The US expects Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) to raise the “Taiwan issue” when he meets with US President Barack Obama in California later this week.
While it is not expected to be a major item on the agenda, likely to be dominated by cybersecurity issues, North Korea and maritime affairs, arms sales to Taiwan will almost certainly be discussed.
A highly knowledgeable source close to the Obama administration told the Taipei Times that the president had been briefed to deal with questions on Taiwan.
“The Taiwan issue has been quiet of late and the Taiwan Strait has enjoyed a period of relative stability,” research fellow in Chinese political and security affairs at the Heritage Foundation Dean Cheng (成斌) said on Tuesday.
Addressing a roundtable discussion on the upcoming summit, Cheng said the issue of arms sales to Taiwan would “inevitably” be raised by Xi and that Obama would reply that US actions were governed by the Taiwan Relations Act and that they would continue.
“I fully expect the Chinese to respond by saying this is unacceptable and that it undermines their sovereignty,” Cheng said.
What happens next may depend on the tone of the summit up to that point.
If advances have been made on other contentious issues, the two leaders might continue their talks on Taiwan.
“Given that relations across the Strait are fairly stable, this might be a good time to talk about American commitments and Chinese concerns,” Cheng said.
He said it could be an opportunity to “open the skylight and speak clearly” about Taiwan.
Heritage Foundation Asian Studies Center director Walter Lohman said that China would raise the Taiwan issue if only to register its continued importance.
“Taiwan is not the hot button issue that it once was and that it may be again in the future,” Lohman said. “Even when we [the US] sell weapons to Taiwan, it’s no longer a big deal — the Chinese make a lot of threats for a few weeks and then it goes away.”
Senior research fellow in Asia economic policy Derek Scissors said that economic policy would be low on the priority list at the summit because the US is not prepared for in-depth discussions.
The relationship between the US and China is not on a sound footing, he said, and it might get worse because trade is a “core” issue and deteriorating.
In failing to come to grips with what is really the big problem between the US and China, he said, the two countries would “continue a slow slide” away from each other.
Director of the Asia program at the Carnegie Endowment, Douglas Paal, said in a paper issued on Tuesday that the summit tomorrow and Saturday at the Sunnylands estate would be both informal and unusual.
“Officials on both sides are rightly trying to lower expectations, especially for ‘deliverables’ — detailed outcomes on some of the thorniest issues between the world’s two leading economies in only two days of personal diplomacy,” Paal said. “Instead, they are stressing the opportunity for the two leaders to explore areas for cooperation and reduced competition beyond the short-term calendar.”
Paal said that not since Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東) and then-US president Richard Nixon met more than 40 years ago had leaders of such consequential and different powers sat down for a “blue sky” discussion.
Both leaders should state their commitment to resolving their differences and regional crises peacefully, through international laws and mechanisms, Paal said.
“The two should express their resolve not to impose unilateral changes to the ‘status quo’ in Asia,” he said.
Paal argued that this would help restrain the growing friction between China and its neighbors over maritime claims, putting the onus on all sides not to add tension to difficult, sensitive issues.
“Both leaders could further call for negotiations on interim arrangements to manage resource competition among the claimants over fisheries, hydrocarbons and minerals,” he said.
Paal said a 10-year military objective could be to develop ties to a point where commanders who face each other have a responsibility to know each other personally, and exchange mobile phone numbers and contact procedures to reduce the potential for accidental conflict.
He said that US and Chinese military schools should exchange students at multiple career levels and that the US should “encourage China to be flexible about Taiwan’s officer training in the same schools.”