Taiwan will hang like a “dark cloud” over the sixth meeting of the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Beijing this week, according to a leading US-China expert.
“Over the past six years, Taiwan and China had made significant progress in normalizing their economic relations — but this progress hit a wall this spring,” Brookings Institution senior fellow Richard Bush said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew are to meet with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang (汪洋) today and tomorrow at what is being seen as a critical time to work on stabilizing US-China ties.
“Neither Taiwan nor Hong Kong will likely be on the formal agenda for the S&ED, but they will hang like rather dark clouds over the proceedings,” Bush said.
He said the tensions in Hong Kong reached a new peak last week as nearly 800,000 people participated in an unofficial referendum in support of a liberal approach to electoral reform and hundreds of thousands braved bad weather to march in support of the same goal.
In Taiwan, Bush said, opposition parties and civic activist groups mounted protests against a draft agreement on trade in services.
“This has forced the governments in Taipei and Beijing to regroup and try to ensure that things don’t get worse,” he said.
“But Taiwan politics remain very fluid, and the possibility exists that the candidate of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party will win the next presidential election, scheduled for January 2016, with unpredictable consequences for cross-strait relations,” he added.
He said that in Hong Kong the US supported genuine electoral reform that would permit a competitive election of Hong Kong’s chief executive.
In Taiwan, Washington has supported the improvement in cross-strait relations, but also support Taiwan’s freedom to make its choices free of any coercion and at its own pace, Bush said.
“On both issues, Beijing suspects that the US is acting behind the scenes to prevent it from achieving its political objectives,” he added.
Writing on the Brookings Institution’s Web site, Bush said: “That perception misstates the US role: The reason that Beijing has not achieved its objectives in both Hong Kong and Taiwan is that it has not yet made proposals that meet the wishes and expectations of the peoples of each place.”
US Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki on Monday said that the dialogue was a “central forum” for the US and China to take stock of progress, set new goals, develop habits of cooperation and areas of mutual interest, and manage areas of differences through candid high-level discussions.
“Our two countries will exchange views and forge progress on global, regional and bilateral challenges, including pressing issues related to Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iran, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and maritime disputes,” she said.
However, some were far from optimistic.
Chief executive and cofounder of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) Michele Flournoy and CNAS senior fellow Ely Ratner called on Monday for a “careful reassessment” of the overall US approach to China.
They wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that it was imperative that China’s destabilizing actions in the East and South China Seas stop.
“This will require the US to take steps that more regularly and visibly enforce the rules-based international order in Asia,” they said.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that China’s aggressive actions in the East and South China Seas were “the most worrying deterioration in US-China relations in decades.”
The newspaper said the risk of military escalation was growing, generating “bad blood” between Washington and Beijing, and could torpedo cooperation.
With the S&ED meetings about to open, the Post reported that “some say the US-China relationship is facing its stiffest test since [former US] president Richard Nixon traveled to [former Chinese leader] Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) China in 1972.”
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