Even as images of widespread protests in Hong Kong — there were about 2 million protesters on Monday last week, according to most US television channels — against the territory’s controversial extradition law proposal were flashed across to viewers, Americans glued to their TV sets were, ostensibly, missing another important development taking place on their own soil: Chinese officials in the US went into a tizzy to urge US Department of State officials and politicians not to allow “visits” to the US by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) this month.
Chinese officials, who have over the years built up in the US a support base of people of Chinese origin, and use them to drum up support for China’s cause, worked overtime after getting instructions to stop the US government from allowing Tsai to come to the US.
If one reads the fine nuances that get submerged in the diplomatese, Tsai this time will not be just making a “stopover,” which, usually, involves a few hours or a day’s layover before taking the first available flight out of the US.
Tsai will spend a total of four nights, which, in contrast to previous maximum stopovers of a day at a time, would acquire the character of a visit — a red flag for Beijing, which has described this as “unacceptable.”
Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Geng Shuang (耿爽) called on the US to “cautiously and appropriately handle Taiwan-related issues … to avoid harming Sino-US relations, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Beijing has already lodged a strong demarche with Washington against allowing Tsai’s visits.
Tsai will visit Caribbean island nations that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan, and she is to spend two nights in the US each way on her way to and from St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, St Kitts and Nevis, and Haiti on a trip that begins on Thursday. She is expected to break up her journey in New York City and Denver.
Tsai’s stopovers will be, according to US sources, the longest by an officiating president of Taiwan, a fact that has particularly irked Beijing.
Although the US is not particularly bothered by the usual protests from China whenever a high-ranking dignitary sets foot on US soil, the State Department recited the usual “there’s-no-change-in-one-China-policy” assurance to China.
Experts see this assurance as an attempt to sugarcoat what is for China a bitter pill.
While reciting its “one China” policy assurance, Washington continues to maintain close cooperation with Taiwan and provides it with assistance.
The State Department explains that it gives permission to Taiwanese dignitaries for a stopover to enable them to transit the US, aimed at ensuring their safety, comfort, convenience and dignity.
In the past few years, even before US President Donald Trump took office, the mood in the US was increasingly turning against China’s growing aggressive stand on a host of issues — ranging from unfair trade practices through the militarization of the South China Sea to issues such as Xinjiang’s Uighur population, the repression in Tibet, the tightening grip on Hong Kong and threats against Taiwan.
Taiwan’s success as a vibrant democracy, along with its thriving market economy, are thorns in China’s flesh; Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who has vowed to bring Taiwan to the “motherland’s fold,” needs to impress his rivals vying for the country’s leadership that he can get Taiwan back.
In trying to force Taiwan to return to its fold, Chinese diplomacy is working toward isolating Taiwan on the international diplomatic circuit by offering economic sops to countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Taipei, and pressuring them to sever ties with it.
At present, there are only 17 small nations in Central America and the Pacific maintaining ties with Taiwan.
However, by doing so, China is losing out on goodwill because many of the world’s established democracies, while not maintaining official ties with Taiwan, recognize the island republic’s commitment to democratic ideals with all the concomitant characteristics of an independent judiciary, a strong and free press, and a democratically elected legislature, unlike China’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress.
Fearing that people would question the Chinese Communist Party’s authority, China has imposed strict censorship measures that prevent the ordinary Chinese from getting information about the working of democracies in neighboring countries; indeed, Chinese censorship does not allow any room for ordinary Chinese to question why they cannot live like people in neighboring countries and why their lives are so stringently controlled by the all-pervasive party.
US politicians across the aisle, nongovernmental organizations, human rights organizations and even some businesspeople are increasingly losing their patience with China’s repressive characteristics, particularly after recent massive protests in Hong Kong against the erosion of the territory’s civil liberties guaranteed under the UK-China treaty.
Hong Kong’s 2 million demonstrators, out of a total population of 7 million, sent a clear message to the world: China, which has been pushing for the extradition bill through Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), cannot be trusted to respect the letter and spirit of agreements it enters into.
Hong Kong’s image as Asia’s financial hub has been dented as it sinks into unprecedented political chaos after three weeks of record-breaking demonstrations against the hugely unpopular extradition bill.
There are fears being expressed in many Western countries that the demonstrators in Hong Kong could possibly meet the fate of the demonstrators massacred in Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Thus, Tsai’s visits to the US take place at a time when public sympathy toward China has significantly dwindled following the negative publicity that the Hong Kong demonstrations have generated for China whose “one country, two systems” formula for Taiwan’s unification rings hollow.
While the US will continue to harp on its “one China” policy assurance — a lip service, as many see it — in response to China’s protest against Tsai’s visits, it will, at the same time, not stop visits by Taiwanese leaders on their way to reinforce ties with its partners and prevent China from weaning away the few friends that maintain relations with Taipei.
Manik Mehta is a New York-based journalist with extensive writing experience on foreign affairs, diplomacy, global economics and international trade.
Since COVID-19 broke out in Taiwan, there has been a fair amount of news regarding discrimination and “witch hunts” against medical personnel, people under self-quarantine and other targets, such as the students of a school where an infection was discovered. Quarantine breakers are almost certainly on the loose and it is only natural for people to be vigilant. One in Chiayi was found by accident at a traffic stop because his helmet was not fastened. However, those who follow the rules by quarantining themselves should be encouraged to keep up the good work in a difficult situation, instead of being
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator-at-large Wu Sz-huai (吳斯懷) has said that there is a huge difference between Chinese military aircraft circling Taiwan along the edges of its airspace and invading Taiwan’s airspace. He also said that whether it is US or Chinese aircraft flying along or encircling Taiwan’s airspace, there is no legal basis to say that such actions imply a clear provocation of Taiwan, and asked the Ministry of National Defense not to mislead the public. People who hear this might think that it is not a very Taiwanese thing to say. US military activity in the vicinity of Taiwan
As the nation welcomes home Taiwanese who had been stranded in China’s Hubei Province — arguably one of the most dangerous places on Earth since the novel coronavirus outbreak began in its capital, Wuhan, late last year — problems surrounding the “quasi-charter flights” that brought them back have been largely overlooked. The media used the term to describe the two flights dispatched by Taiwan’s state-run China Airlines because they do not count as charter flights. Taiwanese wanting to board those flights had to travel — most likely by train — more than 1,000km from Hubei to Shanghai Pudong International Airport
As the COVID-19 pandemic spins out of control, many parts of the world are experiencing shortages of medical masks and other protective equipment. I am studying in Washington state, which at the time of writing is the US state that has suffered the largest number of deaths from the novel coronavirus. The week before last, UW Medicine — an organization that includes the University of Washington School of Medicine and associated medical centers and clinics — sent its volunteers an e-mail asking the public to make masks and donate them to hospitals. Attached to the message was a mask donation