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30.09.2020 Author: Vladimir Terehov

Situation around Taiwan Continues to Worsen


As reported earlier in the New Eastern Outlook, tensions around Taiwan are continuing to intensify. An increasingly more defined foreign policy course pursued by Washington aimed at normalizing its diplomatic relations with Taipei and at allowing Taiwan to transform into a fully-fledged independent country is the main reason behind these negative and highly dangerous developments on the global political arena.

Such outcomes are unacceptable to Beijing. After all, it is highly likely that other leading regional players, such as India and Japan, will follow in the United States’ footsteps.

In recent years, Washington has increasingly focused on, among other things, re-establishing (quasi)diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which ended in 1979 after the USA formalized its ties with the PRC. Renewed mutual visits by US and Taiwanese officials from the current administrations, which became possible after a relevant act had been adopted by the US Congress at the beginning of 2018, are becoming indicative of the aforementioned trend.

Various media outlets described the breakthrough nature of the three-day visit (a first of tis kind since 1979) to Taiwan by US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar, which occurred at the beginning of August. During the trip, the US politician met with President Tsai Ing-wen as well as other high-ranking Taiwanese officials, and signed a bilateral Memorandum of Understanding on cooperation in the area of health.

A similar move, which rapidly raised the stakes in Washington’s game with Beijing, followed. US Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach paid a three day visit to Taiwan in the second half of September. One could well expect US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to come to the island next. Such a move will cause an even greater rift in bilateral relations between the two world powers.

In fact, Keith Krach’s visit also led a to a further deterioration of this relationship. The Taipei Times reported that the US delegation “exchanged opinions” with high-ranking Taiwanese officials and members of different sectors over various issues, including economic ties (an area the Under Secretary of State is responsible for). Keith Krach also “commenced preparatory talks for the Taiwan-US Economic and Commercial Dialogue”.

The article also included a noteworthy picture, taken at the President’s residence in Taipei. It shows Tsai Ing-wen posing for a photograph with the high-ranking US official on her left and Morris Chang, a founder of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (in 2017 it had 56% of the foundry market) on her right. Morris Chang attended the banquet for the US delegation at the President’s residence.

At this point, the author would like to remind his readers that USA’s new export controls aimed at limiting Chinese technology giant Huawei’s access to semiconductor technology are a key element of the “trade war” that Washington has been waging against Beijing.

Still, the fact that some US chipmakers “have reportedly obtained a license from the US government to supply” semiconductors to Huawei “may signal that Washington is easing restrictions on the Chinese tech giant”. The latest developments lend further support to a view expressed by a number of American analysts, who believe it is impossible to completely “decouple” the economies of the two world powers, which have continued to function in their “coupled” state for decades. In any caser, the author would like to leave this topic for another time.

On the last day of his visit to Taiwan (i.e. September 19), Keith Krach, along with former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshirō Mori (which is also noteworthy), attended a memorial service (followed by a gun salute) for former president Lee Teng-hui, an uncompromising supporter of Taiwan’s independence who had died on July 30 of this year.

During Keith Krach’s visit to Taiwan, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft had a “historic” lunch with the Director of Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in New York (a de facto Taiwanese embassy), James Lee. After the meeting, Kelly Craft said that the Taiwanese needed “to be heard”, and that they were “being marginalized by Beijing”. “It really is a shame because they should be able to participate in UN affairs just like everyone else,” she added.

It would seem that the military aspect of the US-Taiwan relationship is developing too. Earlier, the New Eastern Outlook reported that the $8 billion sale of 66 new F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, approved the previous year, was finalized. On September 21, the Global Times, a Chinese newspaper, wrote that, according to US-based The New York Times (NYT), Donald Trump’s administration was “pushing the sale of seven large packages of weapons to the island of Taiwan”. The NYT article also said that the Air-to-Ground Missile (AGM)-84H/K Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response (SLAM-ER) was “the most sensitive weapon system of the proposed packages”. It “can be fired by jets flying beyond the reach of China’s air defense systems” and “could hit targets on the Chinese mainland”.

If the report is accurate, it means that the relationship between the two world powers is entering a completely new phase. After all, according to a number of US–China communiqués, the US government has stated that “its arms sales to Taiwan will not exceed, either in qualitative or in quantitative terms, the level of those supplied in recent years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and China in 1979”. In fact, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act also stipulates that the United States “shall provide Taiwan with arms that are only defensive in character”

In its article addressing the current state of military and defense cooperation between the United States and Taiwan, the Taipei Times, citing undisclosed sources, reported that Washington was “building on an effort, known within the Pentagon as Fortress Taiwan”.

USA’s recent moves in relation to Taiwan have not, of course, remained unnoticed in the PRC. For instance, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson stated that the PRC firmly opposed “any kind of official ties between the US and the Taiwan region” in response to the aforementioned visits by high-level US officials to the island.

And Beijing’s reaction went beyond words. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began large-scale combat drills near the Taiwan Strait amid the visit by Keith Krach to the island. Notably, the PRC conducted a number of mine-sweeping exercises aimed at clearing “different types of sea mines” and providing “safe passage for other ships”. However, reports did not “mention if the drills took place in the Taiwan Strait”. According to the Taipei Times, at least 18 Chinese military aircraft crossed the Taiwan Strait median line and flew into the island’s defense identification zone (ADIZ). The move was widely criticized in Taiwan.

Recently, the author came across an editorial, published by the Global Times on September 18, whose title was “PLA Friday drills not warning, but rehearsal for Taiwan takeover”.

Finally, it is worth pointing out the consequences of a recent move made by the Czech Republic for no apparent reason. After all, the Eastern European nation, to put it mildly, remains far removed from the region plagued by one of the key issues in the current Global Chess Game. The author is referring to the visit by the incumbent President of the Senate of the Czech Republic to Taiwan at the end of August, during which Tsai Ing-wen welcomed the guest.

Consequently, a Chinese importer ended up canceling “a Czech piano order”. In addition, in response to the surge of COVID-19 cases in the Czech Republic, “China’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism issued a travel warning” to Chinese people traveling there. In fact, (well-behaved) tourists from the PRC dominate the global tourism market, both in terms of their sheer number as well as the money spent while abroad.

At present, the culprit responsible for increased tensions between the PRC and the Czech Republic, and the nation’s President and Prime Minister have been trying to convince Beijing of their commitment to the one-China principle.

Clearly, the incumbent President should have thought about the consequences of his actions beforehand. After all, Australia’s recent experience with its anti-China games serves as a telling example for other nations. And Australia happens to be a far more powerful nation in comparison to the Czech Republic, a small Eastern European limitrophe state, which became a part of the Global Chess Game by accident. Hence, the nation ought to tread carefully from now onwards.

Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on issues in the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.

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