Previously NEO discussed the most notable recent development around Taiwan – the sensational visit by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives. To the author’s assessment of this event it can be added that it did not introduce anything fundamentally new into Washington’s position on the Taiwan issue. In the US expert community this position is often referred to as “Strategic Ambiguity.”
This strategy originated in the late 1970s on the basis of the adopted legislative act at the time (Taiwan Relations Act-1979), which formed the basis of US policy regarding the Taiwan issue, and the strategy is still working today. Because even today, to a certain extent, its original two key contradictory goals remain relevant, which come down to the need to maintain relations simultaneously with the PRC and Taiwan.
Since then, the situation at the table of the “Great World Game” has undergone a radical transformation, which has dramatically changed the importance of both China and Taiwan in the eyes of Washington. However, it is difficult to agree with the frequent alarmist forecasts about the irreversibly negative nature of further development of US-China relations after Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Such forecasts give a minor political provocation a global scale that is completely inconsistent with it.
With regard to the aforementioned “ambiguous” strategy, it is absolutely worth noting that while using it, it is quite possible to demonstrate a readiness to use force when it becomes extremely necessary. It means that there can be no unnecessary weapon rattling in a period (a much longer one) when it is not needed. Now noteworthy sources have information that the US Okinawa-based fighter jets were quite active along with the synchronized movement of aircraft carrier strike groups, as Nancy Pelosi’s aircraft approached Taiwan. Moreover, the fighter jet activity was obviously demonstrative in nature, as massive fuel tankers took off along with the relatively low-visibility fighters. The former are guaranteed to be found by the long-range detection system of the geopolitical opponent.
The continued validity of the forty-year-old strategy means that it is unlikely that the statements of some respectable representatives of the American establishment (John Bolton, for example) about the need to abandon it and move to “Strategic Certainty” in the Taiwan issue will be heard (at least in the short term).
The “Strategic Certainty” would mean recognizing Taiwan as a full-fledged subject of international relations, as well as giving a “regular” format to bilateral relations. This would very likely be followed by the restoration of the politico-military alliance that existed until late 1978, when almost a decade of normal US-China relations came to an end. The alliance was created in late 1960s – early 1970s by Henry Kissinger using the so-called “ping-pong diplomacy.”
Washington’s passing of the point of no return in its relations with Beijing could be a consequence of abandoning “Strategic Ambiguity” and moving to “Strategic Certainty,” and not Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan (who believed that by doing so she would win some political points for her party in the upcoming critically important fall elections),
considering that there is no strong indication that the current US leadership is willing to make such a radical change in its relations with the PRC. In addition, the abovementioned (hypothetical) change in Washington’s strategy on the Taiwan issue would mean the loss of the flexibility and freedom of maneuver it needs in its relations with Beijing.
Here it seems appropriate to briefly touch upon the more general and extremely important (not only for China) topic of state behavior when participating in the “Great World Game.” It is always very complex, and all its elements are probabilistic in nature. Adhering to a rigid (“easy to calculate”) strategy in these circumstances is often counterproductive. The consequences of its use can be particularly unpleasant if one incorrectly estimates the potentials used during the game, both by themselves and by other major players.
This kind of rigid and certain strategies include drawing the “red lines” that have been so popular in recent months. It is extremely doubtful that the word “line” (of any color) is applicable at all in the context of the dominance of uncertainty in current world politics. It doesn’t mean, however, that in the real game there are none at all. They are just being drawn not by fearsome (oral and written) statements, but by your opponent’s assessments of your potential and strategy.
Your opponent’s ability to separate the bluff and the reality can bring about various troubles (of which public image may not seem the most important). This can result in the situation of a kitchen maid participating in household battles with her ridiculous and emotional “What will be our response” yell that follows a minor provocation. And the direct executor of this provocation is one of the yard pooches of your main competitor, biting your shoe under the same gaming table where you’re sitting together.
As far as the Taiwan issue is concerned, maintaining Washington’s flexibility and maneuverability without abandoning the public adherence to the One China principle (which was also mentioned during Pelosi’s visit) makes it possible to gradually reduce the principle’s importance in practice. This is being achieved both by expanding the areas of interaction with Taipei (including in defense) and by gradually making bilateral relations “almost official.”
In particular, the latter is implemented by increasing the frequency of visits by American politicians of various levels to Taiwan. Immediately after Pelosi, Taiwan was visited by a number of American politicians of what they call “lower rank,” but still quite significant. These last visits are already aimed at solving specific problems in the field of relations with Taiwan. Among them, one of the main ones is related to raising the degree of the island’s presence in international processes, organizations, and projects.
In the format of bilateral relations, the PRC paid special attention to the plans to hold a forum called the US-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade (“in the fall of this year”). The forum in its turn is considered an important element of Taiwan’s connection to the so-called Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or IPEF). The initiative to create the IPEF belongs to the US president, who spoke about it during his visit to South Korea and Japan.
During another visit to Taiwan by an American delegation (the third one in August alone), headed this time by Indiana Governor Eric J. Holcomb, two remarkable events took place. First, a state of “fraternal relations” was established between the State of Indiana and Taiwan. Second, one of the first definite manifestations of this state of relations will be the formation of cooperative ties in the production of semiconductor intermediate products (“chips”). This is in line with the overall course of the current US administration to create conditions for complete autonomy from the PRC in this critical area of modern economy.
Japan’s long-standing trend of developing (also comprehensive) relations with Taiwan has also been reaffirmed. This is being done in a format of increasing coordination with similar efforts by Japan’s key ally. It has to be reminded that a delegation led by a very prominent Japanese politician, former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, made a four-day visit to the island at the end of July, two days before Pelosi’s arrival.
A month later, two members of the Japanese parliament arrived in Taiwan, one of whom was Keiji Furuya, who (as well as Ishiba) belongs to the extreme right wing of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party. In the lower house of parliament, Keiji Furuya heads the “Japan-Taiwan” group. The author notes that its very existence to a large extent characterizes the current state of Sino-Japanese relations.
Keiji Furuya (as well as Eric Holcomb before him) was received by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. During the meeting, the guest said all sorts of things, which caused the expected reaction from the PRC.
All in all, there is no reason yet to inform the patient reader of any positivity regarding the Taiwan issue. In November, when the local elections take place, perhaps there will be some. Nevertheless, judging by the development of the domestic political situation in Taiwan, there is not much hope for this.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.