From last year’s historic phone call between President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and then-US president-elect Donald Trump, Trump’s signing of the Taiwan Travel Act and appointment of John Bolton — known for his Taiwan-friendly views and hawkish stance on China — as his national security adviser, to the approval of a marketing license that allows US firms to sell Taiwan technology for building submarines, there is much to encourage a Tsai administration constantly on the receiving end of threats and intimidation from the Chinese communists.
For a while, Taiwan — or at least some politicians in Taiwan — were concerned that Trump might use Taiwan as a bargaining chip in his trade war with China, as part of his “America First” policy. From an analysis of China’s rise, and in terms of international relations theory, it is highly likely that there is to be a fundamental change in US policy on Taiwan.
In 1958, Abramo Fimo Kenneth Organski of the University of Michigan founded the power transition theory, which holds that war originates from differences in overall power between dominant powers and the degree of dissatisfaction with the “status quo.” When parity exists in the respective power of two parties, the likelihood of war between them increases.
US political scientist John Mearsheimer, the leading proponent of offensive realism, has written that if China continues to develop at its current speed, it will not rise peacefully, and that Washington and Beijing are destined to fall into the “Thucydides Trap”: the escalation to war when a rising power intimidates an established one.
Speaking at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia on April 8, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) said that China has become the world’s second-largest economy, the largest industrial and trading country, and holds the world’s biggest foreign currency reserves.
He urged the US to enter into discussions on global governance and participate in the construction of a global governance system.
He also, in a veiled criticism of Trump’s “America First” policy of trade protectionism, which he said was born of a Cold War mentality and is a zero-sum game, spoke of what he termed arrogant and selfish behavior. His address was filled with challenges to, and dissatisfaction with, US hegemony.
The US and China are slipping further and further into the Thucydides Trap.
In addition to possible flashpoints in the Taiwan Strait, the East China Sea, the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula, the two nations’ most fundamental source of tension comes from the checks and balances on Chinese hegemony of the US-led regional security guarantees of the American Alliance System, differences in their strategic cultures when it comes to national security emphasis, and the political and economic differences of the two types of regimes.
There are also the domestic political factors, both of which lend to tension and confrontation.
The US’ strategic goals are very clear: It seeks to contain China’s non-peaceful rise, and has chosen to adopt a two-pronged approach of military strategy and trade.
In terms of military strategy, the US used to view the relationship as one between “strategic partners” or “strategic rivals.” However, in the three reports published over the past year — the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy and the Nuclear Posture Review — the US now clearly defines China as a strategic rival and a “revisionist state,” and calls on allies, such as Japan, South Korea, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Germany and South American countries, to join in an alliance to counter China.
In terms of trade, the US’ former approach of using regional trade blocs to keep China’s expansionism in check has evolved into an unprecedented “anti-dumping” trade war with China, in the name of Section 301 of the US Trade Act, to fight against piracy of intellectual property rights and compulsory technology transfers.
Within this tripartite game with China and the US, Taiwan had adopted a pro-US stance while maintaining a peaceful relationship with China, trying to ensure that cross-strait relations remain stable and to reduce the possibility of a sudden crisis breaking out.
However, Beijing’s refusal to accept Tsai’s interpretation of the so-called “1992 consensus” has gradually pushed Taiwan into the alliance to counter China.
Faced with China’s rise and its insistence on driving its newfound elevated status to its ultimate conclusion, the US has no alternative but to make fundamental changes to its Taiwan policy.
As Alex Wong (黃之瀚), deputy assistant secretary in the US State Department’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs has said, the US can no longer allow Taiwan to be so unfairly kept out of the international community.
Sun Masao is a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs civil servant who served at representative offices abroad.
Translated by Paul Cooper
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