Maybe it was an error by the US Navy staff in charge of its Web site — a common one in which Taiwan is confused with Thailand. Or maybe it really did happen — but was intended to be kept quiet to avoid creating a diplomatic incident. Either way, news last week that a Taiwanese vessel had participated in the Rim of the Pacific Exercise (RIMPAC) created waves in defense circles.
Photo captions underneath pictures depicting the USS Ronald Reagan with dozens of vessels in its wake stated that the ships were from South Korea, Japan, Singapore, France, Canada, Australia, the US … and Taiwan.
While Ministry of National Defense officials quickly denied Taiwan was participating in the exercise, it took days before the US Navy removed Taiwan from the captions — and even then, the job was a patchy one at best. Given the likelihood of Chinese retaliation for Taiwan’s first participation in RIMPAC since the exercise was launched 39 years ago, we can assume that the Pentagon would have corrected the mistake as soon as it was discovered. The fact that it did not raises the possibility of a disconnect between the US State Department and the US Department of Defense, with the latter — usually more pro-Taiwan than the State Department — using the misnomer to send a signal to Beijing.
Absent an official explanation, this remains in the realm of conjecture, but it should serve as a lesson to Beijing, whose presence in the South China Sea and off the waters of Japan is becoming increasingly belligerent. The message Chinese officials should take home is that if the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy continues on its current course, the participation of Taiwanese vessels in future RIMPAC maneuvers could be more than a typo. In fact, an expansionist Chinese Navy could force Pacific powers to turn to Taiwan to reinforce a naval security chain to contain Beijing and prevent provocative transgressions.
Incidents over the past decade involving Vietnamese, Philippine and Indonesian vessels and Chinese boats (some of which resulted in clashes), Beijing’s claims over the South China Sea and a series of contested islands, are forcing a reassessment of military postures not only in the US, but also in Japan. The more threatening the Chinese navy becomes, the more likely its neighbors will seek to contain it to protect their interests.
Taiwan’s proximity to China makes it a strategic point whose value is well understood by the major powers. If the situation were to reach boiling point in the Pacific, it would be inconceivable for the US or even Japan to overlook the option of bringing Taiwan into the fold as a way to strengthen their alliance.
For about 10 years, China has managed to convince its neighbors of its “peaceful rise” — something it has done with considerable skill. As a result, Beijing has been able to isolate Taiwan and whittle away at international concern for the safety of this small democracy.
A sudden shift in posture, perhaps emanating from an increasingly strident Chinese nationalism, could undermine this achievement and result in the greater integration of Taiwan into the regional security alliance. One potential offshoot could be the invitation for Taiwan to participate in RIMPAC as a full member.
What the Chinese leadership should keep in mind is that while building trust takes time, in can be lost in the blink of an eye.
While on this occasion it may have been a clerical error on the US Navy’s Web site, it could just as well be a portent of things to come.
Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has created a dilemma that could soon cause him to be hoisted with his own petard, bringing his leadership of China to an end. His threatening rhetoric over the unification of Taiwan with China, in which he has said, “we are willing to draw blood if necessary,” has placed Xi in a corner. Xi is portrayed as a strong world leader, yet he has created a scenario for himself that most likely would have an unfavorable outcome. With the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) scheduled to convene this month, Xi cannot
I was privileged to meet with many of Taiwan’s leaders and leading thinkers during a study tour visit in August. One theme I heard several times during that trip was that bad relations between the United States and China benefit Taiwan. At first thought, I empathize with the argument. After all, there is a troubling record of America’s leaders negotiating with Beijing over the heads of Taiwan’s leaders. For example, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt returned Taiwan to China after World War II. President Richard Nixon surprised Taiwan leaders with his 1972 trip to China. President Jimmy Carter unilaterally chose to normalize
Washington’s “one China” policy has not changed and the US does not take a position on Taiwan’s sovereignty issue, a US Department of State spokesperson has said. He said that this has been the principle of US policy toward Taiwan since 1979, and the policy has remained in effect. He also said that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has privately made this clear to Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅). The US’ “one China” policy and China’s “one China” principle recognize China as the “representative of China.” The two diverge on the issue of Taiwan: Beijing asserts sovereignty
I live in Taiwan because, like many foreigners, I fell in love with and chose to align my life with a Taiwanese. In an era where personal freedoms are mandatorily ceded to government decree, I am thankful to the Taiwanese government for the spousal visa, as well as the lack of demeaning bureaucratic hoops and hurdles needed to get a work permit, residency permit and healthcare. However, if I then choose to attempt citizenship, this enlightened attitude spasms to seizure, culminating in what appears to be blatant xenophobia. In contrast to Western countries, the path to citizenship mandates a protracted period