U.S. Recalls Top Diplomats From Latin America as Worries Rise Over China’s Influence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

U.S. Recalls Top Diplomats From Latin America as Worries Rise Over China’s Influence

Image
Jean Manes, ambassador to El Salvador, is one of three diplomats in Latin America who have been recalled to Washington.CreditCreditSalvador Melendez/Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The United States has recalled three chiefs of mission from Latin American nations that cut diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China.

The move comes as American officials have expressed growing unease over China’s rising influence in the region.

The diplomats, who represent the United States in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Panama, will meet with leaders in Washington “to discuss ways in which the United States can support strong, independent, democratic institutions throughout Central America and the Caribbean,” a spokeswoman for the State Department, Heather Nauert, said in a written statement on Friday.

For decades, Taiwan and China have competed for recognition. In 1979, the United States switched its support and officially established sovereign relations with China, and many other countries followed. But Washington has supported any decisions by nations to continue recognizing Taiwan, a self-governing island that China wants to bring under Communist Party rule.

In recent years, China has had success in courting Taiwan’s diplomatic partners. Only 17 nations recognize Taiwan; outside the Vatican and Swaziland, they are all islands in the Pacific and the Caribbean or countries in Latin America.

American officials have expressed growing concern over the shift. The United States sells arms to Taiwan and maintains a diplomatic presence there, called the American Institute in Taiwan, now housed in a new $250 million compound. American officials see Taiwan’s de facto independence as an important hedge against Chinese dominance in the Asia-Pacific region — what the United States now calls the Indo-Pacific as it tries to strengthen ties with South Asian nations to balance against China.

Last month, El Salvador severed ties with Taiwan, prompting the White House to accuse China of “apparent interference” in El Salvador’s domestic politics. American officials fear that the four nations in Central America that still recognize Taiwan — Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua — could soon follow. Last May, Burkina Faso switched recognition to China, leaving Swaziland as the lone holdout in Africa.

In June 2017, Panama cut ties with Taiwan, which surprised the United States government. The American ambassador to Panama at the time, John Feeley, said he learned about the switch from the president, Juan Carlos Varela, only an hour or so before Mr. Varela announced it, and only because he had called Mr. Varela to discuss an unrelated matter.

Mr. Feeley, who left his post in March and is now a consultant for Univision, said in an interview on Saturday that the recall of top American diplomats was significant.

The diplomats returning to Washington are Robin Bernstein, ambassador to the Dominican Republic; Jean Manes, ambassador to El Salvador; and Roxanne Cabral, the chargé d’affaires in Panama. A State Department official said they would return to their posts by Sept. 14.

Wang Yi, center, China’s foreign minister, and Hugo Martinez, right, El Salvador’s foreign minister, at a conference in Santiago, Chile. Last month, El Salvador severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan in favor of recognizing China.CreditIvan Alvarado/Reuters

The move “is an appropriate and serious signal by the U.S. government to those three countries and to the Chinese government that it is now reviewing the implications of the diplomatic switch and is worried that U.S. interests could be jeopardized,” Mr. Feeley said.

“My sense is that they will be most focused on the issue of industrial and commercial espionage and the possibility of Beijing using its embassies to expand that activity in those countries and the Caribbean Basin,” he added.

China is now the world’s second-largest economy and is expected to overtake the United States as the largest one in 10 to 15 years.

It is difficult for any nation, especially a small one, to decide not to recognize the sovereignty of China.

China and Taiwan have long engaged in what some observers call “checkbook diplomacy” to woo countries by offering aid or other incentives. China’s financial packages have increased in recent years, especially as it has promoted infrastructure projects abroad and related loans and contracts as part of what it calls its Belt and Road Initiative.

Jorge Guajardo, a former Mexican ambassador to China, said on Saturday that the recall was “heavy handed.” The United States should not be surprised as Latin American governments push back against American requests, he added, when President Trump has continued to alienate the people of Latin America.

“Trump has openly and systematically offended Latin American countries and their people,” Mr. Guajardo wrote in an email. “He labels us as rapists and criminals, has never traveled to the region as president, has deported and separated families, and threatened to cut all sort of aid. China comes with an offer of friendship and economic development (albeit one that I don’t think will pan out). Why the surprise?”

The United States has yet to fill some ambassador posts in the region, including those in Mexico and Panama, Mr. Guajardo noted, whereas China has assigned ambassadors in all Latin American nations with which it has diplomatic relations.

“Save a few countries in Latin America, the region as a whole has a historical preference for the U.S. as the main ally,” he said. “This changed when Trump assumed the presidency. It was his call, his choice, to turn away from the region.”

China has grown more strident over the issue of Taiwan since Tsai Ing-wen, a strong critic of Beijing, became president of Taiwan in May 2016. Chinese officials have worked to erase any recognition by corporations of Taiwan’s sovereignty. For example, they successfully pressured international airlines this summer, including those in the United States, to list just “Taipei,” a city designation, in their booking systems rather than phrases that included “Taiwan,” as was the case for decades.

Last month, Ms. Tsai made state visits to Belize and Paraguay to try to strengthen ties with those nations.

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A14 of the New York edition with the headline: U.S. Recalls 3 Envoys From Latin America Over Taiwan Reversals. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

Reading the political winds: The case for Taiwanese discretion

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

Reading the political winds: The case for Taiwanese discretion

Ryan Hass 

Taipei Times

Editor’s Note:Even as Taiwan faces increasing pressure, the realities of U.S. domestic politics mean Taipei should be prudent about appealing publicly to the Trump administration for support. This piece originally appeared in The Taipei Times.

In recent months, global events have unfolded at a dizzying pace. The annual tradition of NATO summits may be suspended. Transatlantic ties are buckling under stress. The G7 has unraveled. The global trading system is undergoing a fundamental reordering, as the United States withdraws from the center and no other country is prepared to take its place. U.S.-China relations are veering in an adversarial direction. And democracies around the world are being buffeted by populist waves and outside interference in electoral processes.

What ties all of these events together? In one way or another, each of these developments reflects the unwinding of the rules-based international order. Increasingly, relative power — not common rules of the road — is defining international relations.

The world has seen this dynamic before. Seventy years ago, in the wake of two catastrophic world wars, Roosevelt, Churchill, and others set out to build structures and systems to maintain global political stability. They diagnosed the conditions that enabled the outbreak of World War I and World War II as unbridled strategic competition between major powers, economic protectionism, and the rise of tyrants.

To forestall the re-emergence of global conflict, these leaders promoted the adoption of democracy, the expansion of trade liberalization, and the emergence of the United Nations as a body to debate and adjudicate interstate disputes. The United States committed to help rebuild Japan and Germany. Washington also planted American troops in Europe and Asia to help keep the peace and prevent any country from pursuing domination.

While the succeeding 70 years continued to be scarred by war, those tragedies were, by and large, limited enough to enable a period of historic human progress. More people in more places — including Taiwan — gained a say in their governance. An unprecedented number of people were lifted out of extreme poverty. And although the world veered close to catastrophe for several weeks in October 1962, there were no world wars. Sustaining conducive conditions for such rapid human progress during this period required a heavy and constant exertion of American power and leadership.

But as the veterans of world wars passed from the scene and the fears of the Cold War faded, the American people became less convinced in the value of sustaining the international system. They began to ask why the United States needed to solve “other people’s” problems. Presidents Clinton, Bush 43, and Obama each in their own way pushed back against such protectionist and isolationist impulses. They warned that disorder abroad would eventually lead to disruption at home, and that it was better to tackle problems at their root than to let them spread to America’s shores. Donald Trump did not share this worldview, though. Instead, he argued that the American people deserved a leader who would put “America first.”

President Trump understood instinctively that many Americans are ambivalent about keeping the peace abroad and more worried about their challenges at home. He recognized that America is going through a period of destabilizing transition, as the demographic profile of the country shifts for the first time toward majority non-Caucasian, the economy whirls through a technological transformation every bit as disruptive as the industrial revolution, and many people are fearful about their own and their children’s job prospects. Against this backdrop of discontent, President Trump promised he would put the interests of Americans ahead of the demands of others. He committed not to send America’s sons and daughters to fight “other people’s” wars. He said he would require allies and partners to contribute more to their own defense. And he vowed to fight for hard-working Americans by renegotiating trade deals that were generating trade deficits and “ripping off” the United States.

While it is reasonable to question the wisdom of President Trump’s actions, it would be a mistake to doubt whether he believes what he says. President Trump has been making similar complaints to anyone who would listen for the past four decades. His views are not poll-tested positions to maximize voter support. Rather, they are authentic grievances about how he believes America has been mistreated in the world.

None of this diminishes the challenge Taiwan faces as pressure intensifies from the mainland. Nor does “America first” mean Taiwan alone. Washington recognizes Beijing’s increased efforts to squeeze Taiwan and is undertaking efforts to push back. Taiwan still enjoys deep support on a bipartisan basis throughout the U.S. government. And the United States maintains a fundamental interest in cross-strait peace and stability, and continues to act accordingly.

But the realities of U.S. domestic politics do mean Taipei should be prudent about appealing publicly to the Trump administration to do more for Taiwan. It would not benefit Taiwan to become associated in parts of the American public consciousness with other “needy” partners who expect the United States to solve their problems.

Taiwan has invested decades in building relationships with American lawmakers and policymakers. Taiwan also has some of the best diplomats in Washington. It should rely on those professional channels to identify ways to strengthen ties where possible, and solve problems when necessary. Now is not the time for Taiwan to employ megaphone diplomacy to press the United States to do more on its behalf. The more Taiwan draws public attention to its appeals, the less it might like the response it receives.

Paracel Islands: The Truth And History Of The Vietnamese Islands That China Stole

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Paracel Islands

Introduction The Paracel Islands are surrounded by productive fishing grounds and by potential oil and gas reserves. In 1932, French Indochina annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island; maintenance was continued by its successor, Vietnam. China has occupied the Paracel Islands since 1974, when its troops seized a South Vietnamese garrison occupying the western islands. China built a military installation on Mischief Reef in 1999. The islands are claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam.
History From 1460 – 1497, under the reign of King Le Thanh Tong, Vietnamese began to organize the exploitation of both the Truong Sa and the Hoang Sa Archipelago farther to the north.This exploitation consisted of harvesting valuable sea-products and conducting salvaging operations to collect cargoes from vessels shipwrecked in the treacherous waters of the Truong Sa.
From 1680 – 1705, Do Ba Cong Dao issued Route Maps from the Capital to the Four Directions This is the first Vietnamese documentation of formal exercise of authority over the Hoang sa (Paracel) and Truong Sa (Spratly)
In 1700s, State-sponsored occupation of the islands can also be traced to the reign of the Nguyen lords. Salvaging operations became formalized with the establishment of the Hoang Sa detachments or brigades, units of 70 men from the village of An Vinh, the recruitment and organization of which were regulated by the Vietnamese government.Portuguese and Dutch maps drawn by navigators in the early 17th century identify the islands as Vietnamese.
From 1802,During the reign of the Nguyen emperors, documentation was produced that distinguished the Truong Sa archipelago from the Hoang Sa Islands and identified both as Vietnamese possessions.
In 1816,the Vietnamese flag was planted in a formal ceremony on the Paracels
In 1836, emperor Minh Mang received a report from his Ministry of Public Works that recommended a comprehensive survey of all the East Sea islands because of their “great strategic importance to our maritime borders.”
In 1838,Phan Huy Chu published the “Detailed Map of the Dai Nam. The map “expressly mentioned the Paracel and Spratlys, under the name Hoang sa , Van Ly Truong Sa , as part of Vietnamese territory. Also in thí year, Bishop Jean-Louis Taberd published the ” Map of Great Annam” (Annam Dai Quoc Hoa Do) confirmed Paracel -Bai Cat Vang – Hoang sa as part of Vietnamese territory.
During 1800s,the Nguyen dynasty continued to exercise jurisdiction over the Truong Sa Islands without protest from any country until the French protectorate was established over Vietnam in 1884.
1932, Paracel Islands was placed on the map of Vietnam by the Nguyen Dynasty. The Paracel were controlled by Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam.[citation needed]
In 1932, French Indochina and Nguyen Dynasty in Vietnam annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island.
In 1939, Empire of Japan invaded and occupied from the French. Ironically, the official reason for the Japanese invasion was that the islands were Chinese territory.
After World War II, the Republic of China government reaffirmed the Chinese sovereignty over the islands like other islands in the South China Sea, and dispatched patrol force to the islands, but this was challenged by the French. However, the dispute was only political and diplomatic as both sides attempted to gain US backing.
In the latter half of 1940s, French reclaimed the Paracel Islands. The Republic of China has never accepted the French claims.
In 1951, at the San Francisco Conference on the Treaty of San Francisco with Japan, which formally nations are sovereign over these islands, Vietnam’s representative claimed that both the Paracel and Spratly Islands are territory of Vietnam, and was met with no challenge from the nations at the conference. However, neither the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China were invited. They were busy fighting a civil war, and both considered the claim was a violation of Chinese sovereignty and neither had accepted it. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China condemned the decision and reaffirmed their control over the islands politically and diplomatically.
After the fall of the nationalist regime in China, the Chinese controlled eastern half of the Paracel islands also fell into the communist hands. Several small clashes occurred between the French and the communist Chinese naval forces during this period but was eventually settled along the actual line of control with the Chinese occupying Woody Island and the Macclesfield Bank while the remainder were held by Franco-Vietnamese forces. Although,there had been no recognition of any country about China claim of the island.
After the French left in 1956, South Vietnam replaced the French in controlling the islands. Again, both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China politically and diplomatically condemned the decision and reaffirmed their control over the islands. Although the South Vietnamese inherited the same French claim over the entire Paracel Islands, the period was marked by the peace and both sides held on what was in their control without venturing into other’s domain. At the same time, the maps and other official documents of the North Vietnam government during this period had shown that the islands belong to China, mainly due to the fact that China was the largest backer of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.
The political and diplomatic dispute became an armed conflict on January 20, 1974 in the Battle of Hoang Sa 1974 when the South Vietnamese Government unilaterally declared its intention to survey the island territory for petroleum extraction in early January 1974. During the same time, the South Vietnamese Navy sent a fleet of frigates to the area and positioned the fleet over the line of control. The South Vietnamese fleet fired at and killed several Chinese fishermans operating in the area at the time, as well as firing at patrolling Chinese ships and injuring Chinese Navy personnel. In response, Chinese Naval forces departed from China under order on January 20, 1974 for the Paracel Islands and swiftly overran the South Vietnamese positions on the islands in addition to the defending surface fleet. With the ensuing civil war embroiling South Vietnam’s attention, no military attempt was made to retake the islands from the People’s Republic of China following its defeat, and has been administered by the People’s Republic of China since.
Geography Location: Southeastern Asia, group of small islands and reefs in the South China Sea, about one-third of the way from central Vietnam to the northern Philippines
Geographic coordinates: 16 30 N, 112 00 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: NA sq km
land: NA sq km
water: 0 sq km
Area – comparative: NA
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 518 km
Maritime claims: NA
Climate: tropical
Terrain: mostly low and flat
Elevation extremes: lowest point: South China Sea 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Rocky Island 14 m
Natural resources: none
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (2005)
Irrigated land: 0 sq km
Natural hazards: typhoons
Environment – current issues: NA
Geography – note: composed of 130 small coral islands and reefs divided into the northeast Amphitrite Group and the western Crescent Group
People Population: no indigenous inhabitants
note: there are scattered Chinese garrisons
Government Country name: conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Paracel Islands
Economy Economy – overview: China announced plans in 1997 to open the islands for tourism.
Transportation Airports: 1 (2007)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 1
1,524 to 2,437 m: 1 (2007)
Ports and terminals: small Chinese port facilities on Woody Island and Duncan Island being expanded
Military Military – note: occupied by China
Transnational Issues Disputes – international: occupied by China, also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam

Truck drivers strike across China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TAIWAN NEWS)

 

Truck drivers strike across China, shout ‘overthrow the CPC’

Truck drivers demand lower gas prices and no more police harassment

 

By Scott Morgan,Taiwan News, Staff Writer

Truckers block road in protest (Screenshot from RFA YouTube video)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Mass protests have erupted across 9 provinces and municipalities in China as truck drivers voice their anger over high costs, decreasing wages and police harassment.

Some truck drivers shouted “overthrow the CPC”, reports said.

The strike began on Thursday June 8 in Xiushui County (修水县), Jiangxi Province (江西省) and quickly spread to Shandong Province (山东省).

Truck drivers are angry about high gasoline prices, excessive highway tolls, changing government policies and police harassment.

The protesters demand lower gasoline prices, higher freight fees and a fair go from traffic police, who regularly harass and fine the truck drivers, reported Liberty Times.

Drivers also want better working conditions.


(Video from Radio Free Asia)

Reports suggest strikes are still underway in Anhui (安徽), Guizhou (貴州), Hubei (湖北), Jiangxi (江西), Shandong (山東) and Zhejiang (浙江) provinces.

Strikes are also underway in Chongqing (重慶) and Shanghai municipalities (上海), according to Voice of America.

Protestors are meeting on national highways and in parking lots.

China’s roads are highly congested with strikes having the potential to cause significant delays and to interrupt supply chains.

Official Chinese media or government departments are yet to comment.


(Video from Guo Wengui’s (郭文贵) YouTube channel)

The US may sail a warship around Taiwan in an attempt to back up China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BUSINESS INSIDER)

 

The US may sail a warship around Taiwan in an attempt to back up China

US Navy uss lassen
The USS Lassen (DDG 82) patrolling the eastern Pacific Ocean.
US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Huey D. Younger Jr.
  • The United States is considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, US officials say.
  • A US warship passage, should it happen, could be seen in Taiwan as a fresh sign of support by President Donald Trump after a series of Chinese military exercises around the self-ruled island.
  • China has alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its carrier through the narrow Taiwan Strait.

WASHINGTON — The United States is considering sending a warship through the Taiwan Strait, US officials say, in a move that could provoke a sharp reaction from Beijing at a time when Sino-US ties are under pressure from trade disputes and the North Korean nuclear crisis.

A US warship passage, should it happen, could be seen in Taiwan as a fresh sign of support by President Donald Trump after a series of Chinese military exercises around the self-ruled island. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

US officials told Reuters that the United States had already examined plans for an aircraft carrier passage once this year but ultimately did not pursue them, perhaps because of concerns about upsetting China.

The last time a US aircraft carrier transited the Taiwan Strait was in 2007, during the George W. Bush administration, and some US military officials believe a carrier transit is overdue.

Another less provocative option would be resuming the periodic, but still infrequent, passages by other US Navy ships through the strait, the latest of which was in July.

The Pentagon declined to comment on any potential future operations, and it was unclear how soon a passage might take place.

Speaking in Beijing, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, urged the United States to prudently handle the Taiwan issue so as to avoid harming bilateral ties and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait region.

“We have repeatedly emphasized that the Taiwan issue is the most important and sensitive core issue in the China-US relationship,” she said at a daily news briefing on Tuesday.

Trump, who in 2016 broke protocol as president-elect by taking a phone call from Taiwan’s president, has toned down his rhetoric about Taiwan in recent months as he seeks China’s aid in the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

The United States and China are also trying to find their way out of a major trade dispute that has seen the world’s two economic heavyweights threaten tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to $150 billion.

China has alarmed Taiwan by ramping up military exercises this year, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the island and sending its carrier through the narrow Taiwan Strait separating it from Taiwan.

“They’re turning up the heat,” a fourth US official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the US’s view of Chinese activities around Taiwan.

Separately, it now appears unlikely the United States will send top officials to a June 12 dedication ceremony for the new American Institute in Taiwan, America’s de facto embassy in Taiwan. Washington does not have formal ties with Taipei.

US officials told Reuters that the date clashed with the planned June 12 summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but added that there would be another opportunity to commemorate the institute’s unveiling in September.

Case-by-case arms sales

Since taking office, Trump has approved a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan and angered Beijing by signing legislation encouraging visits by senior US officials to Taiwan. Trump also named John Bolton, known as a strong Taiwan supporter, as his national security adviser.

The fourth US official told Reuters that Washington aimed to change the way it approaches arms sales requests from Taiwan to address them on a case-by-case basis, as opposed to bundling them together.

Rupert Hammond-Chambers at the US-Taiwan Business Council trade association said that moving away from bundling — a practice in place for a decade — would be better for Taipei’s defense needs, treating it more like a regular security partner.

“We get into difficulty when we treat Taiwan differently, which opens the door for the politicization of the [arms sales] process,” Hammond-Chambers said.

Military experts say that the balance of power between Taiwan and China has shifted decisively in China’s favor in recent years and that China could easily overwhelm the island unless US forces came quickly to Taiwan’s aid.

The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself, but it is unclear whether Washington would want to be dragged into war with China over the island.

Asked about US obligations to Taiwan, Lt. Col. Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman, noted that Washington had sold Taiwan more than $15 billion worth of weaponry since 2010.

“We have a vital interest in upholding the current rules-based international order, which features a strong, prosperous, and democratic Taiwan,” Logan said.

SEE ALSO: US disregards Beijing’s nonsense, says it can take down South China Sea islands

Wake Up World: Government Of ‘The Peoples Republic Of China’ Is No One’s Friend

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE)

 

Editor’s Note:Richard Bush was the Chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan from 1997 to 2002, based in Washington, D.C.

On the morning of June 12, Taipei time, there will be a ceremony to mark the opening of a new office building in Taiwan’s capital city. But it is not just any office building. It is the new building of the American Institute in Taiwan. With the opening looming, there has been much speculation whether the Trump administration would send of senior official to Taiwan to mark the occasion. That idea has also evoked strong opposition from China.

Author

The AIT opening—and even the name American Institute in Taiwan—is entwined in the “one-China policy” of the United States. When the Carter administration established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979, it agreed to terminate diplomatic relations with the government on Taiwan, known as the Republic of China, and to conduct relations with Taiwan on an unofficial basis. Congress created AIT to conduct those unofficial relations. Taiwan has its counterpart mechanism in Washington, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.

Despite the circumlocutions, it’s no secret that AIT’s Taipei Office works for the U.S. government. In their interactions with Taiwan government agencies, AIT personnel promote U.S. interests and carry out an array of U.S. programs.

Since AIT opened in 1979, the men and women of AIT have worked out of a facility in Taipei that was built in 1950 and used to be the office of the Military Assistance Advisory Group. They have long deserved a new building, and now they are getting it. For Taiwan, moreover, this new, not inexpensive building signifies a strong and enduring American commitment to the island and its people.

China is not happy with the scope and scale of the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, particularly in the security field. If it had its way, it would probably prefer that Washington have a simple trade office in Taipei, as other countries have. But one of the interests on which AIT officers labor is maintaining peace and security in the Taiwan Strait, which should be in China’s interest as well.

Beijing also objects to U.S. actions that suggest that its relationship with Taiwan is actually official. So when reports surfaced that the Trump administration might send a Cabinet-level official to Taiwan for the AIT opening, China undertook a campaign to stop that idea in its tracks, claiming that such an action would violate the “one-China principle.”

It happens that successive administrations have interpreted the U.S. one-China policymuch more flexibly than the strict fashion in which China defines its one-China principle. As long ago as 1992, the George H. W. Bush administration sent Secretary of Commerce Barbara Franklin to visit Taiwan, and later administrations sent people at that level.

Naturally, the Taiwan government and public would appreciate the affirmation that Cabinet-level attendance would represent. Just as naturally, the government and the public would be disappointed if a Cabinet-level head does not attend.

China chose the path of confrontation when conciliation was possible.

Yet it is important to view the administration’s decision on this specific issue in light of the poor state of Taiwan-China relations. China does not like Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s democratically elected president, because it fears that her Democratic Progressive Party will lead Taiwan down the road of legal independence, thus foreclosing its goal of unifying Taiwan. Actually, China’s fears of independence are unfounded. President Tsai has repeatedly said that she will maintain the status quo between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. Beijing still chose contention over coexistence, and has taken a number of steps to punish Taiwan for electing President Tsai: stealing away the countries with which Taiwan has diplomatic relations, restricting its role in the international community, conducting military exercises near Taiwan, and so on.

To repeat: China chose the path of confrontation when conciliation was possible. Going back to the 1950s, U.S. administrations have stressed that the peaceful resolution of differences between China and Taiwan is an “abiding interest” of the United States. The Trump administration has reaffirmed that position and made clear that it is China that is currently engaged in destabilizing behavior. It should therefore seize opportunities to signal its opposition to China’s punitive tactics. Sending a senior U.S. official is one of those opportunities.

Spratly Islands: The Islands Nation That Isn’t A Nation, So Says China

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA FACT BOOK)

 

Spratly Islands

Introduction The Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs. They are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially by gas and oil deposits. They are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines. About 45 islands are occupied by relatively small numbers of military forces from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam. Brunei has established a fishing zone that overlaps a southern reef but has not made any formal claim.
History The first possible recorded human interaction with the Spratly Islands dates back as far as 3 B.C. This is based on the discovery that the people of Nanyue (southern China and northern Vietnam) and Old Champa kingdom fishermen (modern-day central Vietnam) had been visiting the Spratly Islands and other South China Sea Islands for fishing.

Ancient Chinese maps record the Qianli Changsha (千里長沙) and Wanli Shitang (萬里石塘), which China today claims refer to these islands. These islands were labeled as Chinese territory since the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century, followed by the Ming Dynasty. When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Qing Dynasty continued to include the territory in maps complied in 1724, 1755, 1767, 1810, 1817 by the Qing Dynasty of China.

Ancient Vietnamese maps record Bãi Cát Vàng (Golden Sandbanks, as claimed today by Vietnam referring to both Paracel and Spratly Islands) which lies near the Coast of the central Vietnam as early as the 17th century. In Phủ Biên Tạp Lục (Frontier Chronicles) by the scholar Le Quy Don, Hoàng Sa and Trường Sa were defined as belonging to Quảng Ngãi District. He described it as where sea products and shipwrecked cargoes were available to be collected. Vietnamese text written in the 17th century referenced government-sponsored economic activities during the Le Dynasty, 200 years earlier. The Vietnamese government conducted several geographical surveys of the islands in the 18th century.

The islands were sporadically visited throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by mariners from different European powers (including either Richard Spratly or William Spratly, after whom the island group derives its most recognizable English name). However, these nations showed little interest in the islands. In 1883, German boats surveyed the Spratly and Paracel Islands but withdrew the survey eventually after receiving protests from the Nguyen Dynasty.

In 1933, France claimed the Spratly and Paracel Islands on behalf of its then-colony Vietnam. It occupied a number of the Spratly Islands, including Itu Aba, built weather stations on two, and administered them as part of French Indochina. This occupation was protested by the Republic of China government because France admitted finding Chinese fishermen there when French war ships visited the nine islands. In 1935, the Chinese government also announced a sovereignty claim on the Spratly Islands. Japan occupied some of the islands in 1939 during World War II, and used the islands as a submarine base for the occupation of Southeast Asia. During the occupation, these islands were called Shinnan Shoto (新南諸島), literally the New Southern Islands, and put under the governance of Taiwan together with the Paracel Islands (西沙群岛). Today, Itu Aba Island is still administrated by the Republic of China (Taiwan).

Following the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II, the Republic of China government (Nationalist) re-claimed the entirety of the Spratly Islands (including Itu Aba), accepting the Japanese surrender on the islands based on the Cairo and Potsdam Declarations. Several years later, the Nationalist Chinese government withdrew from most of the Spratly and Paracel Islands after they were defeated by the forces of the opposing Communist Party of China in 1949.

Japan renounced all claims to the islands in 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, together with the Paracels, Pratas & other islands captured from China, upon which China reasserted its claim to the islands.

The naval units of the Vietnamese government took over in Trường Sa after the defeat of the French at the end of the First Indochina War. In 1958, the People’s Republic of China issued a declaration defining its territorial waters, which encompassed the Spratly Islands. North Vietnam’s prime minister, Pham Van Dong, sent a formal note to Zhou Enlai, stating that “The Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam respects this decision.”. However, the Spratly Islands were under the jurisdiction of South Vietnam, not North Vietnam.

Geography Location: Southeastern Asia, group of reefs and islands in the South China Sea, about two-thirds of the way from southern Vietnam to the southern Philippines
Geographic coordinates: 8 38 N, 111 55 E
Map references: Southeast Asia
Area: total: less than 5 sq km
land: less than 5 sq km
water: 0 sq km
note: includes 100 or so islets, coral reefs, and sea mounts scattered over an area of nearly 410,000 sq km of the central South China Sea
Area – comparative: NA
Land boundaries: 0 km
Coastline: 926 km
Maritime claims: NA
Climate: tropical
Terrain: flat
Elevation extremes: lowest point: South China Sea 0 m
highest point: unnamed location on Southwest Cay 4 m
Natural resources: fish, guano, undetermined oil and natural gas potential
Land use: arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (2005)
Irrigated land: 0 sq km
Natural hazards: typhoons; numerous reefs and shoals pose a serious maritime hazard
Environment – current issues: NA
Geography – note: strategically located near several primary shipping lanes in the central South China Sea; includes numerous small islands, atolls, shoals, and coral reefs
Politics There are multiple reasons why the neighboring nations would be interested in the Spratly Islands. In 1968 oil was discovered in the region. The Geology and Mineral Resources Ministry of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has estimated that the Spratly area holds oil and natural gas reserves of 17.7 billion tons (1.60 × 1010 kg), as compared to the 13 billion tons (1.17 × 1010 kg) held by Kuwait, placing it as the fourth largest reserve bed in the world. Naturally, these large reserves assisted in intensifying the situation and propelled the territorial claims of the neighboring countries. On 11 March 1976, the first major Philippine oil discovery occurred off the coast of Palawan, within the Spratly Islands territory, and these oil fields now account for fifteen percent of all petroleum consumed in the Philippines. In 1992, the PRC and Vietnam granted oil exploration contracts to U.S. oil companies that covered overlapping areas in the Spratlys. In May 1992, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) and Crestone Energy (a U.S. company based in Denver, Colorado) signed a cooperation contract for the joint exploration of the Wan’an Bei-21 block, a 25,155 km² section of the southwestern South China Sea that includes Spratly Island areas. Part of the Crestone’s contract covered Vietnam’s blocks 133 and 134, where PetroVietnam and ConocoPhillips Vietnam Exploration & Production, a unit of ConocoPhillips, agreed to evaluate prospects in April 1992. This led to a confrontation between China and Vietnam, with each demanding that the other cancel its contract.

An additional motive is the region’s role as one of the world’s most productive areas for commercial fishing. In 1988, for example, the South China Sea accounted for eight percent of the total world catch, a figure which has certainly risen. The PRC has predicted that the South China Sea holds combined fishing and oil and gas resources worth one trillion dollars. There have already been numerous clashes between the Philippines and other nations — particularly the PRC — over foreign fishing vessels in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the media regularly report the arrest of Chinese fishermen. In 1984, Brunei established an exclusive fishing zone encompassing Louisa Reef in the southern Spratly Islands, but has not publicly claimed the island.

The region is also one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. During the 1980s, at least two hundred and seventy ships passed through the Spratly Islands region each day, and currently more than half of the world’s supertanker traffic, by tonnage, passes through the region’s waters every year. Tanker traffic through the South China Sea is over three times greater than through the Suez Canal and five times more than through the Panama Canal; twenty five percent of the world’s crude oil passes through the South China Sea.

There have been occasional naval clashes over the Spratly Islands. In 1988, China and Vietnam clashed at sea over possession of Johnson Reef in the Spratlys. Chinese gunboats sank Vietnamese transport ships supporting a landing party of Vietnamese soldiers.

In response to growing concerns by coastal states regarding encroachments by foreign vessels on their natural resources, the United Nations convened the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982 to determine the issue of international sea boundaries. In response to these concerns, it was resolved that a coastal state could claim two hundred nautical miles of jurisdiction beyond its land boundaries. However UNCLOS failed to address the issue of how to adjudicate on overlapping claims and so the future of the islands remains clouded.

Following a 1995 dispute between China and the Philippines an ASEAN-brokered agreement was reached between the PRC and ASEAN member nations whereby a nation would inform the others of any military movement within the disputed territory and that there would be no further construction. The agreement was promptly violated by China and Malaysia. Claiming storm damage, seven Chinese naval vessels entered the area to repair “fishing shelters” in Panganiban Reef. Malaysia erected a structure on Investigator Shoal and landed at Rizal Reef. In response the Philippines lodged formal protests, demanded the removal of the structures, increased naval patrols in Kalayaan and issued invitations to American politicians to inspect the PRC bases by plane.

In the early 21st century, the situation is improving. China recently held talks with ASEAN countries aimed at realizing a proposal for a free trade area between the ten countries involved. China and ASEAN also have been engaged in talks to create a code of conduct aimed at easing tensions in the disputed islands. On 5 March 2002, an agreement was reached, setting forth the desire of the claimant nations to resolve the problem of sovereignty “without further use of force”. In November 2002, a Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea was signed, easing tensions but falling short of a legally-binding code of conduct.

People Population: no indigenous inhabitants
note: there are scattered garrisons occupied by personnel of several claimant states
Government Country name: conventional long form: none
conventional short form: Spratly Islands
Economy Economy – overview: Economic activity is limited to commercial fishing. The proximity to nearby oil- and gas-producing sedimentary basins suggests the potential for oil and gas deposits, but the region is largely unexplored. There are no reliable estimates of potential reserves. Commercial exploitation has yet to be developed.
Transportation Airports: 3 (2007)
Airports – with paved runways: total: 2
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 1 (2007)
Airports – with unpaved runways: total: 1
914 to 1,523 m: 1 (2007)
Heliports: 3 (2007)
Ports and terminals: none; offshore anchorage only
Military Military – note: Spratly Islands consist of more than 100 small islands or reefs of which about 45 are claimed and occupied by China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam
Transnational Issues Disputes – international: all of the Spratly Islands are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam; parts of them are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines; in 1984, Brunei established an exclusive fishing zone that encompasses Louisa Reef in the southern Spratly Islands but has not publicly claimed the reef; claimants in November 2002 signed the “Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea,” which has eased tensions but falls short of a legally binding “code of conduct”; in March 2005, the national oil companies of China, the Philippines, and Vietnam signed a joint accord to conduct marine seismic activities in the Spratly Islands

Taiwan’s law on language show China what it means to be a modern, inclusive country

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF QUARTZ INDIA)

 

Taiwan’s laws on language are showing China what it means to be a modern, inclusive country

OBSESSION

Language

May 09, 2018

Taiwan was once considered an economic miracle. Now economic progress there has slowed to a halt as China, Taiwan’s imposing neighbor, grows bigger by the day.

But in terms of social progress, Taiwan is decades ahead—showing people in China that a modern, multicultural, and tolerant Chinese society is possible.

Consider the difference between Taiwan and China’s language policies. Legislators in Taiwan are preparing to redefine what constitutes a “national language.” If the new definition is enacted, which is likely, Taiwanese—the local variant of the Minnan language of southern China—will receive equal treatment with Mandarin. That would be unthinkable in China, where Mandarin’s status as the sole standard language is absolute.

The Taiwanese language is everywhere in Taiwan. It is spoken at home by over 80% of the population. Would-be politicians feel the need to campaign in Taiwanese in order to win elections. Yet it has not been given the status of a national language. That is in part because the language has endured long periods of inequity relative to Mandarin, even in Taiwan. When the Kuomintang party arrived on the island in the 1940s, fleeing its losing battle with the Chinese communists, it banned the use of Taiwanese in schools and in the media, declaring that Mandarin should be the language of the island.

The new rule would change that, expanding on a separate act passed last year that gave several indigenous languages “national” status. Areas with large populations that speak Taiwanese will be allowed to use them in official documents and legal affairs. And the government will have an obligation to teach Taiwanese and the indigenous languages as part of the standard, 12-year curriculum, as well as to develop writing systems and dictionaries in those languages.

That level of commitment to minority languages would be impressive even for a Western country. In the United States, for example, it is hard to find national efforts to support any language other than English. But more than anything, the new rule reveals the growing cultural distance between Taiwan and China, and how much Taiwan has developed socially.

China doesn’t like the Minnan that can be heard in shops and food stalls across Taiwan. It considers Minnan, or Taiwanese, the language of the Taiwan independence movement. The prospect of possible retaliation from Beijing has long delayed Taiwan from giving the language a more official status.

China’s policies on minority languages, meanwhile, are stuck in the 20th century. Linguistically, China is extremely diverse. It is home to at least 100 distinct languages. Yet the Chinese government’s policy is based on the Stalinist assertion that a nation must have a single shared language, and that everyone in the nation must speak it. “A national community is inconceivable without a common language,” Stalin wrotein 1913. In 2000, China enacted a law to that effect, establishing putonghua—or “common speech,” as Mandarin is called in China—as the sole national language for the “unification of the country.” That means that Mandarin should come before all other languages.

The official rules in China don’t ban minority languages. And the same law that established Mandarin as the national language states that citizens “shall have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages.”

But in many cases, the Communist Party perceives minority languages as being in conflict with higher-priority concerns, such as the nationwide promotion of Mandarin, national sovereignty, and cultural unification of the kind that Stalin advocated.

“If you promote the use of those [minority] languages in public domains, then the government might have a different view,” says Minglang Zhou, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies minority language policy in China. “They think that threatens the use of putonghua, and citizens’ identification with the Chinese nation.”

The Tibetan language is a good example of how these priorities shake out in practice.

“If you look at Tibetan, you can see this gradual shift from using Tibetan for instruction in classrooms to using Chinese,” Zhou adds. This is mostly the result of the 2000 language law. China might allow minority groups to develop their own languages, but the national effort is focused on getting 80% of citizens speaking Mandarin.

The two goals can be mutually exclusive. Mandarin-speaking teachers are sent to areas where Chinese is not spoken as well, and where they might not be able to speak the local language. The result is that in Tibet, the local language is, at best, relegated to a language class, and not used as the medium of instruction.

In addition to challenging the primacy of Mandarin, the party views the Tibetan language as a threat to Chinese sovereignty and identification with the nation of China. It doesn’t want citizens seeing themselves as Tibetans first. A strong Tibetan language movement might bring that about. China may claim that minorities have the right to develop their languages, but it also put on trial an activist who wanted more Tibetan in schools, accusing him of “inciting separatism.”

Essentially, China is not concerned with making minority languages more frequently spoken. It wants them to be preserved as interesting bits of Chinese history, like artifacts in a museum.

Therein lies the difference with Taiwan. Giving Taiwanese equal status will allow the language to thrive in everyday life, whether in schools, official documents, or popular media. It is not meant to be a historical artifact. If Mandarin is preferred in some setting, it will be because it is a common language, not because it has been deemed so from on high.

Taiwan has had enough time being governed independently from China to develop its own identity. The renewed emphasis on the Taiwanese language is one symptom of that. At the same time, its language policies show how Taiwan has developed into a pluralistic democracy, even as China moves in the opposite direction, toward greater unification. Taiwan’s renewed promotion of indigenous languages tries to reckon with historical injustices, even as China arrests Tibetan language activists. Last year, Taiwan legalized same-sex marriage as China shut down a popular lesbian dating app.

In addition to being an act of pluralism, Taiwan’s proposed language law probably has political motivations. It sends a message to China that Taiwan does not need, or want, to abide by Beijing’s rules. But it also shows people in China that top-down unification is not the only way to govern an ethnically and linguistically diverse country where Mandarin is the lingua franca.

Israeli chutzpah, Taiwan’s Confucian culture can be a ‘great match’ in business

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israeli chutzpah, Taiwan’s Confucian culture can be a ‘great match’ in business

Delegation of Taiwan government officials, VC and tech executives visits Israel to work on closer cooperation

A group of Taiwanese visitors march in the 'Tabernacles' parade held by Christian groups each year on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, September 24, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A group of Taiwanese visitors march in the ‘Tabernacles’ parade held by Christian groups each year on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, September 24, 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

There are “great prospects” for business cooperation between Israel and Taiwan in the high-tech field, a senior official of a Taiwanese trade organization said last week as he led a delegation of senior executives to the Startup Nation to pursue business opportunities.

“Israel and Taiwan are a great match,” declared James Huang, the chairman of Taiwan External Trade Development Council, or TAITRA, a nonprofit trade promotion organization that operates within the Ministry of Economic Affairs in Taiwan. Huang spoke to The Times of Israel in Tel Aviv.

“Culturally we are very different on the surface,” Huang said. “Taiwan is a Confucian society, with emphasis on respect of order, seniority. In Israel everyone challenges everyone,” he said with a laugh. And that is why, he said, the two countries “can complement each other perfectly” to introduce innovation in R&D and in paving the way for future technologies.

In Taiwan, which today manufactures 80 percent of the world’s PCs and 25 percent of the world’s semiconductors, the Confucian discipline is applied to manufacturing. “We probably have the most efficient manufacturing industries in the world, second probably only to Germany,” Huang said.

James Huang, the chairman of Taiwan External Trade Development Council, or TAITRA (Courtesy)

Israel’s penchant for out-of-the-box thinking and innovation could complement Taiwan’s manufacturing prowess, he said. “Israel is a hub and a gateway to global innovation and Taiwan is a hub of global ICT manufacturing. I am sure a lot of new technology can be applied to our manufacturing processes. I urge Israeli companies to pay more attention to Taiwan.”

Traditionally, Israeli tech firms have looked at the US and Europe as natural markets for their products and for joint ventures. But relations with Asian nations are growing, with China, India and Japan looking to Israel for new technologies and Israeli firms viewing the huge Asian markets as a lucrative new avenue for sales and growth.

Taiwan (Republic of China), originally known as Formosa, was created in 1949 when Chiang Kai-shek fled the mainland after Mao Zedong’s Communist Party took the reins of government in Beijing.

For years, mainland China insisted that it was the “real China” and often required governments with which it had relations to cut off ties with Taiwan. While the People’s Republic still insists that it represents the one, unified China, it no longer insists on exclusivity in business relationships. The sensitive relations between the two nations continue to be an issue, however.

Meanwhile, Taiwan has prospered, through a dynamic capitalist economy that, like Israel, is heavily dependent on exports. The country is home to some 25 million people, compared to the almost 9 million in Israel. It suffers from a low birth rate that raises the prospect of a future shortfall of workers, falling domestic demand and receding tax revenues.

Huang was at the head of a 14-person delegation including prominent Taiwanese heads of VC funds and executives of high tech firms, looking to expand the strategic cooperation between Taiwanese and Israeli startups and to study opportunities to expand bring Israeli technologies to the Asian market.

Walter Yeh, the president and CEO of Taiwan External Trade Development Council, or TAITRA, left, and Gadi Arieli, director general of the Israel Export Institute at the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding for increased cooperation between the countries; Tel Aviv, May

During his visit, Israel’s Export Institute and TAITRA signed a memorandum of understanding to help promote trade and delegations and inform businesses on both sides about investment and joint venture opportunities in the two countries.

“Israel and Taiwan are already connected in a small way,” Huang said. He hopes the MOU will be a first step toward even closer cooperation, including between Israeli and Taiwanese VC funds, Huang said.

During its time in Israel the delegation met with local firms and VC executives and held a seminar in Tel Aviv, attended by representatives from the Israeli startup industry, venture capital funds, the Israel Innovation Authority, the Israel Export Institute and the ICT Industry Association Israel.

Trade between Israel and Taiwan is more or less balanced and recorded double digit growth last year. In 2017, Taiwan exported to Israel some $700 million worth of goods – up 14 percent from a year earlier, including machinery, optical precision tools, car parts and medicinal equipment. Taiwan imported some $1 billion worth of goods from Israel, including chemicals, medicines, diamonds and electronic and machinery parts, up 11 percent from a year earlier, according to TAITRA data.

Huang was also in Israel to promote Computex, the largest ICT and startups trade show in Asia, which will take place on June 5 to 9.

READ MORE:

US AND CHINA HEADED FOR WAR OVER TAIWAN?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST AND FROM ANDY TAI’s GOOGLE+ ACCOUNT)

 

ARE THE US AND CHINA HEADED FOR WAR OVER TAIWAN?

As Beijing and Washington position themselves for a trade war, Trump should beware playing the Taiwan card – or he may find his actions lead to a real war

BY WANG XIANGWEI

Are the Chinese mainland and Taiwan headed down an inevitable path to war – one that is likely to see the United States join the fray?

This slow-burning question came to the fore again last week when the mainland launched live-fire drills in the Taiwan Strait on Wednesday amid fiery rhetoric from Chinese state media. On Thursday morning, Chinese state media started to post online videos of helicopters and warships firing at targets at sea but Taiwandismissed the exercises as “routine”.

This came after President Xi Jinping had presided over a massive naval parade off Hainan island a week earlier, one that involved 48 warships including China’s sole operating aircraft carrier and more than 10,000 servicemen – the largest such exercise since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949.

PLA submarines, naval vessels and fighter jets accompany China’s aircraft carrier Liaoning on exercises in the South China Sea. Photo: Xinhua

The state media said Beijing was sending a loud and clear warning to Taipei and Washington amid heightened tensions caused by Taiwanese leaders’ open advocacy for independence and increased American support for the Taiwanese government.

Over the past few weeks, Chinese officials and state media have ratcheted up the rhetoric against Taipei and Washington, the largest supplier of arms to the island.

Trump’s trade war with China is just his opening gambit

Referring to Thursday’s live-fire drills, Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to US, warned in a lecture at Harvard University that China would try every possible means to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen speaks on the telephone to Donald Trump. Photo: EPA

Earlier this month, a spokesman for the Taiwan Affairs Office, said any outside forces that attempted to “play the Taiwan card” would find their efforts “futile” and would hurt themselves if they went “over the line”, according to the official China Daily.

The remark was clearly aimed at US President Donald Trump and his administration which in recent months has taken a number of significant steps to warm ties with Taipei. As Beijing and Washington are currently positioning themselves for a possible trade war, Trump’s intention to play the Taiwan card again is even more dangerous because this would further destabilise bilateral ties or even worse, could lead to a real war.

A nasty US-China fight is inevitable. But it needn’t be terminal

True to Trump’s unconventional and unpredictable presidency, he first started to play the Taiwan card in the transition to the White House when he took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen, breaking a nearly 40-year-old diplomatic protocol governing China-US ties.

At that time, Trump made it clear his intention was to use Taiwan as a play to force more concessions on trade from China. His suggestion then was overwhelmingly met with criticism and cynicism almost everywhere, even in Taiwan where it raised concerns that the island could be used as a pawn and discarded easily.

China sees Taiwan as a province and usually reacts strongly to any foreign country having official contacts with the Taiwanese government or sale of arms to the island, particularly from the United States.

Now one year later, Trump’s intention to play the Taiwan card again signals a much broader agenda targeting China. Almost all the moderating voices in his administration have been forced out and replaced by more hawkish officials including the soon-to-be secretary of state Mike Pompeo and the National Security Adviser John Bolton – both of whom are known for tough stances against China and pro-Taiwan views.

Tough on China: US national security adviser John Bolton. Photo: Reuters

In recent months, his administration has approved licences for American firms to sell Taiwan technology to build submarines and signed the Taiwan Travel Act to encourage visits between American and Taiwanese officials. All these have invited protests from China.

A major test will come in June when the American Institute in Taiwan, the US de facto embassy, is slated to move into a new building. There has been growing speculation that Bolton or some other senior US official will attend the ceremony. If that happens, Beijing will regard it as a major provocation.

It is interesting to note that amid the war of words with Washington over trade, some elements in Beijing’s propaganda machine have been using warlike language to give the impression that China will not back down from the trade spat and will fight the US to the very end. That could well be a negotiation tactic, as trade issues are negotiable after all. But from the Chinese perspective, the Taiwan issue is absolutely non-negotiable. It is a clearly marked red line.

The Taiwanese leaders, encouraged by the latest warming signs from Washington, have started to openly advocate independence, which is a major taboo for Beijing and seen as breaking the status quo.

Over the past 40 years, Beijing and Taipei have tried to maintain the status quo in which both sides recognise the island as part of China, even while neither government recognises the legitimacy of the other. Taiwan agrees not to broach independence, in return mainland China does not use force to take over the island. Washington recognises this one-China principle but maintains close unofficial ties with Taiwan and provides the island with arms under the Taiwan Relations Act – a constant source of friction with Beijing.

Taiwanese Premier William Lai. Photo: EPA

This month, the Taiwanese premier William Lai publicly described himself as “a political worker for Taiwanese independence”. Although this was not the first time he has said this, Lai’s latest declaration caused serious worries in Beijing in the context of Washington’s warming ties with Taipei.

The heightened tensions over the Taiwan Strait have come as Xi embarks on his second term as China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong. Last month the national legislature repealed the term limits on the presidency, enabling Xi to rule as long as he likes.

With Xi trying to assert China’s power on the international stage, flexing China’s military muscle in the Taiwan Strait in the name of pushing back against the independence movement is likely to bolster Xi’s support on the mainland.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been trying to assert China’s power on the international stage. Photo: AFP

China’s official line has always been that it will seek peaceful reunification with Taiwan but not rule out using force to take it over. In the past, officials and state media have tended to emphasise the peaceful reunification part – more recently they have highlighted the bit about using force. Moreover, China has never publicly stated a timetable for reunification with Taiwan but some mainland analysts have started to preach the idea that reunification could take place by 2035 or 2050.

As China beats its war drum, who should hear its call?

These assumptions stemmed from Xi’s landmark report at the Communist Party’s 19th congress in October when he outlined a clearly defined timetable to realise what he called the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation – China would basically become a modern country by 2035 and a world power by 2050.

For an ambitious leader like Xi, reunification with Taiwan has to be an integral part of the dream.

So will the US join the fray if push comes to shove? Many people have mistakenly assumed the Taiwan Relations Act requires the US to come to Taiwan’s defence. In fact, the law contains no explicit guarantee.

Besides, there is a big question over whether the US would risk waging a full-blown war with China over Taiwan. In the short term, if the current trend continues with the US determined to play the Taiwan card – which in turn helps embolden the pro-independence movement in Taiwan – China will probably feel compelled to accelerate its military preparations and increase the frequency of military shows of strength like the one last week. All this means that tensions over the Taiwan Strait will get much worse unless Trump rethinks his plan to play the Taiwan card.

Wang Xiangwei is the former editor-in-chief of the South China Morning Post. He is now based in Beijing as editorial adviser to the paper

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