10.05.2022 Author: Vladimir Terehov

The Speech Delivered by Truss and the Taiwan Issue


It makes sense to start telling another chronicle of the Taiwan issue with the sensational speech of the UK Foreign Secretary Elizabeth Truss at the residence of the Lord Mayor of the City of London on April 27.

The topic of Taiwan in this speech (undoubtedly a keynote statement with a rather obvious personal and domestic political background for the speaker) emerged quite naturally, since the main addressee of its main points was China. The latter was warned, first off, against providing any support to Russia (allegedly “having committed an act of aggression against Ukraine”) and, second, against attempting to resolve by force and outside the “rules” (one might guess where those come from) Beijing’s key issue relating to the now de facto independent status of the island.

In particular, it was recommended to “ensure that Taiwan is able to defend itself”. This, it should be added, is something the UK’s “big brother” has been doing for a long time and has been “working very hard”. Now, London comes to join this effort, and on its behalf Ms. Truss calls for turning the G7 into some kind of “economic NATO”, which could cause serious damage to China itself, should it ignore Truss’s rather clearly worded warnings. Because, she says, “We (the Group of Seven) represent around half of the global economy”.

That is, all G7 members are invited to act against those who violate the above “rules” following the same “one for all and all for one” principle that is characteristic of any multilateral military and political organization. The adoption of such a principle would certainly introduce a revolutionary innovation in the structure of the G7, whose activities are yet not formalized in any way and are rather characteristic of a “club of interest”.

The fact that none of its members consider themselves bound by anything yet is evidenced by a notable incident at one of the ministerial meetings in the G20 structure, when Japanese Finance Minister Shun’ichi Suzuki refused to follow some of his G7 colleagues who left the meeting room where the Russian minister was also present. That is, of course, Suzuki “sternly criticized Russia’s aggression in Ukraine”, but still considered it possible for himself to cooperate with a colleague from the Russian Federation on this authoritative platform.

Incidentally, at the same time, i.e. in the 20th of April, representatives of Russia and Japan managed to reach an agreement on salmon fishing quotas for Japanese fishermen in the 200-mile exclusive economic zone of the Russian Federation.

In other words, the viability of Truss’s proposal to give the G7 an “economic NATO” format that could, in particular, “restrain” Beijing from settling the Taiwan issue in a way that some leaders of the “generalized West” deem undesirable, but which is most appropriate for the PRC, is rather doubtful.

The content of Truss’s speech and the tone of its presentation suggest that the current Foreign Minister (and likely the future British Prime Minister) may decide to cross the “red line” that China has recently made quite clear to external players who are getting actively involved in the Taiwan issue. This in itself is perceived in Beijing as a challenge, as the issue of Taiwan’s status is an “exclusively domestic” matter in China.

The creeping process of gradually leveling out this, to repeat, fundamental for the PRC leadership starting point in the Taiwan issue has long been at the core of Washington’s approach to it. In the author’s view, in the hierarchy of all instruments capable of influencing the issue, the above process is even more important for Washington than the decades-long pumping of US arms into Taiwan.

The ultimate goal of this process has become very clear: to make Washington’s relations with Taipei of “routinely interstate” nature. One way of doing this is to gradually raise the rank of representatives of the US power hierarchy who visit Taiwan on various “appropriate” occasions. For example, a year ago, three senators accompanied a shipment of the US COVID-19 vaccine to the island as a gift on board a military transport aircraft. Apparently, without them, the pilots would not have found their way to Taipei airport.

Putting ourselves in the place of the PRC leadership, we find it unclear how to respond to the said creeping process.

Yet China’s famous “patience and deliberation” burst when it was reported in early April that the Speaker of the lower house of the US Congress, Nancy Pelosi, that is, the third person in the US government hierarchy, during a planned trip to Japan and South Korea, allegedly decided to prefer Taiwan to the second of them. It was then that Beijing labeled Pelosi’s (alleged) visit to Taiwan as crossing a “red line” that would have “irreversible consequences” for PRC-US relations. For now, Washington is not ready for this and Nancy Pelosi had to urgently acquire symptoms of the same COVID-19, which, however, failed to persist and she appeared in Ukraine as early as the beginning of May. The latter, in the struggle on the European continent between the “generalized West” and the PRC-Russia tandem, fulfills roughly the same role as Taiwan in the east.

Bearing in mind, once again, the content and tone of Truss’s speech under discussion here, it is not idle to ask whether the current head of the British Foreign Office could fulfill a mission that so far has proved impossible for a third person in the current US administration’s hierarchy. In other words, whether the act of crossing the said “red line” will not be done by London rather than by Washington, taking into account the “resolutely borderline provocative” positioning in the international arena that is characteristic of the UK. This was again evidenced by a series of exercises last year by a group of British ships led by the modern aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth in China’s sensitive South and East China Seas.

It should be noted, by the way, that at one time, when the ruling elite of the UK commanded “ladies first”, there were women among them who were capable of leading the country at crucial stages of its development. The penultimate Prime Minister, Theresa May, did not look as spectacular as Thatcher, but she also led the “pivot to the East” of the British foreign policy ship after the country’s exit from the EU. It was Elizabeth Truss then entrusted with the implementation of the political and diplomatic and trade-economic component of this course.

So Beijing should already be considering a set of potential responses to the possible arrival of Elizabeth Truss at the helm of the UK cabinet.

The process of establishing Japan’s relations with Taiwan has continued in a public and quiet, but very effective, way. A week-long trip to the island by the youth branch of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party was yet another proof of this. Among the various activities planned for the 11-member delegation (including MPs) was a planned visit to the grave of former president Lee Teng-hui, a highly respected figure in Taiwan. He studied in Japan at one time, served in the Japanese Imperial Army at the end of World War II and revered this country throughout his life.

As for the domestic situation in Taiwan, it makes sense to focus on two developments. The first one boils down to the results of another survey of Taiwanese opinion regarding their readiness to repel a (hypothetical) attack by the Mainland. There were about 70% who said they were ready to do so. Despite the conventionality of such surveys, one cannot but conclude that once again (far from the first) the reluctance of Taiwanese to lose their current (albeit quasi) independent status as a territory of residence is revealed. This by no means contributes to implementation of Beijing’s highly preferable “peaceful” scenario of the island’s accession.

There has been considerable internal political wrangling over the relationship between, as well as the interpretation of, the main provisions of the two historical documents, namely the Cairo Declaration of 1943 and the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951. The content of the dispute between representatives of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and the now-opposition Kuomintang Party boils down to the same key issue of the Taiwan issue: whether (“under international law”) Taiwan is part of “unified China”, or whether the former can claim to be an independent state.

Finally, the anti-Chinese invectives made during the speech by Elizabeth Truss could not be ignored. According to a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, his country will abide by international law rather than “rules devised by a narrow circle of countries”.

It is difficult not to agree with such an assessment of the said speech by the British Foreign Secretary.

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

Please select digest to download: