Tue, Apr 10, 2018 - Page 8 News List

More uncertainties for US, China

By Joseph Tse-Hei Lee 李榭熙

Ever since US President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into law on March 16, there have been initiatives to advance official exchanges between Taiwan and the US at all levels.

Out of fear of increased US support for Taiwan, China considers the new law to be a violation of the long-standing “one China” principle, which has shaped the parameters of US-China relations for decades.

The passing of the act did not occur in a political vacuum. It signifies a fundamental change in the US policy toward cross-strait relations at several levels.

First, pro-Taiwan lobbyists demonstrated a remarkable capacity to coordinate formal and informal efforts to globalize the Taiwan question, and the new law sent a worrying message to Beijing that Washington was prepared to revisit and even revise the “one China” policy.

Under the administrations of former US presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, there were joint efforts by the US and China to prevent Taiwan from drifting toward independence during the 2000s and early 2010s, because neither preferred an independent Taiwan. At the time, China worried about the effects of an independent Taiwan on its territorial integrity and the US was preoccupied with its global war on terrorism, and did not want Taiwan to sour its diplomatic relations and possibly start a war with Beijing.

After Trump came to power last year, there has been a qualitative shift in the US strategy from stabilizing the balance of power across the strait to using Taiwan to contain the rise of China.

The developments in Washington and Taipei not only reveal US efforts to endorse a pro-independence force, but also indicate Washington’s determination to use the Taiwan card to accomplish its larger geopolitical agendas in East Asia. Washington’s immediate goal is to get the upper hand against Beijing over the North Korean nuclear crisis, maritime sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea and escalating tariff threats.

Second, the changing cross-strait relations are deeply intertwined with the US’ reaction to North Korea’s nuclear adventurism. When the US and North Korea agreed to hold bilateral talks after the South Korean Winter Olympics ended last month, China sought to get a seat at the table to stay informed of the results of the negotiations.

After Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) held a surprise meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Beijing, he immediately reached out to South Korea and Japan. Rhetorically, China emphasized its mediating role in the previous six-party talks and expressed an interest in participating in the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.

Third, the diplomatic confusion triggered by the act indicated Beijing’s failure to gain an accurate knowledge of political sentiment among US politicians and foreign-policy think tanks in Washington.

China, a major power with vast resources, has not communicated effectively its claim to uphold the US-led “status quo.”

In contrast, countries with scarce resources, such as Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, have done well by showing themselves to be US partners in defending international values, norms and infrastructure.

Politically, the act undermined the efficacy of pro-Beijing business and political networks, which helped China to survive US economic sanctions after the crackdown on pro-democracy activists at Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

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