The Marginalization of Taiwan Must End: A Response

A soldier walks past a Taiwan flag during a navy exercise in Kaohsiung January 26, 2010. The U.S. and China are currently at odds over arms sales to Taiwan, according to local media. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

It is not clear what advantage the United States would gain by returning to Cold War practices.

Given that Tsai’s administration could perceive U.S. policy now favors Taiwan over the PRC, it could hold a national referendum on a sensitive issue to deepen democracy, protect human rights, and determine Taiwan’s future, something that is an established component of the DPP political agenda and mentioned in President Tsai’s major speeches. Holding a national referendum could cause a further deterioration in cross-strait relationship because the PRC perceives it as “separatist activities”, which, based on the Anti-Secession Law, could justify an aggressive response, making the Taiwan Strait a potential military flashpoint.

In a July 2016 article titled “One China, 5 Interpretations, I identified emerging battlegrounds in the cross-strait relationship and recommended that President Trump’s administration and Congress monitor them closely. Those battlegrounds have now formed. The battlegrounds, the uneven application of U.S. policy, as well as the growing risk for the PRC and Taiwan to misperceive U.S. policy, all establish the conditions to trigger a potential outbreak of hostilities in the Taiwan Strait that could drag the United States in. Maintaining a “non-interference policy” as expressed in large part by the United States’ One China Policy could check this growing risk.

The United States “One China Policy”

Yoho observes that differences exist between the One China Principle and the One China Policy.

In the “One China, 5 Interpretations” article, I emphasized this distinction, which, prior to its publication, scholars, policymakers, as well as journalists had yet to make a clear distinction between the two, though subsequently my observation entered into the mainstream discourse. In the article, I placed the quotation marks around One China Policy and One China Principle to underscore their differences, though they share a few similarities. But my point is the distinction must be kept in mind because it makes a difference when implementing policy and analyzing potential future policy.

Despite this, the United States has failed to maintain a well-defined distinction between the two interpretations. Its unsystematic approach to this important concept framing U.S.-PRC-Taiwan ties has allowed the PRC to advance the One China Principle in the international system, which, in turn, has enabled it to block Taiwan’s diplomatic activities and shrink its international space effectively.

Representative Yoho observes that “when the Obama and Trump administrations ‘approved and executed’ the ‘Guidelines on Relations with Taiwan’ to include prohibiting the display of Taiwan ‘symbols of sovereignty,’ it ‘thoughtlessly gave an advantage to the PRC to the detriment of U.S. national interests.’” But, based on my research, the United States gave an advantage to the PRC two decades ago when the PRC focused on advancing its interpretation of the One China concept, whereas the U.S. neglected to emphasize the differences between the One China Policy and One China Principle.

Reunification and Authoritarianism

In his article Yoho observes that, “reunification is a priority for Xi Jinping, China’s authoritarian leader.”

Indeed, reunification is an absolute, long-term goal for the PRC. But President Xi’s top national priorities now consist of preserving stability inside and around the periphery of the PRC, though the situation is more complicated than that. Reunifying with Taiwan in the near to mid term could bring instability to the PRC and its periphery, because Taiwan, like Xizang (Tibet) and Xinjiang, could turn into an area of dissent and uprising against “alien rule”.

Yoho classifies President Xi Jinping as “China’s authoritarian leader.” What is striking is that U.S. activities combined with miscalculations (e.g., 2008 global financial crisis; the Pivot) partly contributed to the PRC leadership’s changing perception that it faced a growing national-security crisis. In times of national-security crisis, political systems have impulses to revert to authoritarian tendencies, a trend that emerged in the PRC, which I discussed in a 2014 article. U.S. policy partly served as a driver influencing the PRC’s gradual shift away from decentralization toward centralization and a policy of proactive defense of its periphery.

The asserts the PRC broke the diplomatic truce established between 2008 and 2016 between the PRC and the ROC. But my interviews on Taiwan, which I mentioned in a TNI article, suggested the incoming Tsai administration also played a role; it allegedly refused to send high-level officials to meet PRC officials who visited the island following Taiwan’s 2016 presidential election.