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

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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

Who would bell the China cat?

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If the G-7 and NATO china-bashing statements are any guide, the world is in for another long interregnum of the Cold War (since demise of the Soviet Union). The G-7 leaders called upon China to “respect human rights in its Xinjiang region” and “allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy” and “refrain from any unilateral action that could destabilize the East and South China Seas”, besides maintaining “peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits”.

China’s tit-for-tat response

The Chinese mission to the European Union called upon the NATO not to exaggerate the “China threat theory”

Bitter truths

Amid the pandemic, still raging, the world is weary of resuscitating Cold War era entente. Even the G-7 members, Canada and the UK appear to be lukewarm in supporting the US wish to plunge the world into another Cold War. Even the American mothers themselves are in no mood to welcome more coffins in future wars. Importance of the G-7 has been whittled down by G-20. 

Presumptions about the China’s cataclysmic rise are unfounded. Still, China is nowhere the US gross National Product. China’s military budget is still the second largest after the US. It is still less than a third of Washington’s budget to be increased by 6.8 per cent in 2021.

India’s role

India claims to be a natural ally of the G-7 in terms of democratic “values”. But the US based Freedom House has rated India “partly free because of its dismal record in persecution of minorities. Weakened by electoral setbacks in West Bengal, the Modi government has given a free hand to religious extremists. For instance, two bigots, Suraj Pal Amu and Narsinghanand Saraswati have been making blasphemous statements against Islam at press conferences and public gatherings.

India’s main problem

Modi government’s mismanagement resulted in shortage of vaccine and retroviral drugs. The healthcare system collapsed under the mounting burden of fatalities.  

Media and research institutions are skeptical of the accuracy of the death toll reported by Indian government.

The New York Times dated June 13, 2021 reported (Tracking Corona virus in India: Latest Map and case Count) “The official COVID-19 figures in India grossly under-estimate the true scale of the pandemic in the country”. The Frontline dated June 4, 2021 reported “What is clear in all these desperate attempts is the reality that the official numbers have utterly lost their credibility in the face of the biggest human disaster in independent India (V. Sridhar, India’s gigantic death toll due to COVID-19 is  thrice  the official numbers”, The frontline, June 4, 2021). It adds “More than 6.5 lakh Indians, not the 2.25 lakh reported officially are estimated to have died so far and at best a million more are expected to die by September 2021. The Seattle-based Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation estimates that actual Indian casualties may be 0.654 million (6.54 lakh), not the official count of 0.221 million (2.21 lakh as on May 6 when the report was released. That is a whopping three times the official numbers, an indicator of the extent of under-reporting”.

Epidemiologist Dr. Feigl-ding told India Today TV on April, 16, 2021 that “actual number of COVID-19 cases in India can be five or six times higher than the tally right now” (“Actual COVID-19 cases in India may be 5 to 10 times higher, says epidemiologist. India Today TV April 16, 2021).

Concluding remarks

India’s animosity against China is actuated by expediency. There is no chance of a full-blown war between China and India as the two countries have agreed not to use firepower in border skirmishes, if any. Modi himself told the All-party conference that not an inch of Indian territory has been ceded to China. In May this year, the Army Chief General M M. Naravane noted in an interview: “There has been no transgression of any kind and the process of talks is continuing.”

It is not China but the Quad that is disturbing unrest in China’s waters.

History tells the USA can sacrifice interests of its allies at the altar of self interest. India sank billions of dollars in developing the Chabahar Port. But, India had to abandon it as the US has imposed sanctions on Iran.

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Xinjiang? A Minority Haven Or Hell

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While the G7 meets under the shadow of Covid 19 and the leaders of the most prosperous nations on earth are focused on rebuilding their economies, a bloodless pogrom is being inflicted on a group of people on the other side of the world.

In this new era, killing people is wasteful and could bring the economic wrath of the rest of the world.  No, it is better to brainwash them, to re-educate them, to destroy their culture, to force them to mold themselves into the alien beings who have invaded their land in the name of progress, and who take the best new jobs that sprout with economic development.  Any protest at these injustices are treated severely.

Amnesty International has published a new 160-page report this week on Xinjiang detailing the horrors being perpetrated on Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.  Amnesty has simultaneously announced a campaign on their behalf.

Persecution, mass imprisonment in what can best be described as concentration camps, intensive interrogation and torture are actions that come under the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’.  More than 50 people who spent time in these camps contributed first-hand accounts that form the substance of the report.  It is not easy reading for these people have themselves suffered maltreatment even torture in many instances.

The UN has claimed that 1.5 million Muslims (Uighurs, Kazakhs, Uzbeks and Tajiks) are in these internment camps and China’s claims of re-education camps made to sound as benign as college campuses are patently false.

People report being interviewed in police stations and then transferred to the camps.  Their interrogation was frequently conducted on ‘tiger chairs’:   The interviewee is strapped to a metal chair with leg irons and hands cuffed in such a manner that the seating position soon becomes exceedingly painful.  Some victims were hooded; some left that way for 24 hours or more, and thus were forced to relieve themselves, even defecate, where they sat.  Beatings and sleep deprivation were also common.

Activities were closely monitored and they were mostly forbidden to speak to other internees including cell mates.  Trivial errors such as responding to guards or other officials in their native language instead of Mandarin Chinese resulted in punishment.

Amnesty’s sources reported the routine was relentless.  Wake up at 5am.  Make bed — it had to be perfect.  A flag-raising and oath-taking ceremony before breakfast at 7 am.  Then to the classroom.  Back to the canteen for lunch.  More classes after.  Then dinner.  Then more classes before bed.  At night two people had to be on duty for two hours monitoring the others leaving people exhausted.  You never see sunlight while you are there, they said.  That was because they were never taken outside as is done in most prisons.

The re-education requires them to disavow Islam, stop using their native language, give up cultural practices, and become Mandarin-speaking ‘Chinese’.

Such are the freedoms in Xi Jinping’s China.  If China’s other leaders prior to Mr. Xi effected moderate policies in concert with advisers, it is no longer the case.  Mr. Xi works with a small group of like minds.  He has also removed the two-term or eight-year limit on being president.  President for life as some leaders like to call themselves, then why not Mr. Xi.  His anti-democratic values make him eminently qualified. 

An enlightened leader might have used the colorful culture of these minorities to attract tourists and show them the diversity of China.  Not Mr. Xi, who would rather have everyone march in lockstep to a colorless utopia reminiscent of the grey clothing and closed-collar jackets of the Maoist era. 

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Looking back on India-China ties, one year past the Galwan incident

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modi xi jinping

Two nuclear-armed neighbouring countries with a billion-plus people each, geographically positioned alongside a 3,488-km undemarcated border in the high Himalayas. This is the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region. Differences in perception of alignment of this border for both sides have contributed to a seemingly unending dispute.

Chinese unilateral attempt to change status quo in 2020

One year back, on 15 June 2020, a clash between Indian and Chinese troops in the Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh turned bloody, resulting in the death of 20 soldiers in the former side and four in the latter side. It was an unfortunate culmination of a stand-off going on since early May that year, triggered by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops encountering Indian troops who were patrolling on their traditional limits.

It was followed by amassing of troops in large number by China on its side and some of them crossed the line over without any provocation, thereby blocking and threatening India’s routine military activities on its side of the traditionally accepted border. It was a unilateral attempt by the Chinese Communist Party-run government in Beijing to forcefully alter the status quo on the ground.

The LAC as an idea

Over the years, the LAC has witnessed one major war resulting from a Chinese surprise attack on India in 1962 and periodic skirmishes along the various friction points of the border, as seen in the years 1967, 1975, 1986-87, 2013, 2017, and the most recent 2020 Galwan Valley incident, the last being the worst in five decades. Post-Galwan, the optics appeared too high on both sides.

The LAC as an idea emerged with the annexation of Buddhist Tibet by Chinese communist forces in the early 1950s, bringing China to India’s border for the first time in history. This idea just emerged and was taking shape through the Jawaharlal Nehru-Zhou Enlai letters of correspondence that followed.

In 1962, while the world was engrossed upon the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Chinese inflicted a huge military and psychological debacle on unprepared and outnumbered Indian soldiers in a month-long war along this border.

Even to this date, there is still no mutually agreeable cartographic depiction of the LAC. It varies on perceptions.

What could’ve led to 2020 stand-off?

One of the reasons that led to the current new low in India-China ties, other than differing perceptions, is the improvement in Indian infrastructure capabilities along the rough mountainous terrains of the Himalayan borders and its resolve to be on par with China in this front. This has been a cause of concern in Chinese strategic calculations for its Tibetan border.

The carving up of the Indian union territory of Ladakh with majority Buddhists from the erstwhile Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2019 has indeed added to Beijing’s concerns over the area.

For the past few years, India has been upfront in scaling up its border infrastructure throughout the vast stretch of LAC, including in eastern Ladakh, where the 2020 stand-off took place. There is a serious trust deficit between India and China today, if not an evolving security dilemma.

Post-Galwan engagement

Several rounds of talks were held at the military and the diplomatic levels after the Galwan incident, the working-level mechanisms got renewed and new action plans were being formed before the process of disengagement finally began.

The foreign ministers of both countries even met in Moscow on the side-lines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation meet in September, which was followed by a BRICS summit where Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping came face-to-face in November, although virtually.

By February 2021, the process of disengagement of troops gained momentum on the ground around the Pangong lake area. So far, eleven rounds of talks were held at the military level on the ground at the border. But, the disengagement is yet to be fully completed in the friction points of Hot Springs and the Depsang Plains.

Diplomacy is gone with the wind

All the bilateral border agreements and protocols for confidence-building that were signed between the both countries in the years 1993, 1996, 2005, 2012 and 2013 were rendered futile by the Chinese PLA’s act of belligerence in Galwan.

The spirit of two informal Narendra Modi-Xi Jinping summits to build trust after the 2017 Doklam standoff, one in Wuhan, China (2018) and the other in Mamallapuram, India (2019) was completely gone with the wind. This is further exacerbated by the Chinese practice of ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy’, which is clearly undiplomatic in nature.

India’s diversification of fronts

Coming to the maritime domain, India has upped the ante by the joint naval exercises (Exercise Malabar 2020) with all the Quad partners in November, last year. Thereby, New Delhi has opened a new front away from the Himalayan frontiers into the broader picture of India-China strategic rivalry. Australia joined the exercise, after 13 years, with India, Japan, and the United States, a move indicative of militarisation or securitisation of the Quad partnership.

Recently, India has been consolidating its position over the union territory of Andaman and Nicobar Islands, lying southeast to the mainland, and close to the strategic Strait of Malacca, through which a major proportion of China’s crude oil imports pass through before venturing out to the ports of South China Sea.

Economic ties, yearning to decouple

Last year, India’s external affairs minister S. Jaishankar remarked that border tensions cannot continue along with co-operation with China in other areas. In this regard, the Narendra Modi government has been taking moves to counter China in the economic front by banning a large number of Chinese apps, citing security reasons, thereby costing the Chinese companies a billion-size profitable market. The Indian government has also refused to allow Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE to participate in India’s rollout of the 5G technology.

Moreover, India, Australia and Japan have collectively launched a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative (SCRI) in 2020 aimed at diversifying supply chain risks away from one or a few countries, apparently aimed at reducing their dependence on China. In terms of trade, India is still struggling to decouple with China, a key source of relatively cheap products for Indian exporters, particularly the pandemic-related pharmaceutical and related supplies in the current times.

But, the Indian government’s recent domestic policies such as “Self-Reliant India” (Atmanirbhar Bharat) have contributed to a decline in India’s trade deficit vis-à-vis China to a five-year low in 2020, falling to around $46 billion from around $57 billion in 2019.

The broader picture

The border dispute remains at the core of a range of issues that define the overall India-China bilateral relations. Other issues include trade and economics, Beijing’s close ties with Islamabad, the succession of Dalai Lama who has taken asylum in India since 1959 and the issue of Tibetan refugees living in India, educational ties, and the strategic rivalry in India’s neighbourhood, i.e., South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region, among others.

Chinese belligerence has led India to find its place easily in the evolving ‘new Cold War’

The more China turns aggressive at its border with India, the more it will bring India close to the United States and the West. Despite India’s traditional posture of indifference to allying itself exclusively with a power bloc, in the recently concluded G7 summit, India referred to the grouping of liberal democracies as a ‘natural ally’.

India has been raising the need for a free, open and rules-based Indo-Pacific in as many multilateral forums as possible, a concept which China considers as a containment strategy of the United States. Possibly, India might also join the G7’s newly announced infrastructure project for developing countries in an appropriate time, as it is initiated as a counterweight to China’s multi trillion-dollar Belt and Road Initiative.

There was a time in the past when the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to lead Asia by cooperating with China. Considering today’s changed geopolitical realities and power dynamics, nowhere in anyone’s wildest dreams such an idea would work out. Prime Minister Modi’s muscular foreign policy imperatives are aligning well with the Joe Biden-led Western response to the looming common threat arising from Beijing.

Today, encountering Xi Jinping’s grand strategy of Chinese domination of the world (by abandoning its yesteryear policy of ‘peaceful rise’) is a collective endeavour of peace-loving democracies around the world, to which Asia is particularly looking forward. Most notably, it comes amid an inescapable web of global economic inter-connectedness, even among rival powers.

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