By Zhao Minghao Source: Global Times Published: 2018-3-21
US President Donald Trump`s recent signing of the Taiwan Travel Act has roiled ties and brought a new challenge to Sino-US relations. With tensions escalating between Beijing and Washington in trade, the US move over Taiwan made the situation more complex.
Since 1970s, the US has followed the one-China policy, severed diplomatic relations with the island and forbidden high-level official exchanges. However, the new Act "encourages visits between the US and Taiwan officials at all levels of government" and permits high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the US under respectful conditions and meet officials, including those from the Departments of State and Defense.
The Act sends misleading signals to pro-independence forces on the island. The impact of the Act, to a large extent, will be determined by the following moves by the US administration. Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in Taipei Tuesday, becoming the first US official to visit Taiwan since the signing of the Act. It`s likely more US officials will visit the island in the future.
The Act reveals the growing relationship between the island and the US, and its long-term negative impact on China-US relations cannot be ignored. Taiwan and Washington will have more "diplomatic" contacts in the future. Some US strategists suggest supporting the island to participate in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and help Tsai Ing-wen implement the New Southbound Policy to intensify exchanges with Southeast Asia, South Asia and Oceania, reducing Taiwan`s economic reliance on the mainland.
Recently, the Tsai administration appointed Joseph Wu, well versed in American affairs, as Taiwan`s "foreign minister." Wu is famous for his hostile stance toward the mainland. The appointment shows Tsai`s increasing tilt toward the US.
The Act will boost military cooperation between Washington and Taiwan. In recent years, the US has called on the island to increase its military budget to enhance asymmetric warfare capability to confront mainland. Last October, Tsai said that Taiwan would increase future defense spending by at least 2 percent each year. Recently, Washington has sold a number of weapons to Taiwan, including anti-ballistic missiles, anti-aircraft weapons and surveillance radars. The visits of defense officials in the future need to be watched closely.
Last November, the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission published the 2017 annual report and urged the government to invite Taiwan to participate, at least as an observer, in US-led bilateral and multilateral military and security-related exercises, including the Rim of the Pacific maritime exercise, Red Flag air-to-air combat training exercises, and Cyber Storm cyber security exercise. Some members of the House of Representatives also introduced the Taiwan Security Act to mandate senior defense and diplomatic exchanges at the levels of flag officer and assistant secretary or above, and re-establish an annual strategic dialogue on arms sales.
The Taiwan Travel Act may lead other countries like Japan to follow suit and start official exchanges with the island. A pro-Taiwan group led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe`s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, has been studying the possibility of a Japanese version of the Taiwan Relations Act.
The Taiwan Travel Act rings alarm bells for Sino-US ties. As the Trump administration deemed China a "strategic competitor," it would use the Taiwan card to bargain with China. Washington worries that Beijing would unite Taiwan by military force. In February, a report titled "Coping with Surprise in Great Power Conflicts" by the Center for Strategic and International Studies urged the US to be alert over the possibility of China launching an attack before the island declares independence.
The Taiwan question concerns China`s core interests and is Beijing`s red line. The Chinese mainland has repeated that it would not tolerate "Taiwan`s independence" and the Trump administration should not underestimate Beijing`s determination to safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Besides, the Act will not increase security of the island but drag Taiwan into a dilemma between Beijing and Washington. Currently, Tsai`s approval rating has continued to decline. If she wants to shift the public focus from her internal failings by following a harsh cross-Straits policy, that will only spell disaster. After all, Taiwan does not have the strength and capability to play games with giants.
The author is a visiting fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.