A US national security expert is warning that Taiwan could throw US-China relations into a “tailspin” this year.
He said Sino-US ties could be compromised if Beijing adopts a more strident Taiwan policy and Taipei refuses to enter political talks aimed at unification.
“America would surely be dragged in,” American Enterprise Institute (AEI) scholar Michael Mazza wrote in the latest online edition of Foreign Policy magazine.
“Any Chinese shift towards a more strident Taiwan policy could portend a new crisis in the Taiwan Strait sooner than many expect,” Mazza said.
He argued that a lack of progress on unification could “buttress hawks” in new Chinese Communist Party leader (CCP) and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) administration. Mazza added that even low-level “coercive measures” against Taiwan could rope in the US and disrupt relations between Washington and Beijing.
Mazza cited the Taiwan scenario as the first of four “under-appreciated threats” to the Asian region this year, each of them “potentially more explosive than a North Korean missile.”
The other three are a jihadist attack on China, the inability of the US Navy — as a result of budget cuts — to respond to a major natural disaster and the possible death of the 85-year-old king of Thailand.
Mazza, who studies the Chinese military and cross-strait relations at the AEI, said that since President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) came to power in 2008, Tapei and Beijing have improved ties and deepened their economic integration.
He said that cross-strait trade reached US$127.6 billion in 2011, an increase of more than 13 percent from 2010.
“Some national security experts misinterpret this trend, thinking that growing economic interdependence will overwhelm factors pushing the two sides apart and that interdependence will provide Beijing with leverage it can use to compel unification,” Mazza said.
However, while Taiwanese businesspeople enjoy closer ties with China, Mazza said that the average Taiwanese voter continues to move toward independence.
He added that while support for immediate or eventual unification is dropping, support for independence is rapidly growing.
“Economic integration is apparently failing to halt what Beijing sees as a troubling trend,” Mazza said.
He added that with the easy economic cross-strait steps already taken, Beijing now expects Ma to discuss political issues.
“But Ma doesn’t have the domestic political support to pursue political talks,” Mazza said.
This could set the scene for a crisis in the Strait, he added.
Several other US academics polled on this question agreed with Mazza.
“Maybe Mazza is right that this is the year that Beijing wants some measurable political success and becomes even more assertive,” one expert said.
“The problem has always been that Beijing gets to define the ‘status quo’ and therefore gets to decide when Taiwan has gone too far,” he said.