With a new US president in the White House, Beijing might have to rethink its approach toward Taiwan following a public meeting on Feb. 10 between Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) and a US Department of State official.
Prior to his inauguration on Jan. 20, there was little known about what then-US president-elect Joe Biden’s China policy would be, and there were reports that Beijing had hoped to influence members of the incoming administration over Taiwan and other areas of contention.
A BBC report on Dec. 3 last year cited a US intelligence official as saying that China had increased the scale of its influence campaign to include members of the new administration and those around them, and had attempted to meddle in the US elections, as well as US attempts to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hsiao’s meeting with Acting Assistant Secretary of East Asian and Pacific Affairs Sung Kim is a clear statement that Washington will continue to support Taiwan under Biden’s administration. If there was any doubt about that, the bureau posted a photograph of the meeting on its official Twitter account and wrote: “The US is deepening ties with Taiwan, a leading democracy and important economic and security partner.”
On Jan. 23, the State Department also issued a statement saying that Washington’s commitment to Taiwan was “rock solid,” and it cautioned China over its “attempts to intimidate” Taipei through military activity in and around the Taiwan Strait.
However, it remains to be seen how US-Taiwan ties would be deepened, and how the US’ commitment to Taiwan would manifest in the face of ongoing Chinese threats.
Scott Kennedy, a senior adviser at the US Center for Strategic and International Studies, said during an interview with CNBC that the Biden administration was likely to continue a policy of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan, and that direct involvement by the US military would likely only occur if there was significant loss of Taiwanese or American life resulting from a unilateral attack by China.
However, the Biden administration will “need to look at” clarifying specifics of its commitment to Taiwan, he added.
It is clear that Biden will not be soft on China. During a CNN town hall on Tuesday, he admonished Beijing for human rights abuses in Xinjiang. The US Navy has also continued its freedom of navigation exercises in the region, including the USS Russell on Wednesday performing a freedom of navigation operation near the Spratly Islands (Nansha Islands, 南沙群島).
Given what the Biden administration has said about the US-Taiwan relationship, President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) administration should continue to explore ways to deepen ties in a manner that sends a clear message to Beijing and deters Chinese military action.
Some military experts have suggested stationing a US Navy or US Air Force contingent in Taiwan, with some officials discussing the logistics involved, which would include upgrades to one or more of the nation’s ports. Beijing would protest such a move, but it is highly unlikely it would engage the US in a military conflict — the implications of doing so would be detrimental to China’s global interests.
Of course, dialogue is the best option to solve the impasse, but Beijing must be made aware that no compromises on Taiwan’s sovereignty would be made during any such talks. Tsai has always expressed an openness toward dialogue with Beijing, but Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has not reciprocated. It is not clear what Xi’s endgame is, but if China continues on its current trajectory, no good can possibly come of it.
Tsai and Biden must clearly articulate to Xi that no strategy exists in which Beijing ends up with manageable control over Taiwan. Conversely, if China eases up on the rhetoric and aggressive posturing, and shows some goodwill, it might attract greater cooperation from Taiwanese, which would be a win-win situation for both sides of the Taiwan Strait.
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