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Taiwan, China, and the United States
Views:1690 Updated:2020-05-28

Over the past few months, the United States has taken a series of moves concerning the Taiwan issue – at the beginning of March, the U.S congress passed a “Taipei Act of 2019”, through which, the U.S. described Taiwan as a close ally and pledged to further strengthen ties with Taiwan. Then, the U.S. leadership, more recently, has declared to deepen ties with Taiwan and assist Taiwan to expand its acting space at both regional and international levels. Further, upon the Taiwan leader’s inauguration for her second term on 20 May, the U.S. Secretary of State delivered a congratulatory message to Cai, and claimed that Taiwan remains as a strong and reliable partner of the United States. In the meantime, the U.S. government has notified the congress for a possible new arms sale deal with Taiwan worth of around $180 million.


Along with these series of actions taken by the U.S., here a number of questions raised are worth thinking about? - how do we see the nature and impact of these moves? More precisely, do they carry more of a symbolic meaning or more of a substantial purpose? How could these actions possibly affect the policy direction of relevant political parties in Taiwan mainly including the Nationalist Party (KMT), the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), and the New Party? How will the Cross-Strait relations will be like under Cai’s new term? What should be the right future for Taiwan and for the relevant political parties in Taiwan from a long-term perspective? And what should be the wise choice for the U.S. and China concerning the Taiwan issue, the China-U.S. bilateral relations and beyond from a long-term perspective?


I.                 Recent Moves of the U.S. on the Taiwan Issue: Symbolic or Substantial?


There have been a lot of discussions going on regarding some of the questions above. Some think that the recent moves taken by the U.S. on Taiwan are both symbolic and substantial. This analytical piece would share a view that they are more of symbolic than of substantial, as the reality is that the U.S. - Taiwan ties cannot move up further beyond the current stage in substantial terms, otherwise, it would risk a real conflict with the mainland, and a real war is not in the interest of all parties concerned.


Saying these moves symbolic is because they can be seen as a signal sent by the U.S. to the political parties in Taiwan, to the Taiwan public, as well as to the U.S. allies and other relevant countries across the globe. By doing so, the U.S. tends to show to the world that the United States should still be a reliable partner, and it is committed to protecting the interest of the U.S. and of its allies.


The period of the past recent months has been a very critical time for the U.S.. Amid the threat of the Coronavirus, the U.S. government’s reputation, due to its way in handling of the pandemic, has been seriously damaged both domestically and internationally. Hence, the U.S. must have to act in a seemingly very strong manner in order to remain confident. Besides that, acting strongly on foreign issues might aim to serve the U.S. election purpose.


Whatever the U.S. has done and is going to do in relation to the Taiwan issue, Taiwan’s status as a card used by the U.S. to balance the mainland China has remained and will remain the same. From a realist perspective, deploying the Taiwan card has been one of the usual tactics of the U.S. since decades ago.


This piece, meanwhile, would also like to assert that the U.S. has actually calculated its relations with the mainland and with Taiwan very carefully in general terms, as the U.S. decision-makers know the bottom line concerning the Taiwan issue very well, which is that the Chinese government would never compromise on the issue of sovereignty.


Another issue that needs to take into account when trying to understand the messages sent by the U.S. officials is that the U.S. is a very liberalized society, which partly means that different voices coming from a wide range of officials and from a variety of sectors at the same time shouldn’t be a surprising matter to the world. In other words, talking could be one thing, and doing could be another thing in a democratic sense sometimes, especially in a very liberalized society, as the world has seen.


II.               Impact of the Messages Delivered by the U.S. Officials


Even though the U.S. does have no intention to pursue anything particularly substantial, the messages delivered by the U.S. officials could still cause a slight impact more or less on the political parties in Taiwan, in particular, on the DPP. More precisely, these could lead the Cai government to re-affirm its current hostile stance and policies toward the mainland China, and encourage the DPP to seek even more ambitious plans to create problems in the Cross-Strait relations. In Cai’s inauguration speech on 20 May, she pledged to actively increase Taiwan’s participation in regional cooperation mechanisms, and to raise Taiwan’s role in contributing to the peace, stability, and prosperity in the Indo-pacific region. Obviously, Cai’s message reveals the Cai government’s willingness to accommodate the U.S. Indo-pacific strategy. Meanwhile, the DPP sees bringing the U.S. in as a good opportunity to help highlight Taiwan’s status. Nevertheless, this kind of attempts will be unlikely to make any breakthroughs, as far as the Cross-Strait relations remains in a difficult situation. Over all, the DPP’s policies toward the mainland China and the U.S. respectively under Cai’s new term wouldn’t expect to have dramatic changes.


For the New Political Party in Taiwan, the moves taken by the U.S. wouldn’t likely cause any impact on the policy direction of the New Party. The New Party maintains a clear stance of seeking unification with the mainland. Its role will be expected to keep growing in the coming years in its relevance to promoting unification.


As for the KMT, right now the KMT party faces a series of critical choices in particular with regard to what policy direction the party should work out, how to restore the unity of the party, and how to regain the public trust etc. After having suffered a number of serious losses, the KMT is in a stage of reforming and restructuring itself. As generally agreed, the new KMT party leader has been in an observing mood and been carefully listening to the voices from different sides. The KMT party at the moment doesn’t seem to be quite certain about what policy direction the party should follow. This analytical piece would share a few points on this as the following.


In order to restore unity, confidence, and competitiveness, the most serious mistake the KMT should avoid making is to follow the DPP’s policy direction. If the KMT chooses to follow the DPP’s path, the chances for regaining unity and competitiveness would be lost, and the KMT’s position would be further weakened.


The most important task for the KMT’s reform at the current stage is to clear its stance, and re-define its direction, and then only by constantly adhering to which, the party would have a future. The old and obscure stance, which has long been held by the KMT, is suggested to be abandoned. One of the former KMT leaders, regarding the Taiwan issue, ever held a position of “not seeking independence, not pursuing unification, and not resorting to force” (不独,不统,不武). Such kind of description is very obscure. What does this mean? It is purposely to keep Taiwan in a safe position as far as Taiwan doesn’t directly seek independence. However, it also equals to the reality that Taiwan will remain in an independent status as long as it can.


From a long-term perspective, obscure stances should be detrimental to the future of the KMT and of Taiwan. It is time for the KMT to hold highly of the banner of seeking unification. This is also in adherence to the will of the founding father of the KMT, who never wanted China to be separated. An ever KMT-led China never wanted China to be separated. Unification is the most reliable goal for the KMT and for Taiwan. By working together with all other political parties, groups, organizations, and individuals who are supportive of this just undertaking toward that goal, Taiwan’s fate as “a floating little boat in the middle of the sea” will be ended.


Selfish, expedient, and short-sighted vision for the purpose of winning a temporary election shouldn’t have a place in the process of promoting the party’s reform. To finally achieve the long-term goal of unification, the KMT is in need to work closely with the New Political Party, as well as with all other just and positive forces in Taiwan. All these great efforts to be made by the KMT would be conducive to its current reforming objective of restoring the unity of the party, of enhancing the party’s capacity, of raising the party’s profile, and of winning the people’s trust.


In addition to that, most importantly, the KMT is suggested to deepen cooperation and dialogue with the Chinese authority, as well as to help facilitate exchanges and cooperation between the mainland and Taiwan from a wide variety of sectors. Currently, the “1992 Consensus” serves as the foundation for facilitating dialogue between the KMT and the Chinese authority. It is in need for the two sides to jointly work on more concrete measures toward unification. The signing of a new consensus might need to be taken into account. The “1992 Consensus” is a bit old indeed, and it appears to have been serving as more of a symbolic purpose. It is advisable for the Chinese authority and the KMT, with the participation of the New Political Party to refine the “1992 Consensus” by adding more concrete substances into it – such as the procedures, steps, measures, and other elements which could pave the way for jointly promoting unification. Before achieving the above, the “1992 Consensus” should still matter the most in bridging the Cross-Strait dialogue and cooperation. Unification is a great undertaking supported by all those who respect historical facts and historical trend, and believe in human justice.


III.              A Wise Choice for a Healthy China-U.S. Relations and Beyond


For the U.S. position on the Taiwan issue, the U.S. appears to have dragged itself into a dilemmatic situation – on the one hand, it recognized the government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate authority representing the One-China; on the other hand, it keeps playing the Taiwan card to balance the mainland. All in all, the U.S. dilemmatic position is caused by its fear of losing balance, and of losing its number one great power status.


This kind of balancing tactic is indicative of one of the typical principles held the realist school of thought-balance of power. In accordance with this realist tradition, the U.S. sees China as a competitor, in a way just like how the then great powers in history had dealt with each other. Yet there could be a possibility that the U.S. assumptions about China can be mentally formed from a certain sense, given that China didn’t have a realist theory before it was introduced to China. The realist school of thought was born in the west, and it was created by the western intellectuals based on their recordings of a number of conflicts and wars along with the western civilization process.


Balance of power, as the key principle of the realist tradition, was created to help maintain peace and prevent wars. Building alliance relationships is one of the typical examples for applying the balance of power principle. However, in history, the balance of power had always failed to prevent conflicts. Till nowadays, this failed strategy is still frequently applied in international relations.


The starting point of the balance of power strategy is for states to hold a hostile attitude toward their counterparts, states are supposed to see others as enemies, and they are suspicious of each other’s intentions. The purpose for balancing is to contain the growing of a particular power. As far as the hostile position of states is pre-defined, how could be possible for them to smoothly seek peace and cooperation?


In addition to that, in line with the realist tradition, the alliance relationship is not necessarily to remain stable and reliable. Looking back at what had happened in western history, great powers had frequently switched their alliance relationships from one to another in different historical periods. Therefore, the alliance relationship mostly carries an expedient purpose for states to protect their interests, and it doesn’t usually and necessarily mean friendship. How could it be possible for an unreliable alliance principle to help secure or sustain a stable outcome then?


After all, there could be many misunderstandings between China and the U.S on a number of regional and international issues due to their differences in culture, philosophy, history, and development processes etc. As Constructivism maintained, these factors matter a lot in terms of affecting the way how different states would deal with their counterparts.


On the Taiwan issue, the U.S. sees it more from a geopolitical and realist perspective, while China sees it more from a sovereign sense; the Chinese culture and tradition wouldn’t allow Taiwan to be separated from China. The Chinese development and civilization process in ancient times had been driven by China’s constant efforts to seek exchanges and cooperation with foreign powers. The ancient Silk Road should be a very good example to reveal a fact that China had tended to protect itself by seeking peaceful coexistence and collaboration with foreign powers, rather than by occupying and containing any other powers. For a very long historical period before the 19th century, China had been the most powerful and prosperous country in the world, yet China hadn’t occupied any foreign territory then.


By understanding well of the cultural and philosophical roots of the Chinese foreign policy, To ensure a sound development of the China-U.S bilateral relations, and to sustain a long-lasting peace in the Asia-pacific region and beyond, there is a strong necessity for the U.S. to rethink of its realist foreign policy toward China. It is advisable for the U.S. to respect China’s legitimate right in pursuing unification, rather than stir trouble between Taiwan and the mainland China. The U.S. is also suggested to act like a responsible power, in line with its number one great power status, being committed to creating global public good and defending justice by working together with all others.  



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