By Julie Young, University of Greenwich
Transient victory: a Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldier looks out from a Tienen airship during a training flight over the restive Taiwanese island of Taiwan in 2010.
China claims Taiwan as a rebel province to be pacified, in violation of the Chinese constitution. Its record of execution of unrepentant rebels would fit that description. Successful efforts by Taiwan’s people and independence leaders have always run into staunch international opposition. Last month, a bitterly divided Taiwan government renewed an invitation to 200 senior Chinese military officers for military drills to take place near the island.
Many people seem to have missed the fact that the US has designated Taiwan as an ally, allowing for a direct military engagement, some say without consultations. The invitation came after Taiwan agreed last year to let China send its bombers (though this violates an agreement to avoid increased military contacts between the two sides).
The two nations do not enjoy diplomatic relations but they are good friends. In 2017 Taiwan received some US$10bn in military equipment and US$14bn in weapons for the mainland’s armed forces.
Like most US countries, Taiwan usually falls below the radar. In 2016 a THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) anti-missile system was installed on Taiwan’s request to protect its own military installations. Even where relations are cordial, Taiwan faces direct challenges from the Chinese mainland. According to the American Enterprise Institute, President Xi Jinping has claimed 23 times that he will “defeat” Taiwan and eliminate the country.
China, Taiwan and the US
Recent years have seen a rising tide of scrutiny of the “One China” policy by American politicians and commentators. Human rights have been controversial areas, especially as political rights have declined in mainland China. In May 2017 the US president tweeted: “The one China policy is not in US interest – we should not be bound by it!”. Earlier in the year, the right wing government of Governor Jeb Bush threatened to end US military access to the air base at Hainan if the US didn’t acknowledge the one China policy.
US politicians have upped the rhetoric on the subject. In January 2019, a CNN reporter was shoved by a pro-Beijing bodyguard and a Republican senator argued that the president should not be bound by the policy. In response, Taiwan’s foreign ministry responded that “we don’t see ourselves in the context of another country”.
In the parliament, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, has been hostile to Trump and sometimes flip-flopped on the One China policy. In 2017, she stated that Taiwan’s adherence to the One China policy “is not negotiable”. After a March meeting with Trump, she clarified that the relationship between the US and Taiwan was robust and that it would not be governed by dictates from the one China policy.
The decision to accept the invitation from China, which could cause further strained relations between Taipei and Washington, is sure to be met with deep suspicion in Washington.
The debate amongst commentators on the issue is rife with echoes. In the last few years, Russia has become more assertive in Asia and there is some anxiety that China could follow its lead. In recent years, China has reportedly built up its forces in the South China Sea and the growth of its armed forces has concerned some countries in the region.
Disagreement and incomprehension over Taiwan continue to exist even in the United States. Some fear China’s will to dominate Asia and there is talk of a military confrontation between the US and China.
There are good reasons for the concern. It is no longer unthinkable that China could directly invade Taiwan, for which the US would likely respond.
A bigger question, however, is how to build a workable plan to defuse the tensions in East Asia. China’s relentless activity in the region has produced very mixed results, with adverse effects on its neighbors and instability on the international level.
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.