Thu, Oct 11, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Pence’s shot across the bow

US Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on Thursday last week at the conservative US think tank the Hudson Institute raised some interesting points, not just because of what was said, but how it was to be read, the status of the person saying it, to whom it was targeted and the implications of what was said for Taiwan.

Pence began by reiterating US President Donald Trump’s claims about China’s unfair practices, with reference — naturally — to US businesses.

He then spoke of China’s aggressive policies on infiltration of “US businesses, movie studios, universities, think tanks, scholars, journalists, and local, state and federal officials,” as well as economic and military tools.

He called this Beijing’s “whole-of-government approach.”

In Taiwan, this is called the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) “united front” tactics.

Pence’s mention of the CCP’s attempts to influence the US’ midterm elections next month was definitely aimed at a domestic audience.

His five mentions of Taiwan — in two separate references — might well have been more aimed at an international audience: specifically, the CCP leadership in Beijing.

The first reference to Taiwan concerned the CCP’s continued policy of stealing its diplomatic allies. This threatens stability in the Taiwan Strait and, as such, the US “condemns” these actions, Pence said.

The US “will always believe Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people,” he added

The second reference was about pressure from the CCP on US companies to call Taiwan “a province of China” and to refrain from depicting Taiwan as a distinct geographic entity.

It is probable that these references to Taiwan would hardly have registered to a domestic US audience. On the other hand, the issue of Taiwan is a hugely sensitive one for the CCP. It would definitely have taken note what the US vice president was saying.

The CCP believes no other country has the right to interfere in what it defines as an “internal matter.” If the US agrees not to rock the boat on Taiwan, the CCP can trust that other major nations will follow suit. If the US decides to push the issue, the CCP might find its grip on the situation loosen.

Very little that Pence said was revelatory. China’s prodigious spending on its military and its military buildup in the South China Sea are well known and much discussed.

The issue of the CCP’s whole-of-government, united-front machinations against other nations’ business, academic and cultural sectors has also received a lot of attention.

However, Pence’s speech was not only aimed at a domestic audience; it was meant as a warning for the CCP. He made it clear that the US government is onto its game; that it is no longer willing to accommodate Beijing’s rise as it had in the past, assuming it would lead to eventual democratization and a “free China”; and cautioned the CCP to keep its hands off the US’ domestic political, academic and cultural climate, the international world order and Taiwan.

Pence referenced the importance of Taiwan as a model of democracy in the Chinese-speaking world. This was politically useful, even though it is probably closer to the truth that Taiwan’s crucial geopolitical location in the middle of the first island chain is the more persuasive argument for its importance to the US.

It is not so much that his speech signaled a change in US policy on Taiwan; it is that it signaled a refocusing on it compared with the approach of former US president Barack Obama’s administration, and was intended as a pointed warning to the CCP that this is what is happening.

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