwan with the military capability to defend itself.)

Untermeyer assessed that even if a war with China is detrimental to US economic interests, the US will still aid Taiwan if the Chinese invasion goes against the will of the Taiwanese people.

Attempting to debunk the common perception that the US is interested in the Middle East only for its oil and enriching its own oil companies, Untermeyer argued that if that were so, the US would have never created the State of Israel, knowing the unpopularity of that move in a region dominated by Arab countries. The US depends on the Middle East for a quarter of its oil supplies. He said that the European Union is much more dependent on Arab oil and therefore sees the Middle East through the prism of energy security much more than the US does.

Middle East

On the powerful Jewish lobby in the US influencing foreign policy in the Middle East, Untermeyer explained that Jews made up only five per cent of the US population, and that Jews alone would not be able to influence US policy that much.

In fact, he said, the pro-Israel lobby in the US is powerful not just because of Jewish support, but because it fights for a “broadly popular cause” subscribed to by a wide spectrum of American citizens, including conservative Christians.


On Iraq, Untermeyer predicted a gradual reduction in troop numbers over the next year following a much anticipated report to Congress next month by the US ambassador to Iraq, but that it would not go “down to zero”.


Touching on Iran, he was convinced that Islamic republic is in the process of developing a nuclear bomb and the capability to deliver it on missiles. By removing Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, the US had unfortunately removed the a heavy counterweight to Iran, which is a far more threatening member of the “Axis of Evil” than Iraq was.


Untermeyer was sceptical that a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will resolve all the problems the US is having in the region, although he emphasised that the US should help “solve it for its own sake”.

Cautioning that since any final settlement will involve large compromises by both sides (the Israelis and the Palestinians), he expected that right wing and jihadist groups would still seize upon any compromises that did not favour the Palestinian side to whip up sentiment against the US.


Voicing his personal disagreement with the policies of the current US administration, Untermeyer said that he did not “see anything wrong with dealing with Syria” rather than isolating them, which is the current Administration’s policy. He pointed out that isolation and sanctions have never been effective ways to change undemocratic regimes — Cuba being the most prominent example.

China and Pakistan

During the question and answer session, a student from China, referring to Untermeyer’s statement about defending Taiwan, pointed out that the island has been an integral part of China for far longer than the US has been nation. He asked Untermeyer what the US would do if one of its own states broke away.

Untermeyer refused to be drawn into the Chinese student’s analogy, instead repeating that the US will fight based on its own principles of defending democracy, rather than historic precedent or economic interest.

An Indian student then queried how the US could spring to democratic Taiwan‘s defence, yet cosy up with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who overthrew a democratically elected government. Untermeyer acknowledged that Pakistan presented a whole slew of policy difficulties for the US, but that the US saw Musharraf as “our man” for now in no small part because of the threat of Al Qaeda.

Untermeyer admitted that there were many examples of US actions that contradicted this assessment. However, he pointed out that even pragmatists like former secretary of state Henry Kissinger conceded that the principled, values-based approach to foreign policy will in the long run prevail over an approach based purely on hard nosed pragmatism and selfish national interests.

Gerald is an e-business consultant and a former Ministry Of Foreign Affairs officer. All opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not reflect Singapore’s stand on issues.

Gerald keeps a blog here.


8 Responses to “US ambassador says “US will fight” if China invades Taiwan”

  1. America will take every opportunity to spread its rumour or propaganda.
    What happen when Taiwan declares independence ? They expect China to sit still ?

    As long as they cannot find WMD in Iraq, they have no reason to attack Iran. The more verbal attack they have on Iran, the world Muslims will rise in retaliation. Iran is a partial democracy. Their president and MPs are elected. You don’t find this in many Arab states like Saudi Arabia.

    The Middle East will be a mess if the Jews do not return land to the Arabs including Jerusalem.

    Iraq is a mess because what the Americans want is to topple Saddam not the WMD. They do not expect what will happen after he fell. This is their strong arm tactic to discipline other countries.

    They preach democracy, but when the Hamas were elected to govern, they rejected them. This is double standard. They support dictators like Pakistan president and the Arabs kings. So how can democracy work when they rejecte the government elected by the people ?

  2. sarek_home said

    The USA position is keep the status quo unchanged. That means the Mainland can not use force to unite Taiwan and Taiwan can’t seek independence to enjoy the status of other countries. While the USA will fight against the PLA to protect the liberty of Taiwan people, it is not willing to fight an independent war for Taiwan, especially an independent war started by DPP as a result of playing political game. To discourage the pro-independent force from pushing an independent agenda and taking USA protection for granted, the USA is stressing that it has no obligation to defense Taiwan.

    扁說美有義務協防 美國務院:請讀台灣關係法


    美重拳出擊 扁形同出局


  3. Gerald said

    I’d like to emphasise that the above post should be read as a news report about the public lecture rather than an opinion piece. All opinions there are Untermeyer’s — not my own, and not even necessarily the US govt’s (since he is no longer in govt service).

    Personally, I think the truth about US foreign policy lies somewhere between the idealistic view Untermeyer has put forth, and the sceptical view that you (and many other non-Americans) maintain.

    Kah Fatt – I agree that Iran is arguably the most developed democracy in the Middle East after Israel (which is no where to close to being a perfect one either). I think the US should engage Iran and its people in dialogue, rather than try to isolate them.

    However I do not think that returning all Israeli land to the Arabs is going to solve all the problems. And in any case, that is just not going to happen in our lifetime.

    Sarek – you are absolutely right. Most countries, including US and Singapore want to keep the status quo unchanged — that is, to keep Taiwan’s status ambiguous and let it continue with its de facto (but not de jure) independence. Chen Shui-bian’s antics are unhelpful and only serve his own political purposes.

    This is what LKY said recently, which I agree with:

    14 Aug 07 – Statement Issued By MM Lee after Seeing Vincent Siew and Frank Hsieh

    To both candidates, Vincent Siew of the KMT and Frank Hsieh of the DPP, I explained that Singapore has deep ties with Taiwan from the days of President Chiang Ching-kuo in the early 1970s. President Chiang was fully aware of Singapore’s One China policy when he helped us. So I spoke as an old friend who wishes the people of Taiwan well, and who opposes Taiwan independence because it will be damaging for Taiwan and the region.

    If Taiwan continues to project itself as a separate independent Republic of Taiwan and/or apply to be a member of the United Nations, it will be counter-productive. The leaders in Taiwan, including the President, know that the application must fail. None of the five permanent members of the Security Council, including the US, will support Taiwan’s application and the PRC will veto it. They play this political game between the DPP and the KMT to win votes. But there is a great cost to the Taiwanese people. By pushing the issue of Taiwan’s independence, the Mainland will further tighten its pressure on the international stage and further accelerate the build-up of its military. It is best to leave Taiwan’s international position as it stands. For example because cross-straits relations were less tense in the early 90’s when Taiwan did not push for independence, the Mainland agreed to Taiwan becoming a member of APEC.

    For the coming presidential campaign, both Frank Hsieh of the DPP and Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT, have said they would promote the three links. Both understand that the three links are necessary for Taiwan to regain its economic vitality so that it can join Korea, Japan, Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia all of whom are riding on China’s high growth.

    Stability in the Taiwan Straits is vital to US-China relations, and to peace and stability in East Asia. The situation must be carefully managed by all sides.

  4. WONG said

    He is just another of US propaganda machine…

    When the time is right for china to retake taiwan, i strongly believe that the only action US will take is to vote against china in UN. The US administrations clearly understand the military and economical strength of china, and defending taiwan in force will bring repercussion on all fronts (social, economcial, international relation, etc, etc). Furthermore, it is not a walk in the park as in gulf 1 and 2.

    Japan on the other hand will try all means the stop the reunification, as they knows that if tawain is gone so will their ship route and air route through south china sea; which support the vital in and export of Japan.

    However the day will come, for the reunification of china and TW, and we will see who will take a more active role in the show down.

  5. scb said

    US Politicians are very humourous and entertaining, be it Rice, Bushes, Chase Untermeyer or Stones, they are very chivalrous wherever and whenever there are gains to be made and advantages to gain.

    They sent their people and weapons everywhere to intimidate and to expand their influences(American Cultures), admittedly they(Americans) have had some successes in cultural contaminations(pop musics, fast foods, sexual liberations, imperialism, capitalism and bullyism etc).

    But by and large, they(American Leaders) do not get much respects nor did they prove themselves respectable. As for their(US) participations in world politics, reality speaks for itself be it in Vietnam, Korea, Japan(where the US was the first and only country that used atomic bombs on),Africa, Middle East and anywhere.

    I suspect that it(US) will resort to Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East whence it(US) takes on more adversaries in that region. It had set a precedence(in Japan/Hiroshima) for herself, but let’s hope the American Leaders will be more circumspect from now on.

  6. HW said

    The DPP is caught up in its independence movement to rouse up feelings of Taiwan identity and sovereignty. Its recent draft resolution which includes the official use of Taiwan and not ROC is to provoke China into doing something silly, both for a domestic and hopefully US and international audience.

    With the need to be relevant to the US and the West, euphoric after being free of KMT rule, and presenting itself as a small democracy vs belligerent communist China, Taiwan is now doing a controversial soft power overseas engagement with its democracy movements.

  7. scb said

    It is said that the US spends about USD8 billion a month to fight terrorism in Irag/Afganistan and anywhere else. That is about USD96 billions a year and the US and its’ allies have been at it(war) for no less than six years. Can it(US) afford to spend more to fight more adversaries before its’ economy ends up in a bang as there is no sight that its’ present wars will end anytime soon. Even if the US wants to abandon Irag/Afganistan now, her ‘enemies’ are unlikely to end their fights with the US in idealogy and physical destruction. The American People should deal with their President Bush now before he hands over all the shits(wars, enmities) to the next president and frees himself from all responsibilities.

  8. Santoso said

    The Chinese student asked what the US will do if its states try to break up. Well, didn’t the civil war in the US teach us any lesson? The southern states tried to break up, and the US army nicely rounded up them and brought them back to motherland.

    Look back at how the US performed in Iraq and Afganistan, I don’t think the US has the gutts or capabilities to go to war with China over Taiwan.

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