By Alec Pronk
THE GEOPOLITICAL shock caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine has served as an opportunity for hawkish US foreign policy commentators and policymakers to double down on the issue of Taiwan.
White House official Kurt Campbell told a virtual forum held by the German Marshall Fund that it “will be demanded of the US and this generation of Americans” to be engaged in two theatres of conflict – namely Russia and China.
At home, anti-China sentiment is visibly fomenting in both political and civilian sentiment. According to the MIT Technology Review, the Department of Justice has “created a climate of fear” and “pushed some talented scientists to leave the United States” thanks to its efforts to identify Chinese ‘economic espionage’.
Against this backdrop, US politicians have been keen to confront China and increase tensions in a bipartisan fashion.
In early February, Senators Marco Rubio (Republican) and Bob Menendez (Democrat) introduced a bipartisan bill to rename the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in Washington, D.C. to the Taiwan Representative Office.
According to the Senators’ official press statement, the proposed name “better reflects its status as Taiwan’s de facto diplomatic mission to the United States.”
At the same time, the House passed the wide-sweeping America COMPETES Act of 2022, an attempt to compete with Chinese technological innovations and strengthen ties with Taiwan. It also includes a clause for the Secretary of State to open negotiations with TECRO to rename the office.
Longman C.A. Chung, Executive Officer of TECRO told Redaction Report: “Taiwan has been enjoying bipartisan support in Congress. We are grateful for the support and will continue to work steadily with the administration, Congress and the people of the U.S. to enhance our long-term friendship and substantial partnership.”
The legislation is a response to China levying economic restrictions against Lithuania that have heavily damaged multiple Lithuanian industries after Lithuania upgraded its Taiwanese representative office to a de-facto Taiwanese embassy.
“One could argue that this Congressional action is a reaction to Chinese pressure on Lithuania, to show them they can’t bully us and should not bully others, but I doubt that this will encourage any other smaller country to follow suit,” said Ralph A. Cossa, President Emeritus of Pacific Forum and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies.
Cossa described the proposed bill as “feel-good legislation” and added, “not a big fan of Congress trying to legislate foreign policy in general or in finding ways to poke Beijing in the eye for no apparent gain.”
Cossa advocated for “the United States and Taiwan should step up their joint work and strengthen their security relationship.”
This includes providing stronger defensive capabilities of Taiwan in the event of the ‘worst-case scenario’, an invasion of Taiwan from Beijing, and the US government raising American public awareness about the perceived threat to Taiwan.
Cossa described himself as “not soft on China by any means” and continued, “but we should choose our battles more carefully.”
The growing hostility toward China from the American political establishment and population potentially threaten Cossa’s more moderate approach. Instead of seeking diplomatic solutions that would relieve growing tensions between the US and China, many US politicians are more interested in scoring cheap political points, potentially at the expense of those in Taiwan.
“The Chinese will see this as another DPP-instigated action, whether true or not, and it will find ways of making Taipei pay for it,” Cossa told Redaction Report.
“This cannot help but increase tensions both in trade relations and in the broader relationship and will likely result in Chinese actions not just against Washington but against Taipei as well.”
The growing diplomatic rift between China and the US is palpable, especially in the face of the Russian-Ukraine war. While the US, NATO, and allies in Asia have imposed heavy sanctions and condemned Russia’s actions, China has struck a much different tone.
Dr. Wang Huiyao, the founder of a think tank in China, suggested in an article for the New York Times that China is uniquely positioned to help negotiate peace in Ukraine.
Rather than pursue this course, President Joe Biden has emphasised consequences to China if they provided direct military aid to China, a red line that is difficult to imagine Beijing crossing.
Xi Jinping also largely ruled out China playing a more active diplomatic role, saying: “Let he who tied the bell on the tiger’s neck take it off” – referring to the eastward expansion of NATO since the late 1990s.
Since 1979, the US has largely toed the internationally accepted line, one approved by the PRC, that only one China can be internationally recognized.
But in recent years, the US has poked at this issue in a manner that seems to goad China with little regard for the security of Taiwan. The rhetoric of many US politicians is an irresponsible gambit looking to profit from the Sinophobia they’ve ramped up at home.
What they risk is global stability, diplomatic progress, and in the worst case an exponential escalation in tensions that culminates in direct conflict with another nuclear power.
Alec Pronk a freelance journalist covering American foreign policy, mostly in Asia. He has a master’s degree in Political Science from Leiden University.
Featured Image: Kevin Harber @Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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