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Would the Taiwan Travel Bill Be A Challenge to One-China Policy?

Dr. Bawa Singh

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China perceives Taiwan its a wayward province out of Civil War 1949. Since then, Taiwan is being perceived as its integral part and hence pursuing ‘One China Principle’under which China wanted Taiwan’s reunification with the mainland. However from time to time, given its geopolitical and geostrategic interests, the US kept it Taiwan policy on the flip-flop, which put both the countries at loggerheads and on tenterhook. The latest move like Taiwan Travel Bill to allow bilateral visits to and fro has been considered as violation of One China Policy.

Since the end of Chinese Civil War (1949), Republic of China (Taiwan) has become one of the serious bilateral irritants in the Sino-US relations in general and under the Trump regime in particular. In addition to this, the massive great powers competition, bilateral trade deficit, geopolitical and geostrategic issues like modernization and nuclearization of military,  role in the nuclearization of North Korean and Iran, East and South China Sea dispute, String of Pearls, One Belt One Road, and human rights violation issues have been remained critical dynamics to determine the intensity and propensity of the bilateral relations.

The geopolitical and geostrategic support to Taiwan has become one of the serious bilateral irritants between the US and China, particularly under the incumbent regimes. Although, the US does not support the independent identity of Taiwan, but it had maintained unofficial relations with the latter one. The unofficial relations have been concretized and reinforced by the Taiwan Relations Act (1979).  Under the Act, the U.S. has been committed to assisting in maintaining Taiwan’s defensive capability and the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait differences with the People’s Republic China (PRC).The Act 1979, also encourages both sides to get engaged in constructive dialogue on the basis of dignity and respect.

China has been pursuing ‘One China Principle’, popularly known as ‘1992 Consensus’. The core argument of the principle is that both Taiwan and mainland China are integral and inseparable parts of a one China. Beyond doubts, under ‘One China Principle’, the governments of China and Taiwan had acquiesced that there is only one sovereign state encompassing mainland China and Taiwan. However, the major contention remained with both the countries is that which of the two governments would be the legitimate government.However, one another important dimension of the ‘One-China Principle’ is encountering the opposition from the Taiwan independence movement, popularly known as Taiwanization.

The stand of the US on ‘One-China Policy’ from time to time has been kept on changing and hence has become one of the critical factors in the US-China relations.  Since 1972, the US has been pursuing ‘One-China Policy’, which was started under the Shanghai Communiqué. As per the study of Bush (2015:129), the United States has acknowledged that “Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States does not challenge that position.”  But here it is important to point out that, till date, the US  has not issued an explicit statement either it perceives Taiwan as an independent country or not.

The 1980s has proved to be an unprecedented decade in the Sino-US relations. Some geopolitical events like the Sino-Soviet split and Sino-Vietnamese conflict had smothered the bitterness and put forward a way for normalization of the relations. The start of the open market economy of China after the death of Mao Zedong (September 9, 1976), the United States had realized the sea of opportunity in the PRC. In order to exploit the same, the US strategically had switched over the diplomatic relations and given recognition to the PRC on 1 January 1979. The President Jimmy Carter had distanced the US from the ROC (Taiwan). The Congress had reciprocated to it very positively by passing the Taiwan Relations Act (1979). The Act emphasized that the US would maintain relations with Taiwan, but it cut off the official relationships with the same. However, in order to keep both PRC and ROC at ease, the Six Assurances (1982) were given by President Ronald Reagan. But the fifth assurance had become a bilateral irritant between China and the US. Under this, the US would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. On April 21, 2004,the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, James A. Kelly was asked by Rep. Grace Napolitano, either the US commitment to Taiwan’s democracy is conflicted with the so-called One-China Policy. He admitted that it is difficult to define the US position but,”It is not the One-China Principle that Beijing suggests.”

As far as clarity is concerned over the China One Policy, the US has tried to make it more explicit in CSR’s Policy Report (July 9, 2007).“China/Taiwan: Evolution of the “One China.”In this report, it has been clearly accepted that the US would not be explicitly stated the sovereign status of Taiwan; acknowledgement of the “One China” position of both sides; no recognization of PRC’s sovereignty over Taiwan; no recognization of Taiwan as a sovereign country; and considered Taiwan’s status as undetermined and unsettled. From these points, the US policy is explicit with regards to China’s One Policy and Taiwan’s sovereign status as neither it supports Chinese One Policy and nor supports the independence of Taiwan, instead it astutely formulated and followed a policy as how to protect and promote its national, regional and as major power’s interests.

In the background of the US’s ambiguous ‘One China Policy’, geopolitical and geostrategic the proximity between the US and Taiwan, the supply of weapons are some of the serious bilateral irritants between China and the US. Under military provisions of the Taiwan Relations Act (1979), it has been ensured that Taiwan may consistently remain under the protection of the US. Under its provisions, the Act states that “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain sufficient self-defense capabilities.” The Act further stipulates that the United States will,”consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States”. Since 1979, the successive US governments have consistently been supplying defense articles to Taiwan despite suspended relations (ROC) and China One Policy (PRC).

A new turn took place in the US, China and  Taiwan relations with the political changing regimes in the respective countries. The anti-communistic and pro-Taiwanese independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has returned to power in the January 2016 elections. For the first time in the political history of the country, this  Taiwan-centric party had won the majority in the Legislative Yuan by defeating the previous eight years rule of Kuomintang (KMT). Since 2008, Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou had assured the Chinese government about its government’s intentions, engagements, and the expansion of economic relations in order to the preserve the bilateral peace and stability. On the contrary, the sweeping victory of the DPP Government (2016) under President Tsai Ing-wen had given a knee-jerk shock to China. Chinese anticipation such as Taiwanese government would not push for independence, has proven wrong as the anti-communistic DPP government under the stewardship of President Tsai has been advocating for Taiwan’s independence, the transition to democracy, and reduce economic dependence on China. In the wake of Chinese military modernization and deployment of missiles along its border, Taiwan President committed to increasing military spending for strengthening its defensive capabilities.

Soon after the formation of new Taiwanese government (2016), President Trump has received a telephone call from President Tsai over which the PRC had made a hue and cry. It was the first unprecedented call between the US and Taiwan, which had not been happened since 1979.Andrew Tan has argued in the National Interest that although President Donald Trump had attempted to mollify and convince China to be a  partner in the Korean peninsula nuclear imbroglio, but it had not happened. In this backdrop, the Trump administration eventually harden its stand on One China Policy, followed by the US warships’ visit to Taiwan Strait (June 2017) and a package of arms sales worth US$1.4 billion. Moreover, President Trump had linked the China One Policy with the trade issue between China and the US.

The Taiwan Travel Bill passed by both the houses in 2018, is another irritant cropped up in the bilateral relations. It is a major question mark on China One Policy on part of the US. The bill has provided that the US would allow its officials at all levels and their counterpart to visit to and from. The bill would also encourage the economic and cultural representatives from Taiwan to conduct business in the US. On the contrary, China has always been making its efforts to isolate Taiwan, particularly under the DPP rule. This party is being perceived as the pro-democracy and anti-communistic. In nutshell, the Taiwanese officials would get the opportunity to get engaged with the US counterparts, is clearly a diplomatic loss for the China One Policy and  Taiwan’s isolation on part of the former.

The leadership of the incumbent government of DPP has welcomed the US legislation and taken it as a milestone for the bilateral relations between the US and Taiwan. The Taiwan Premier William Lai expressed his deep thanks over the legislation by calling the US as a “solid ally”. He expressed hope that the legislation would heighten the substantive relationship between Taiwan and the United States. On the contrary, China resolutely criticised the bill. The South China Morning Post (1 March. 2018) reported that the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry’s spokesperson Lu Kang, was very quick to criticise it, although the bill has not yet been turned into law. Lu has claimed that China was “strongly dissatisfied” with the legislation, as some of its clauses had violated the One-China Principle and encourage Taiwan for independence.

What would be the implications of the bill is a serious question likely to emerge not only for Sino-US relations, instead it would affect seriously the regional stability as well. The Sino-US relations which have already have become frosty, likely to become more turbulent and tormented. The Chinese leadership has argued that Taiwan is an integral part of “One China”, and hence it is probably ineligible to have state-to-state relations but the bill would enhance bilateral engagements at all levels. Strait Times (2 March2018), reported that China has warned the US that it is ready to go to war over Taiwan if the US turns the bill into law designed to promote the closer ties with self-ruled island  Taiwan which the PRC claims as its own. Under the law, China has anticipated that it would likely to encourage Taiwan President Tsai to further assert the Taiwan sovereignty. In this background, China has warned Taiwan with dire consequences and even the use of  Anti-Secession Law to reunify the latter.

At the last, it is concluded that the Taiwan Travel Bill, if turned into the act, would likely to create a wider gulf between the US and China. The bitter bilateral relations likely to have serious impacts over Taiwan as well. Out of this highly surcharged strategic environment, the already tense region would likely to be more explosive. Hence, the onus lies on the major powers to act and react wisely over the issue to maintain peace and stability, needed to overcome the already existing non-tradition regional security threats.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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East Asia

Freedom, Sovereign Debt, Generational Accounting and other Myths

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“How to draw the line between the recent and still unsettled EU/EURO crisis and Asia’s success story? Well, it might be easier than it seems: Neither Europe nor Asia has any alternative. The difference is that Europe well knows there is no alternative – and therefore is multilateral. Asia thinks it has an alternative – and therefore is strikingly bilateral, while stubbornly residing enveloped in economic egoisms. No wonder that Europe is/will be able to manage its decline, while Asia is (still) unable to capitalize its successes. Asia clearly does not accept any more the lead of the post-industrial and post-Christian Europe, but is not ready for the post-West world.” – professor Anis H. Bajrektarevic diagnosed in his well-read ‘No Asian century’ policy paper. Sino-Indian rift is not new. It only takes new forms in Asia, which – in absence of a true multilateralism – is entrenched in confrontational competition and amplifying antagonisms.  The following lines are referencing one such a rift.

At the end of 2017, Brahma Chellaney, a professor with the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research, wrote an article titled “China’s Creditor Imperialism” in which he accused China of creating a “debt trap” from Argentina, to Namibia and Laos, mentioning its acquisition of, or investment in the construction of several port hubs, including Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Piraeus in Greece, Djibouti, and Mombasa in Kenya in recent years.

These countries are forced to avoid default by painfully choosing to let China control their resources and thus have forfeited their sovereignty, he wrote. The article described China as a “new imperial giant” with a velvet glove hiding iron fists with which it was pressing small countries. The Belt and Road Initiative, he concluded, is essentially an ambitious plan to realize “Chinese imperialism”. The article was later widely quoted by newspapers, websites and think tanks around the world.

When then United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Africa in March, he also said that although Chinese investment may help improve Africa’s infrastructure, it would lead to increased debt on the continent, without creating many jobs.

It is no accident that this idea of China’s creditor imperialism theory originates from India. New Delhi has openly opposed China’s Belt and Road Initiative, especially the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor as it runs through Pakistan-administered Kashmir, which India regards as an integral part of its territory. India is also worried that the construction of China’s Maritime Silk Road will challenge its dominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean. Based on such a judgment, the Indian government has worked out its own regional cooperation initiatives, and taken moves, such as the declaration of cooperation with Vietnam in oil exploration in the South China Sea and its investment in the renovation of Chabahar port in Iran, as countermeasures against the Chinese initiative.

Since January, India, the United States, Japan and Australia have actively built a “quasi-alliance system” for a “free and open Indo-Pacific order” as an alternative to the Belt and Road Initiative. In April, a senior Indian official attending the fifth China-India Strategic Economic Dialogue reiterated the Indian government’s refusal to participate in the initiative.

The “creditor imperialism” fallacy is in essence a deliberate attempt by India and Western countries to denigrate the Belt and Road Initiative, which exhibits their envy of the initial fruits the initiative has produced. Such an argument stems from their own experiences of colonialism and imperialism. It is exactly the US-led Western countries that attached their political and strategic interests to the debt relationship with debtor countries and forced them to sign unequal treaties. China’s Belt and Road Initiative is proposed and implemented in the context of national equality, globalization and deepening international interdependence, and based on voluntary participation from relevant countries, which is totally different from the mandatory debt relationship of the West’s colonialism.

It is an important “Chinese experience” to use foreign debts to solve its transportation and energy bottlenecks that restrict its economic and social development at the time of its accelerated industrialization and urbanization. By making use of borrowed foreign debts, China once built thousands of large and medium-sized projects, greatly easing the transportation and energy “bottlenecks” that long restrained its social and economic development. Such an experience is of reference significance for other developing countries in their initial stage of industrialization and urbanization along the Belt and Road routes.

In the early stage of China’s reform and opening-up, US dollar-denominated foreign debt accounted for nearly 50 percent of China’s total foreign debts, and Japanese yen close to 30 percent. Why didn’t Western countries think the US and Japan were pushing their “creditor imperialism” on China?

Some foreign media have repeatedly mentioned that Sri Lanka is trapped in a “debt trap” due to its excessive money borrowing from China. But the fact is that there are multiple reasons for Sri Lanka’s heavy foreign debt and its debt predicament should not be attributed to China. For most of the years since 1985, foreign debt has remained above 70 percent of its GDP due to its continuous fiscal deficits caused by low tax revenues and massive welfare spending. As of 2017, Sri Lanka owed China $2.87 billion, accounting for only 10 percent of its total foreign debt, compared with $3.44 billion it owed to Japan, 12 percent of its total foreign debt. Japan has been Sri Lanka’s largest creditor since 2006, but why does no foreign media disseminate the idea of “Japan’s creditor imperialism”?

In response to the accusation that China is pursuing creditor imperialism made by India and some Western countries, even former Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa wrote an article in July using data to refute it.

Most of the time, the overseas large-scale infrastructure construction projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative are the ones operated by the Chinese government and Chinese enterprises under the request of the governments of involved countries along the Belt and Road routes or the ones undertaken by Chinese enterprises through bidding.

It is expected that with the construction of large-scale infrastructure projects and industrial parks under the Chinese initiative, which will cause the host country’s self-development and debt repayment ability to constantly increase, the China’s creditor imperialism nonsense will collapse.

An early version of this text appeared in China Daily

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Arrogance of force and hostages in US-China trade war

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Even before the ink on the comments made by those who (just like the author of these lines) saw the recent meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Buenos Aires as a sign of a temporary truce in the trade war between the two countries had time to dry, something like a hostage-taking and the opening of a second front happened. The recent arrest in Canada under US pressure of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of China’s telecommunications giant Huawei, is unfolding into a full-blown international scandal with far-reaching consequences.

Meng Wanzhou faces extradition to the United States where she is suspected of violating US sanctions against Iran, namely by making payments to Tehran via the UK branch of the US bank HSBC. The question is, however, how come someone is trying to indict a Chinese citizen according to the norms of American law, and not even on US territory to boot?

China’s reaction was extremely tough with Deputy Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoning the Canadian and US ambassadors in Beijing and demanding the immediate release of the detainee, calling her detention “an extremely bad act.” First of all, because this is yet another arrogant attempt at extraterritorial use of American laws.

Other countries, above all Russia, have already experienced this arrogance more than once; suffice it to mention the cases of Viktor Bout and Konstantin Yaroshenko, or of the alleged “Russian hackers,” who, by hook or crook, were taken out to the United States to face US “justice”.

Enough is enough, as they say. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who is usually careful in his choice of words, said that while Russia is not involved in the US-China trade war, it still regards Meng’s arrest as “another manifestation of the line that inspires a rejection among the overwhelming majority of normal countries, normal people, the line of extraterritorial application of their [US] national laws.”

“This is a very arrogant great-power policy that no one accepts, it already causes rejection even among the closest allies of the US,” Lavrov said. “It is necessary to put an end to it,” he added.

One couldn’t agree with this more. But first, I would like to know who really is behind this provocation, even though China’s reaction would have been much anticipated. The arrest of Meng Wanzhou sent US markets into a tailspin and scared investors, who now expect an escalation of the trade war between the United States and China.

The point here, of course, is Washington’s displeasure about Huawei’s activities, with The Wall Street Journal reporting that the US Justice Department has long been conducting a probe into the Chinese company’s alleged violation of US sanctions against Iran.

There is more to this whole story than just sanctions though. The US accuses Huawei (as it earlier did the Chinese ZTE) of the potential threats the company’s attempts to use tracking devices could pose to the security of America’s telecommunications networks. The United States has demanded that its closest allies (primarily Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, with whom it has set up a system for jointly collecting and using Five Eyes intelligence) exclude 5G Huawei products from their state procurement tenders.

I still believe, however, that the true reason for this is not so much security concerns as it is a desire to beat a competitor. Huawei has become a world-renowned leader in the development and application of 5G communications technology, which looks to the future (“Internet of Things”, “Smart Cities”, unmanned vehicles and much more.)

Since technology and equipment are supplied along with standards for their use, there is a behind-the-scenes struggle going on to phase out the 5G standard developed by Huawei from global markets.

As for the need “to put an end to this,” the big question is how. Formally, detainees are extradited to the United States in line with national legislation, but at Washington’s request (which often comes with boorish and humiliating pressure from the US authorities and is usually never mentioned in public).

Add to this the US Congress’ longstanding practice of changing, unilaterally and at its own discretion, already signed international treaties and agreements as they are being ratified – another example of “arrogance of power” as mentioned before.

The question could well be raised at the UN Security Council, but its discussion is most likely to be blocked by the US representative. However, there is also a moral side to the assessment of any political practice the work on international legal norms usually starts with.

If China and Russia, as well as other countries equally fed up with the “arrogance of power” submit a draft resolution “On the inadmissibility of attempts at extraterritorial use of national legislation by UN member states” to the UN General Assembly, it would most likely enjoy the overwhelming support by most of the countries of the UNGA, maybe save for just a dozen or so of the most diehard advocates of Washington’s policy…

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Will China Save the Planet? Book Review

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Barbara Finamore has been involved in environmental policy in China for decades.  Her new book, Will China Save the Planet?,is a succinct report (120 pg.) on the short, yet promising history of China’s actions to address climate change and pollution.

Chapter 1 is about the recent global leadership role that China has taken in the fight against climate change.  At first, the PRC was hesitant to commit to specific pollution-reduction benchmarks.  After experiencing increasingly devastating bouts of industrial smog in the 1990s however, China began to take its environmental commitments more seriously.  It has set out to become the de facto leader in combatting climate change through ambitious domestic action and sponsoring international conferences.  The Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement has only furthered China’s dominance.

Chapters 2-4 give in-depth analysis on China’s efforts to wean itself off of coal, develop its renewable energy capacity and become a global leader in electric vehicle production.  China has long used coal to fuel its unprecedented rate of industrialization.  In recent years, it has pledged to wean itself off of coal dependency by enforcing coal plant efficiency standards, enacting a cap-and-trade program, managing grid output, promoting local politicians based on their success in implementing green policies and supporting green energy developments.  China is now home to many of the world’s top manufacturers of solar panels, wind turbines and commercial & private electric vehicles.

There is much to applaud China for in its efforts.  Finamore writes that, “After growing by an average of 10% annually from 2002-2012, China’s coal consumption leveled off in 2013 & decreased in each of the following three years… Largely because of the dip in China’s coal consumption, global CO2 emissions growth was basically flat between 2014-2016.”  By moving away from coal, China has been able to, “Every hour… erects a new wind turbine & installs enough solar panels to cover a soccer field.” As of last year, “Chinese solar manufacturers accounted for about 68% of global solar cell production & more than 70% of the world’s production of solar panels.”

Chapter 5 focuses on China’s mission to export its green initiatives around the world, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).  The BRI is shaping up to be the largest international infrastructure plan in history, investing trillions of dollars in 65 countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East.  China thus has a golden chance to help much of the developing world to adopt clean energy goals and foster economic growth.  The Chinese government is encouraging its citizens to invest in renewable energy initiatives in the BRI countries by implementing a “green finance” system.  Through its pivotal role in the G20, China can also help to lead the developed world by spearheading reports and policies among the 20 member nations.

Barbara Finamore has written a highly readable and informative overview of China’s role in the global climate change battle.  She lists the Chinese government policies that have led the world’s largest nation to meet and exceed many of the green benchmarks that it set for itself.  It would have been helpful if Finamore had written more about China’s water instability and how that ties to the Tibetan occupation, as access to drinking water is one of the top environmental issues in the world today.  As a whole, Will China Save the Planet?is a good primer for environmental policy analysts and anyone else interested in studying feasible solutions to climate change, humanity’s greatest threat.

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