On Jan. 26 and 27, following the Jan. 13 presidential election, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅), a member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in Bangkok. Sullivan and Wang agreed to arrange a call between Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) and US President Joe Biden in the spring. The two sides had different things to say about the Taiwan issue. Wang issued a news release reiterating that “the Taiwan question is China’s internal affair” and “Taiwan independence poses the biggest risk to cross-strait peace and stability.”
Beijing has repeated such deceitful and boastful mantras so many times, their effect on the Chinese is wearing off, to say nothing of the Taiwanese. China accused former presidents Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) and Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of supporting Taiwanese independence, and President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has faced the same accusation. Last year a Chinese government spokesman and opposition figures in Taiwan called Vice President William Lai (賴清德) a “golden child of Taiwanese independence.”
How many years has China been droning on about this “risk”?
As for the US and countries in Northeast and Southeast Asia, Wang’s statement simply confirms their impression that China loves to kick up a fuss.
With tensions rising in the East China Sea as well as the South China Sea, who really poses the biggest risk in the eyes of Beijing?
The Taiwan Strait question is a dialectical relationship. When China says Taiwan elected a candidate who represents “Taiwanese independence,” is this not an admission that China failed to sway the election despite all its interference, and that Beijing’s preferred candidates failed to win the support of most Taiwanese voters?
The CCP has a Central Leading Group for Taiwan Affairs, which is led by Xi himself. What is this group’s strategic objective? Is it to spoil cross-strait relations, or is it to draw the two sides closer together? As the general secretary of the group, Wang must have approved that muddle-headed news release, which has obviously further alienated Taiwanese from China.
The CCP is still unwilling to face up to the reality of the election result. It seems to have forgotten its slogan of “seeking truth from facts” and resorted to a series of coercive actions. Maybe it wants to pressure president-elect Lai into making concessions in his May 20 inaugural speech. The more it tries, the more counterproductive it would be. In dealing with Tsai, who is more willing than anyone to negotiate and compromise, Beijing has achieved nothing in the eight years of her presidency, and it has failed to stop her chosen successor from being elected. If the CCP keeps on like this, it would not be a bad thing for Taiwan and its supporters, since it meets our need for “strategic distancing.”
Wang is wrong. Taiwan is too small to be anyone’s “biggest risk.” The country that really matters is the US. China claims that Taiwan is its internal affair, but the same could be said of the US, given that its Taiwan Relations Act is an internal law and the Republican and Democratic parties have a consensus about maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait. Everything depends on who has the biggest clout, the US or China. Rather than Taiwan’s election or Lai’s inauguration in May, China’s biggest risk is to come in November, when the US holds its presidential election. Will Biden be elected for a second term, or will former US president Donald Trump make a comeback?
Biden’s multilateral approach to international relations has succeeded in besieging China, but if Trump does return to the White House, the US-China trade war might escalate. Trump has proposed levying a flat tariff of 60 percent or more on all Chinese imports, which would be a hammer blow for China’s already sinking economic prospects. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has shown its muddled priorities by making mountains out of molehills and stirring up trouble everywhere, even for itself. If China insists on shooting itself in the foot, some of us might clap our hands and say “good shot.”
Tzou Jiing-wen is editor-in-chief of the Liberty Times (the sister newspaper of the Taipei Times).
Translated by Julian Clegg
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