In another chronicle of current events related to the Taiwan issue, it bears drawing the reader’s attention to those that followed the November 16 US-China video summit. One of the main topics discussed there was the mentioned problem precisely. Judging by the official statement of the more than three-hour conversation, the positions of the sides on major issues of world politics and bilateral relations, including approaches to resolving the said problem, remained unchanged.
And that means that Washington will continue, despite public statements by President Joe Biden, containing strange “reservations” to the contrary, the “creeping process” of giving Taiwan the status of “normal” statehood. And the primary executor of this course is Congress, that is, the legislative branch of the US government,
It should be reminded that there was a similar situation in US-Soviet relations in the final stage of the Cold War when their primary irritant was the Congress, to which the presidential administration referred in its explanations to the Soviets, “There’s nothing we can do. That’s the way our democratic state is set up,” a kind of simultaneous game with both wandering hands, which is also present today in Washington’s approaches to the Taiwan problem. And the fact is that one of these “hands”, namely the Congress, in general, risks practically nothing in case of possible negative consequences of its activity for its own country.
An activity that almost immediately resurfaced once again after the Biden- Xi video summit. As early as November 17, US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, an advising commission, implemented a report that, among other things, called for urgent action to improve the reliability of the US military deterrence of “any potential Chinese aggression against Taiwan.” On November 19, a bipartisan petition signed by 71 members of the Congress was sent to the President, demanding that he help Taiwan get involved with Interpol in general and as an observer already at the next Interpol General Assembly. The next day, the Taiwan Non-Discrimination Act, which has been under development since May 2020, was initiated, and one of its first consequences could be the accession of Taiwan to the IMF. All this congressional activity on the Taiwan issue, especially the mentioned report, gets quite an expected appreciation in China.
Several European politicians and individual countries, mainly from the Young Europeans subgroup, are becoming more and more active in the Taiwanese direction. In particular, voices are already being heard about the need for the European Parliament to initiate something similar to the American “anti-discrimination” act. However, such ideas are unlikely to go beyond private initiatives for apparent reasons of grave consequences for Europe’s relations with the second world power.
Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a barely veiled warning to China. In an interview with Bloomberg, he generally welcomed the Biden-Xi video summit and said that cooperation with Beijing was needed “wherever possible”. At the same time, it was suggested to the latter to understand that “Taiwan is not the same as Hong Kong. And there are very strong views on this in the West.”
But, of course, the “main hero” of European activity in the Taiwanese direction is still Lithuania, which, in particular, becomes a haven (or rather a flash-house) for all sorts of runaway political scum. This time Vilnius received an approving pat on the shoulder from Washington for the exchange of representative offices, de facto embassies, with Taipei.
Again, Brussels and Strasbourg have so far refrained from such steps because it’s more trouble than it is worth. Lithuania has already felt said trouble, as it expressed its regrets over the downgrading of the Chinese diplomatic mission in the country, with some even suggesting it could be curtailed altogether. The commentary on behalf of the European Commission on the emerging situation states that the EU’s respect for the One China principle is unchanged and that some problems in relations between Vilnius and Beijing are purely bilateral. At the same time, there is disagreement with China’s “coercive measures” (what could these be?) with respect to Lithuania.
As repeatedly stated by the NEO, Japan is becoming more and more active in the Taiwan direction. Once again, pro-Japanese sentiment has always been strong among the Taiwanese population. Polls show that today they are even higher than the level of sympathy to the prominent “advocate,” namely the USA. Not surprisingly, Beijing is wary of the development of Japan-Taiwan relations.
In the first telephone conversation on November 18 between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his new Japanese counterpart Yoshimasa Hayashi, the Taiwan issue was highlighted among several conditions to overcome accumulated problems and further develop bilateral relations. In particular, Wang Yi warned Japan against “crossing the line” on this issue.
In recent weeks, Taiwan has been marked by the adoption of a so-called “special defense budget,” that is, an annual (for the next five years) surcharge of an average of $1.7 billion over the “regular” budget, which is planned at $17 billion in 2022 (the second-highest per-capita budget in the world, after the USA). “Extra” money will be spent on purchasing a different class of missiles of domestic production. At the same time, an audit of available bomb shelters was conducted, of which 106,000 were counted.
However, far more serious than all the US-Taiwan defense activities are the results of another poll of islanders’ opinions on issues directly affecting the generalized Taiwan problem. The attitude of Beijing to the current leadership of Taiwan is considered unfriendly by 77% of the islanders, and to the Taiwanese – by 58%. 85% were in favor of maintaining the status quo in relations with the Mainland, and 77% support the position of incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen on this issue. The number of supporters of full-fledged statehood is growing but so far remains below 10%.
Such sentiments of the Taiwanese, rather than “American maneuvering” and “separatist” leadership of the island, are seen as the main challenge to Beijing in resolving the Taiwan issue. Unless, of course, one considers a possible objection like “we know the price of such opinion polls.”
However, the weight of “maneuvering” should not be discounted either. Just a week after the Biden-Xi video summit, an American missile destroyer defiantly passed through the Taiwan Strait.
The annual ten-day AnnualEx naval exercise began on November 21 in the Philippine Sea bordering Taiwan from the east, this time involving the Navies of five countries: Japan, USA, Australia, Canada and Germany, for the first time. The leading participant and leader of the exercise turned out to be the Japanese Navy command, just as it was the case in an earlier Japan-US joint naval exercise in the South China Sea.
Of all the participants in the current AnnualEx, the presence of a German frigate raises the most questions. Overall, the military activity of Europeans in the waters bordering East Asia is quite puzzling. And if it can be somehow explained from the UK and France part, associating it with the nostalgia for a relatively recent past, then what is the German frigate doing there? Why would Germany have trouble with a much-needed partner? Is this a forced symbolic gesture in response to the continued US military presence in Germany itself?
Mainland’s reaction to the situation in Taiwan is not surprising. Thus, there are specific repressive measures against those Taiwanese companies which, while operating on the territory of China, finance the Democratic Progressive Party currently ruling the island.
Perhaps the only positive development concerning the Taiwan issue has yet to take place. The author refers to the next Taipei-Shanghai annual video forum scheduled for December 1.
One can only hope. Hope that this forum is the light at the end of the Taiwan tunnel, not the light of an oncoming locomotive.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.