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Taiwan and the China–US Relations

Nancy Pelosi’s visit highlights the contradictions of the United States’ arrangement with China over Taiwan.

Nancy Pelosi’s visit highlights the contradictions of the United States’ arrangement with China over Taiwan.

Atul Bhardwaj writes:

The speaker of the United States (US) House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi’s politically provocative visit to Taiwan and Beijing’s equally provocative military exercises in the waters surrounding Taiwan has further vitiated the Sino–US relations bringing the two big powers closer to war. The US recognises the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China while maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan. The US Department of State is insisting that there is no change in its “one China Policy,” but Pelosi’s visit has once again highlighted the contradictions of Washington’s arrangement with China over Taiwan.

Twenty-five years ago, another house speaker, Newt Gingrich, visited Taiwan to inform China that the Chinese acceptance of capitalism was not good enough for the US to abandon Taiwan. Gingrich visited Beijing before reaching Taiwan via Japan. The Chinese expressed their displeasure without resorting to a display of military might. Those times were different; neither the Chinese possessed the military strength nor was the US Navy contemplating quitting the Atlantic to reposition itself in the Indo-Pacific. Towards the fag end of the 20th century, the two countries were in a close embrace—China was a fledgling eco­nomy and the deindustrialising US was keen to import cheap goods for its masses from the factory of the world.

Gingrich, a presidential aspirant, was keen to establish himself as a principled politician with a combative communication style. He could not reach the White House but became a crucial link connecting the wild conservatism of today to its past. He is an important Republican figure involved in the rise of Trumps in American politics. Pelosi, the Democratic politician, is also a presidential aspirant. Thirty-one years ago, to launch her political career, she dared to unfurl a banner in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square to honour the pro-democracy student activists killed there.

Pelosi has again dovetailed geostrategy with domestic politics probably to launch herself as a credible presidential can­didate. She may not have endeared herself to the US Department of State but has certainly pleased many Republicans like Gingrich who condone no appeasement of Beijing. 

The American China hawks do not intend to give any more space to China to grow and be in a position to shape the international order as per the Communist Party of China’s interest and ideology. They insist on the US to adopt a more competitive strategy guided by a return to “principled realism”—ethical principle as an inspiration for action and realism as a constraint. This form of realism is critical of both Henry Kissinger and Joseph Nye. Kissinger’s realism is considered to be unprincipled and “idolatry” because it is rooted in the appeasement of the powerful and is devoid of values and idealism. The two examples of Kissinger’s deference to power are his eagerness to advance détente with the Soviet Union and his unctuous cultivation of Deng Xiaoping after he made a departure from Maoism. Echoing paleo-conservatives, Pelosi believes that “if you cannot stand up for human rights in China because of commercial interests, you lose all moral authority to speak out for it in any place.” 

Taiwan has long been a source of tension between Washington and Beijing. China claims Taiwan as its territory and is not averse to using force, if necessary, to prevent it from declaring independence. And the US sees Taiwan as a geopolitical tool that is occasionally used to tease or tame China.

In August 1958, the Chinese launched an artillery blockade of the Quemoy Island, cutting off supplies to the garrison on the island for almost two months. The shelling was primarily a probing action launched by Mao Zedong to test the American resolve to come in defence of the “outlying islands” controlled by Chiang Kai-shek’s nationalist government in Taiwan. He wanted to prove his hypothesis that American imperialism and its nuclear weapons were “paper tigers.” Managing domestic politics and galvanising the people for his great leap forward was also another reason for Mao to indulge in extravagant shelling sans desire to capture the islands.

Pelosi has resorted to using Mao’s tactics of employing tensions and not striving for détente to the US’s comparative advantage and China’s disadvantage. China’s display of its military might and naked showcasing of maritime masochism may send a signal to both the US and Taiwan that gaining independence is not going to be easy. But it has probably increased the distance between Taiwan and mainland China. 

However, the other perspective suggests that Taiwan has received the message that in the turf war between two giants—the US and China—Taiwan will be the proverbial grass that is likely to get crushed. Many in Taiwan are witnessing the plight of Ukraine, that is, getting destroyed to fulfil the geopolitical aims of the two mighty powers. Will the Taiwanese population agree to be used in a turf war? These questions are definitely occupying the minds of Taiwanese people because Taiwan’s business and economic linkages with the mainland are huge. Both China and Hong Kong are the island’s largest trading partners. Why would Taiwan risk its prosperity to make American hawks happy? India also has wisely decided to keep out of this tiny turf battle between China and the US.

It is not always essential to pass judgments on such events. The students of diplomacy and security studies need to quietly watch the way the international political game is being played and the way military tactics are being employed.

 

 

 

Updated On : 15th Aug, 2022
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