On June 12, Panama announced that it was switching diplomatic ties from Taiwan to China.
The following day, the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs spokeswoman, Grace Choi, issued a statement via e-mail to some media outlets saying: “The United States continues to oppose unilateral actions by either side to alter the status quo across the [Taiwan] Strait.”
This is something that US officials have said countless times. Since it is consistent US policy, Taiwan has always been cautious when it comes to issues that are routine in other democracies, such as referendums or constitutional amendments, so as not to be labeled a “troublemaker.” However, in wanting to avoid trouble, the US has often put Taiwan in an embarrassing situation with regard to its autonomy, or right to speak or act.
In contrast, the US has selectively tolerated Chinese unilateral changes to the cross-strait “status quo,” watching as the Chinese bully pretends to play a civilized game of moral persuasion.
As a result, after completing its land reclamation at the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島) early last year and the Paracel Islands (Xisha Islands, 西沙群島) in the middle of this year, China built large aircraft hangars on Fiery Cross Reef (Yongshu Reef, 永暑礁), as well as underground storage sites, missile platforms at the south end of the reef, a communication surveillance system at the northeast end and various radar/communications facilities across the islet. It also constructed hangars, underground storage sites, bomb shelters, radar/communications facilities and a high-frequency “elephant cage” antenna array for signals intelligence on Subi Reef (Zhubi Reef, 渚碧礁).
Given China’s constant altering of the “status quo” in the South China Sea, how can the cross-strait “status quo” remain unchanged?
On Dec. 7, Taiwanese F-16 jets detected a Chinese military aircraft close to Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ). When the F-16 pilot asked the Chinese aircraft to leave, the Chinese pilot responded by identifying himself as a People’s Liberation Army Air Force pilot and told the Taiwanese fighter to leave immediately or face the consequences.
On Monday, China sent another five aircraft over the Bashi Channel to the West Pacific Ocean, and then returned to their base via the Miyako Strait. Japan and South Korea scrambled jets to monitor the situation. China used to conduct these drills around Taiwan only occasionally, but now it seems addicted to them.
On the same day, China launched long-range drills around Japan’s and South Korea’s ADIZ, as Chinese aircraft flew through the Sea of Japan (known as the “East Sea” in South Korea) and the West Pacific. These Chinese activities threaten the national defense of Taiwan, Japan and South Korea, and create regional tension. Surely that makes China a troublemaker? Surely it changes the cross-strait “status quo”?
By sneakily reclaiming land and building military facilities on reefs in the South China Sea, Beijing is testing the limits of US tolerance. The challenge has proven successful, as Washington failed to understand the need to deal with the problem immediately.
China’s appetite has grown after this success. The US does not understand that if you give China an inch, it will take a mile.
Washington does not know what to do with Beijing, but it continues to unilaterally block Taipei from taking a single step toward changing the cross-strait “status quo.” Is the US telling Taiwan to sit quietly and wait for its own death?
Chang Kuo-tsai is a retired associate professor from the National Hsinchu University of Education and a former deputy secretary-general of the Taiwan Association of University Professors.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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