Currently, the focus of the complex relationship between the two world powers, the United States and the PRC, is on the “trade war” whose course can neither be reversed nor actually halted.
Despite the optimism shown by both sides after the 13th (scheduled) round of negotiations ended (which took place in Washington DC), Beijing was only able to get the United States to agree to postpone the imposition of tariffs on its second half of imports into the USA, worth approximately $250 billion, by 2 months (i.e. until 15 December of this year). During this short period, the two sides will need to achieve a breakthrough in negotiations, otherwise the “U.S. threats” will turn into reality.
As media outlets continue to stoke the trade war between the USA and the PRC, various aspects of the Sino-Taiwanese dispute, which change with the passage of time, have become much less noticeable. And yet, dangerous tensions between China and Taiwan keep on rising, which makes it more and more difficult to maintain any kind of stability in the relationship between the United States and the PRC.
Hence, it is important to cover the Sino-Taiwanese dispute on a regular basis, and the last report on it by the New Eastern Outlook discussed Pentagon’s plans (announced in the summer of this year) to sell more than $10 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan.
This plan became one of the most significant developments in the process (which is slowly “creeping forward”) of restoring comprehensive ties between the United States and Taiwan, not unlike those between two independent nations with equal rights. Such a relationship had existed before 1979 when, at the peak of the Cold War, Washington decided to sever its diplomatic ties with Taiwan in order to gain PRC’s support.
Another, no less important, development in this process occurred during Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s tour of the Caribbean countries, when she visited the United States during yet another “transit stop” in July of this year. Former and current U.S. public officials attended the public events that were held on account of Tsai Ing-wen’s presence in the United States.
If Sino-American relations continue to worsen, the final aim of the aforementioned process may be the full restoration of diplomatic ties between the USA and the Republic of China, commonly known as Taiwan. This will then pose a direct challenge to China’s interests, as the leadership of the PRC (since its establishment in 1949) has always emphasized that the nation’s unification process has not finished, because a number of regions (which ceased to be a part of it) are still outside of China’s jurisdiction and have been for quite some time.
Among such territories, Taiwan has become particularly important for both the PRC as well as the United States out of fairly obvious political and strategic considerations.
Incidentally, it is because the process of unifying the nation is still ongoing that the PRC’s armed forces are referred to as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
PRC’s leader Xi Jinping once again spoke about the utmost importance of Taiwan becoming a part of China, in accordance with the “one country, two systems” model, during a celebration to mark PRC’s 70th anniversary on 30 September. The speech, given in connection with the spectacular parade of the PLA that was held the next day, was primarily addressed to the United States and Taiwan.
The latter responded to the aforementioned event staged by China with a speech on 10 October by Tsai Ing-wen to mark the start of the Xinhai Revolution (in 1911) that led to the establishment of the modern Republic of China and put an end to the rule of its last imperial dynasty. Tsai Ing-wen’s speech included several themes that had been talked about earlier in one form or another. However, this time around, they were formulated in a previously unheard of, definitive and tough manner.
First of all, the President of Taiwan completely rejected the possibility of establishing “cross-strait relations” using the aforementioned model of “one country, two systems.” She also stated that there was consensus on this issue among the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese citizens, i.e. 23 million people, “regardless of party affiliation or political position.” “There would be no space for the existence of the Republic of China if that framework were to be imposed on Taiwan,” Tsai Ing-wen said, citing the violence in Hong Kong as an example.
Secondly, the Taiwanese President stated that China’s non-stop “diplomatic offensives and military coercion” posed “a serious challenge to regional stability and peace.”
The President of Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan gave an equally fiery speech at the same event. He said: “No totalitarian nation can stop free and democratic Taiwan from establishing new friendships, even though the nation’s diplomacy has been maliciously undermined.”
Clearly, the politician was referring to the decreased number of nations that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan. For example, five days prior to the aforementioned celebrations in Taipei, the Solomon Islands had expressed their intention to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan.
In such a climate, the aforementioned “forward-creeping” process of fostering comprehensive ties with the leading world player, including conferring an increasingly official status to any meetings with U.S. high-level representatives, is becoming particularly important for Taiwan’s claim of sovereignty.
The fact that there is a long-established and influential Taiwanese lobby in the U.S. establishment helps bring Taiwan closer to its goal. These supporters include three senators, such as the well-known politician Ted Cruz, who attended the aforementioned celebrations in Taipei and made several strong statements in support of Taiwan. For instance, Ted Cruz suggested establishing a free-trade zone between the United States and Taiwan.
On leaving Taipei, the infamous politician travelled to tumultuous Hong Kong, where the situation has become untenable thanks to young fighters against “communist totalitarianism” (who increasingly resemble violent youth gangs). As a result, in one of the world’s global financial centers, there is a decline in economic activity and rising unemployment.
In Hong Kong, Ted Cruz, one of the backers of H.R.3289 – Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, which was passed by the United States Congress, went on a tirade against the (fairly reasonable) actions taken by the local police and the central government of the PRC, and expressed his full support for the leaders of the Hong Kong protests.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that both Taiwan and Hong Kong represent an important tool for the United States to use in the current stage of the Big Game against its key geopolitical opponent. Still, we should keep in mind that the United States, as a sovereign object which other nations build relationships with, is becoming increasingly less “homogeneous” or “unified”.
And since there are no signs that the political relations between the United States and the PRC are improving, why would there be any glimmer of hope for the relationship between China and Taiwan?
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.