Taiwan: The bedrock of US-China conflict?
IT appears a most glaring truth that by visiting Taiwan in the first week of August, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has upped the ante in US-China relations since the Chinese Administration thinks that the US is unfairly intervening in the affairs of the Chinese jurisdiction.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi railed at Washington in a statement Tuesday, saying its betrayal of China “on the Taiwan issue is bankrupting its national credibility.
” At the same time, both Washington and Beijing have stepped up military activity in the region ahead of the visit whereby the Chinese Eastern Theatre Command thereby starting joint air and sea operations in all directions around Taiwan just minutes after Pelosi landed in Taipei.
Taiwan— officially known as the Republic of China (ROC) — is an island separated from China by the Taiwan Strait.
Since 1949, it has been governed independently of mainland China, officially the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The PRC views the island as a renegade province and vows to eventually “unify” Taiwan with the mainland.
In Taiwan, which has its own democratically elected government and is home to 23 million people, political leaders have differing views on the island’s status and relations with the mainland.
There is a long history of US’ interventionist approach vis-à-vis China-Taiwan confrontations.
In the first conflict, shortly after the end of the Korean War, Beijing tried to deter the Eisenhower Administration from signing a mutual defence treaty with Nationalist Party leader Chiang Kai-shek, who had fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing a civil war to Mao Zedong’s communists.
The U.S.and Taiwan signed the defence treaty in 1954.A second conflict brought more shelling of the islands in 1958.
The U.S.military planned the use of nuclear weapons against China to prevent the mainland’s takeover of the Taiwan-held islands of Kinmen and Matsu, but President Dwight Eisenhower rejected the idea.
The third crisis erupted in 1995 over Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to his alma mater, Cornell University.
The then Clinton Administration initially opposed the idea, but was forced to relent following a Congressional resolution in support of the visit.
Meanwhile, cross-Strait tensions have escalated since the election of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016.
Tsai has refused to accept a formula that her predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou, endorsed to allow for increased cross-strait ties.
Meanwhile, Beijing has taken increasingly aggressive actions, including by flying fighter jets near the island.
Some analysts fear a Chinese attack on Taiwan has the potential to draw the United States into a war with China.
Similarly, regarding Pelosi’s current visit to Taiwan, “Beijing believes that the U.S. is gradually hollowing out the one-China policy” and is trying to draw a line in the sand to deter Washington, says Chi Le-yi, a Taipei-based military commentator and author of a book on the third Taiwan Strait crisis.
Beijing asserts that there is only “one China” and that Taiwan is part of it. It views the PRC as the only legitimate government of China, an approach it calls the One-China principle, and seeks Taiwan’s eventual “unification” with the mainland.
As viewed by some American policy thinkers, ’’ If China was to take over Taiwan, some western experts it could be freer to project power in the Western Pacific Region and could possibly even threaten US military bases as far away as Guam and Hawaii’’.
Nonetheless, China has insisted that its intentions are purely peaceful. Though Washington follows ‘One-China’ Policy, which recognizes Beijing’s control over Taiwan, it allows informal relations and defence ties with Taipei.
The US provides arms to Taiwan- it is by far the largest arms dealer for Taiwan- and follows a strategic ambiguity policy about how far it will be willing to go to defend Taiwan in the face of Chinese invasion.
Whereas, ‘’Beijing claims that Taiwan is bound by an understanding known as the 1992 Consensus, which was reached between representatives of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Kuomintang (KMT) Party that then ruled Taiwan.
However, the two sides—Taiwan and China don’t agree on the content of this so-called consensus, and it was never intended to address the question of Taiwan’s legal status.
For the PRC, as Chinese President Xi Jinping has stated, the 1992 Consensus reflects an agreement that “the two sides of the Strait belong to one China and would work together to seek national reunification.
” For the KMT, it means “one China, different interpretations,” with the ROC standing as the “one China.”
From the American point of view, ‘’maintaining the status quo, however, does not imply that American policy should remain static.
Effective cross-Strait deterrence remains precarious and increasingly dependent on credible American force projection capabilities in the region.
In short, “American capabilities need to change, not policy. ” Maintaining the status quo is only a surface-level continuity.
Below the waterline it requires skillful diplomacy, enhanced military capabilities, and private signalling to the PRC – similar to the “adroit and vigilant application of counterforce” advocated by George Kennan 70 years ago.
George Kennan’s indoctrination mainly speaks about containing China. In contrast to the American strategy, China’s Taiwan policy is absolutely different:.
‘’ In a 2019 speech, Xi reiterated China’s long-standing proposal for Taiwan: that it be incorporated into the mainland under the formula of “one country, two systems.
” This is the same formula used for Hong Kong, which was guaranteed the ability to preserve its political and economic systems and granted a “high degree of autonomy.
” Such a framework is deeply unpopular among the Taiwanese public. Pointing to Beijing’s recent crackdown on Hong Kong’s freedoms, Tsai and even the KMT have rejected the “one country, two systems” framework.
On the other hand, China’s military has extended exercises designed to show an ability to encircle the island and cut off the Taiwan Strait, one of the world’s busiest trade routes, days after launching missiles that likely flew over Taipei and into waters Japan claims as an exclusive economic zone.
Actually, China adopts a smart power policy on Taiwan. However, what strongly goes in favour of China is the fact that out of 193 UN member states, only 15 states do not endorse the one China policy.
Moreover, Australia and the UK strongly believe in one China Policy. In the interest of global peace, Washington must pursue a one China policy in both form and substance.
—The writer, an independent ‘IR’ researcher-cum-international law analyst based in Pakistan, is member of European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on IR, Critical Peace & Conflict Studies, also a member of Washington Foreign Law Society and European Society of International Law.