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Society & Culture

Time for US to Change Its Taiwan Policy

Jun 08, 2016
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies

The pro-independence DPP has returned to power in Taiwan. Despite repeated warnings from Beijing, Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the DPP, stopped short of recognizing the 1992 Consensus and the one-China principle in her inaugural speech, a signal that she may intend to lead the island in pursuing “one China, one Taiwan” or “two Chinas”, i.e. Taiwan independence. Evidently, her stance has the backing of the United States. On the eve of the election, Tsai took a trip to the US, which was apparently designed to seek advice from and compare notes with US policy makers on her policy for cross-Strait relations. It must be during this trip that her pro-independence policy was given tacit approval. She received further reassurance for her inclination toward independence when the US House of Representatives passed a resolution reaffirming support for Taipei just ahead of her inauguration.

The US has always been known to support Taiwan’s quiet moves toward independence to hold back China’s reunification through its policy toward Taipei. Though the US pronounced its commitment to the one-China principle and opposition to Taiwan independence, enshrined in its three joint communiques with China, its commitment was never fully kept. The US public position never went further than saying that it does not support Taiwan independence. What that means is, the US does not support anything radical that the DPP might engage in such as de jure independence by changing Taiwan’s title, lest the US be dragged into a frontal clash with China. The US, however, does not prohibit the DPP from desinicization of the island and pursue disguised independence. The Taiwan Relations Act, to start with, and the “six assurances” are nothing but deliberate steps to force China to renounce the use of force and maintain the “status quo” indefinitely. Its consequence? Emboldened separatists with less scruples as they seek to pull the island away from the Chinese mainland. Reunification would remain a distant dream for China, and de facto independence might become the reality in Taiwan. Such a policy toward Taiwan is at odds with the fundamental and core interests of China and, in the final analysis, the US’ own interests as well. It is a policy with multiple strategic flaws.

First, the US should stop using Taiwan as its “unsinkable aircraft carrier”. Deng Xiaoping made the observation that the US saw the strategic and military value in Taiwan and wanted to keep it as its unsinkable aircraft carrier. It is quite true because though the US has professedly severed diplomatic ties, withdrew troops from and ended mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, it continues to have semi-official political and military ties with it. It has publicly assisted Taiwan’s defense through arms sales and covert military cooperation of various kinds. The goal is to hold back China’s reunification and use Taiwan as an outpost to contain China. This strategy is nothing but a vestige of the Cold War and will only slow down the growth of China-US relations. As time advances and as China continues to rise, Taiwan won’t be the US’ “unsinkable aircraft carrier” forever.

Second, the US should stop going back on its commitments. The return of Taiwan to China was written into the Cairo Declaration, an official international instrument formulated and signed by US and other leaders. All three Sino-US joint communiques affirmed the one-China principle and opposition to Taiwan independence. These are legally binding international documents and serve as the guide and rulebook for China-US relations. Honoring such documents is the very foundation for a functioning international system. But any US tacit support of the DPP’s attempts at de facto independence at the cost of its credibility has hurt not just China, but also the authority of the declaration and the post-war order and can only lead to myriad problems.

Third, the US should stop supporting separatists. The DPP prospered through street politics, manipulation of public opinion and populism. Those who won’t stop playing with fire will only destroy themselves. The DPP has gone so far as to take the 20-million-plus Taiwanese as hostage to fulfill its selfish objective of Taiwan independence. This is extremely irresponsible and egregious. To demonstrate support to separatists like the DPP through the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances” is to openly undermine China’s sovereignty, disrespect the basic norms governing international relations, reject the US’ moral responsibility and hurt its international reputation.

Fourth, the US should stop misplacing its stakes. The size, population and overall strength of Taiwan is nowhere near that of the Chinese mainland. Neither is Taiwan’s importance to the US. Economically, the People’s Republic of China and the US are as interdependent as any two economies in the world can be; on major international issues, the US needs China’s cooperation. In economic and strategic areas key to America’s future, Taiwan is of minimal consequence. Admittedly, the US has interests in Taiwan. Its interests on the Chinese mainland, however, far outweigh those in Taiwan. Pitching itself against China, a fast-growing country with 1.3 billion people, by supporting separatists in Taiwan is definitely not the wise thing to do.

China will not allow Taiwan, which has historically been part of China, to break away. This is a permanent red line for China. The question of Taiwan is a core issue in China-US relations and must be handled with extraordinary care. Some foresighted people in the US have called for adjusting the US’ Taiwan policy, abolish the Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances” to herald a fully normal and healthy bilateral relationship with China. Apparently, this is the trend and we only hope that the US government would do it sooner rather than later for the benefit of the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait and for the benefit of the US itself too.

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