America needs a new and less risky Taiwan policy
In 2020, when the world was waiting to see the result of the American presidential election, the conflict between China and Taiwan escalated. Just the day before the U.S. presidential election, Chinese aircraft flew into Taiwan’s airspace eight separate times. A similar tense cross-strait circumstance happened recently, just after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which was followed by an unprecedentedly large live-fire military drill and increasingly aggressive statements from the Chinese government. For a long time, China considers Taiwan a breakaway province. And those acts can be seen as a way for China to show off its military influence over Taiwan and its determination to recover its lost territory from American influnce.
Those are the tense cross-strait circumstances that America had stepped into, a big powder keg flamed by Trump, burned for years, and reached the edge of explosion during Pelosi’s visit. Trump’s diplomatic moves in Taiwan had already been proven provocative and only worsened the tension between the Chinese and Taiwanese governments. When Trump won the 2016 election, he received a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to congratulate his win. It made him the first American president ever to speak directly to the president of Taiwan since the United States normalized relations with Beijing in 1979. When Pelosi finished her visit to Taiwan, she became the first American House Speaker ever visited Taiwan in the 21st century. However, those acts have little practical significance to Taiwan’s situation, but have only created a significant long-term ramification for U.S.- China relations and risked a dangerous and destabilizing escalation of the conflict between China and Taiwan. In his presidency, Trump’s government fights recklessly with China in a series of consular, trade, and technology disputes, together with high-level visits and arms sales to Taiwan. But while Trump earned praise for supporting Taiwan’s defenses against a possible mainland invasion, it also puts Taiwan at risk as never before. Unfortunately, Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan seemed to have no difference. A symbolic vistit is utterly reckless, dangerous and irresponsible, with nothing helpful come out of it. Taiwan won’t become more secure and stable as a result of this visit. In fact, Pelosi’s visit gave China an excuse to justify its military appearance in South China Sea and expand its military drill to areas overlapping Taiwan territory.
Containing China has become a bipartisan consensus. And using Taiwan as the frontline to fight against Chinese influence over other democratic countries is a long-time American political tradition. That means we have to ensure Taiwan’s actual independence and democracy. But Pelosi’s visit gave China opportunity to expand its millitary appearance in the Taiwan Straits, which is an inevitable battle field if Chinese invasion happened. With no doubt, Chinese invasion is unlikely to happen after Pelosi’s visit, since China won’t start the war for an event with a direct American-figure’s involvement. But like a old Chinese saying said “Death won’t knock on your door, he just rudely breaks into your house,” Pelosi’s visit gave China an excuse to make another step in the Taiwan Straits, staging for its later Breaking-In.
So what approach should Biden take to protect Taiwan’s democracy, and in the meantime, maintain its security and stability? First of all, Biden’s Taiwan policy needs to ease the rising tension between China and America, using arms sale instead of private visit as a response to Chinese threat. During Trump’s presidency, he has approved over $17 billion worth of arms and blurred the line between offensive and defensive weaponry. Even more, the Trump administration planned to sell 66 F-16s to Taiwan which is one of the largest arms sale packages ever offered to Taiwan. Compared to private visit, arms sale is appearantly a much more effective and less risky response to Chinese millitary threat. But it is vital to clarity to both Taiwan and China the the arms sales largely serve as a response and retaliation to the military threat Beijing poses. One single large arms sale package to Taipei, like what Trump did in his presidenct, could deviate from this original intention, provoking rather than preventing possible conflict between Taiwan and China. Therefore, it is vital for Biden not to make American arms sales to Taiwan exceed the island’s actual need. Arms sales are a warning to Beijing that Washington is willing to defend Taiwan if necessary, not a provocation to make Beijing believe that America will punish China no matter what. Also, Biden may soften Beijing’s attitude by not overly publicizing sales or notifying Beijing privately before sales have happened.
Meanwhile, Biden’s policy needs to reaffirm America’s red lines and conduct codes on Taiwan-China issues under the system of “one country, two systems” policy. Even though the Trump administration has been bold in its dealing with Taiwan, arms sales and high-level official visits did not deviate significantly from his predecessors. And other than these conventional diplomatic maneuvers, Biden’s policy may need to promote a new resolution to replace the “one country, two systems” policy between Taiwan and China. The “one China” policy goes back to the Nixon administration. In 1979, the U.S. recognized the PRC in Beijing as the legal government of China and withdrew diplomatic recognition of Taiwan as a country. The “one-China” framework has eroded dramatically since a pro-independence government got elected in Taiwan that actively seek international recognition and refused to repeat language affirming the one-China framework. And to resolve that fundamental conflict, Biden needs to reaffirm America’s red lines and conduct codes on Taiwan-China issues. on one hand, the US needs to reassure Taiwan that America will offer protection when there is an invasion from China. On the other hand, America must also avoid making Beijing believe that the United States is attempting to change the status quo by actively encouraging
Taiwanese independence. Thus, the U.S. must affirm that any change in the status quo, whether initiated by Beijing in the form of an invasion of the island or by Taipei in the form of a declaration of independence, is unbearable. Only when this message is declared strongly, Biden will be able to create constructive dialogue between the three parties.
God Bless Taiwan.
Friedman, Thomas. Why Pelosi’s Visit to Taiwan Is Utterly Reckless. New York Times.
Overholt, William H. The Rise and Fall of “One Country, Two Systems”. The Roy and Lila Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
Maizland, Lindsay. Why China-Taiwan Relations Are So Tense.