A Czech mayor’s refusal to endorse Beijing’s One China policy potentially sets a high bar as Western powers grapple with how to respond to allegations of excessive use of violence by police against Hong Kong protesters and the implications of leaked documents detailing a brutal crackdown in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang.
Prague mayor Zdenek Hrib rejected a sister city agreement between the Czech capital and Beijing in late October because it included a clause endorsing the One China policy, which implicitly recognizes China’s sovereignty over Taiwan, as well as Hong Kong and Tibet.
Mr. Hrib argued that the agreement was a cultural arrangement and not designed to address foreign policy issues that were the prerogative of the national government.
The mayor’s stance has since taken on added significance against the backdrop of US President Donald J. Trump’s signing of legislation that allows for the sanctioning of Hong Kong officials, embarrassing Communist party leaks that document repression in Xinjiang, the election of a new Sri Lankan government that intends to adopt a tougher policy towards China, and simmering anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia and beyond.
Mr. Hrib’s rejection was in fact a reflection of anti-Chinese sentiment in the Czech Republic as well as opposition to the pro-China policy adopted by Czech president Milos Zeman.
To be sure, Mr. Hrib, a 38-year old medical doctor who interned in Taiwan, was shouldering little political or economic risk given Czech public anger at China’s failure to fulfil promises of significant investment in the country.
On the contrary, Mr. Hrib, since becoming mayor in mid-2018, appears to have made it his pastime to put Mr. Zeman on the spot by poking a finger at China.
Mr. Hrib visited Taiwan in the first six months of his mayorship, flew the Tibetan flag over Prague’s city hall, and rejected a request by the Chinese ambassador at a meeting with foreign diplomats to send Taiwanese representatives out of the room.
Beijing’s cancellation of a tour of China by the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra in response to Mr. Hrib’s provocations forced Mr. Zeman to describe the Chinese retaliation as “excessive” and his foreign minister, Tomas Petricek, to declare that “diplomacy is not conducted with threats.”
Perhaps more importantly, M. Hrib was taking a stand based on principles and values rather than interests. In doing so, he was challenging the new normal of world leaders flagrantly ignoring international law to operate on the principle of might is right.
“Our conscience is not for sale,” said Michaela Krausova, a leading member of the governing Pirate Party of the Prague city council. Ms. Krausova and Mr. Hrib’s party was founded to shake up Czech politics with its insistence on the safeguarding of civil liberties and political accountability and transparency.
While couched in terms of principle, Mr. Hrib’s stand strokes with newly installed Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s intention to wrest back control from China of the island’s strategic Hambantota port that serves key shipping lanes between Europe and Asia.
Hambantota became a symbol of what some critics have charged is Chinese debt trap diplomacy after Sri Lanka was forced to hand over the port to China in 2017 on a 99-year lease because the government was unable to repay loans taken to build it.
“I believe that the Sri Lankan government must have control of all strategically important projects like Hambantota. The next generation will curse our generation for giving away precious assets otherwise,” Mr. Rajapaksa said.
Fears of a debt trap coupled with the crackdown on Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang, which targets not only Uighurs, but also groups that trace their roots to Central Asian countries, have fuelled anti-Chinese sentiment in Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
“Given that China is likely to continue to expand its presence, further irritating local publics, the temptation of opposition groups to exploit such anger will only grow. If that happens…the anti-Chinese demonstrations that have taken place to date will be only the prelude to a situation that could easily spiral out of control, ethnicizing politics in these countries still further,” said Central Asia scholar Paul Goble.
Beyond Xinjiang, anti-Chinese sentiment in Central Asia is fuelled by some of the same drivers that inform Czech attitudes towards China.
The shared drivers include unfulfilled promises, idle incomplete Chinese-funded infrastructure projects, widespread corruption associated with Chinese funding, and the influx of Chinese labour and materials at the expense of the local work force and manufacturers.
Beyond Xinjiang, Central Asians worry about potential debt traps. The Washington-based Center for Global Development listed last year two Central Asian nations, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, as risking China-related “debt distress.”
Warned China and Central Asia scholar Ayjaz Wani: “Chinese principles in Central Asia are hegemonic. China has always interacted with Central Asian states without regarding their cultural identities, but according to its own vested interests… However, the ongoing anti-China sentiments may be coming to a tipping point.”
U.S. Violates Its Promises to China; Asserts Authority Over Taiwan
As Werner Rügemer headlined on 28 November 2021 and truthfully summarized the relevant history, “Taiwan: US deployment area against mainland China — since 1945”. However, despite that fact, America did officially issue a “Joint Communique” with China recognizing and acknowledging not only that Taiwan is a province of China but that for America or its allies or any other nation to challenge that historical fact would be unethical.
The U.S. regime hides this crucial historical fact, in order to hoodwink its masses of suckers into assuming to the exact contrary — that Taiwan isn’t a Chinese province. Here is how they do this:
The CIA-edited and written Wikipedia, which blacklists (blocks from linking to) sites that aren’t CIA-approved, is the first source for most people who become interested in what is officially known as the Shanghai Communique of 1972, or the 27 February 1972 “JOINT COMMUNIQUE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA”. That article, avoids presenting the Communique’s 1,921-word text, but instead provides, in its “Document” section, a mere 428-word very selective, and sometimes misleading, summary of some of the document’s less-important statements, and also fails to provide any link to the document itself, which they are hiding from readers.
The U.S. regime’s Wilson Center does have an article “JOINT COMMUNIQUE BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA”, at which only the document’s opening 286 words are shown, while the rest is veiled and the reader must then do additional clicks in order to get to it.
The U.S. State Department’s history site, does provide the entire 1,921-word document, but under a different title, one that plays down the document’s actual importance, “Joint Statement Following Discussions With Leaders of the People’s Republic of China”. (If it’s a “Joint Statement,” then whom are the “Leaders of the People’s Republic of China” “jointly” issuing it with — that title for it is not only false, it is plain stupid, not even referring to the U.S, at all.) Consequently, anyone who seeks to find the document under its official and correct title won’t get to see it at the U.S. State Department’s site.
Here are some of the important statements in this document (as shown below that stupid title for it at the State Department’s site):
With these principles of international relations in mind the two sides stated that:
—progress toward the normalization of relations between China and the United States is in the interests of all countries;
—both wish to reduce the danger of international military conflict;
—neither should seek hegemony in the Asia–Pacific region and each is opposed to efforts by any other country or group of countries to establish such hegemony; and
—neither is prepared to negotiate on behalf of any third party or to enter into agreements or understandings with the other directed at other states.
Both sides are of the view that it would be against the interests of the peoples of the world for any major country to collude with another against other countries, or for major countries to divide up the world into spheres of interest. …
The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all 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 Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.
The Wikipedia article’s 428-word summary of the “Document” did include parts of the paragraph which started “The U.S. side declared,” but the summary closed by alleging that the document “did not explicitly endorse the People’s Republic of China as the whole of China. Kissinger described the move as ‘constructive ambiguity,’ which would continue to hinder efforts for complete normalization.” How that passage — or especially the entire document — could have been stated with less “ambiguity” regarding “the People’s Republic of China as the whole of China” wasn’t addressed. In fact, the statement that “all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China” includes asserting that the Taiwanese people “maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.” So: the U.S. did agree with that, even signed to it in 1972. If the U.S. refuses to agree with it now, then what was the U.S. agreeing to in that Communique, and under what circumstances does the Communique become null and void for either of the two agreeing Parties to it? When does it stop being binding? Perhaps the document should have added something like “The U.S. Government will never try to break off pieces of China.” But maybe if that were to have been added to it, then the U.S. regime wouldn’t have signed to anything with China. Is the U.S. regime really that Hitlerian? Is this what is ‘ambiguous’ about the document?
In fact, the affirmation that, “The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan.” is now routinely being violated by the U.S. regime. Here’s an example:
One of the leading U.S. billionaires-funded think tanks, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), was co-founded by Kurt Campbell, who is Joe Biden’s “Asia co-ordinator” or “Asia Tsar” with the official title of “National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific.” The other co-founder is Michèle Flournoy, who also co-founded with the current Secretary of State Antony Blinken, WestExec Advisors, which firm’s client-list is secret but generally assumed to be top investors in firms such as Lockheed Martin. That advisory firm’s activities are also secret.
Perhaps nothing is more profitable than trading on inside information regarding corporations whose main, if not only, sales are to the U.S. Government and its allied governments. Trading on inside information needs to be secret in order to be non-prosecutable. The clients of WestExec Advisors might be extraordinarily successful investors, because they’ve hired people who have ‘the right’ contacts in the federal bureaucracy and so know where your ‘national security’ tax-dollars are likeliest to be spent next.
CNAS issued, in October 2021, “The Poison Frog Strategy: Preventing a Chinese Fait Accompli Against Taiwanese Islands”. It was written as-if the Shanghai Communique hadn’t prohibited this. The presumption there was instead that America and Taiwan would have so much raised the heat against China’s not being picked apart, so as for China to have militarily responded in order to hold itself together; and, then, a stage, “MOVE 2,” would be reached, in which:
The Taiwan and U.S. teams engaged in more direct communication, which aided the U.S. team in framing the crisis. By Move 2, the U.S. team had accepted that using military force to retake Dongsha would be too escalatory and might disrupt the formation of any counter-China coalition. Accordingly, the team reframed the takeover of Dongsha as an opportunity to expose Chinese belligerence and to encourage states to join together to balance against China’s aggressive behavior. The U.S. team’s decision to place U.S. military forces on Taiwan during Move 1 became a key driver for the rest of the game.
By Move 3, both the U.S. and Taiwan teams were in difficult positions. The U.S. team did not want to let Chinese aggression go unpunished, both for the sake of Taiwan and within the context of the broader regional competition. At the same time, the U.S. team wanted to show its partners and allies that it was a responsible power capable of negotiating and avoiding all-out war. The Taiwan team was caught in an escalating great-power crisis that threatened to pull Taiwan into a war that it was trying to avoid. The Taiwan team had to balance its relationships and policies with the United States and China while simultaneously spearheading de-escalation. And in the early part of the game, before communication between the United States and Taiwan teams improved, the Taiwan team had, unbeknownst to the U.S. team, set up a back channel with the China team. At the same time the back-channel negotiations were ongoing, the U.S. team was still, in fact, considering additional escalatory action against the China team. …
Toward the end of the game, the U.S. and Taiwan teams’ main strategy was to isolate China diplomatically and economically and garner enough international backing among allies and partners to make that isolation painful. To this end, the Taiwan team focused on pulling in some of its regional partners, such as Japan, while the U.S. team reached out to its NATO allies.9 To avoid unwanted escalation or permanent effects, the U.S. and Taiwan teams limited their offensive military operations to non-kinetic and reversible actions such as cyberattacks and electronic warfare.
Under “Key Takeaways and Policy Recommendations” is:
Given the inherent difficulty of defending small, distant offshore islands like Dongsha, Taiwan and the United States should strive to turn them into what the players called “poison frogs.” This approach would make Chinese attempts to seize these islands so militarily, economically, and politically painful from the outset that the costs of coercion or aggression would be greater than the benefits.
The U.S. regime’s having in 1972 committed itself to there being only “a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves” has somehow now become a license for the U.S. regime to provoke “Chinese attempts to seize these islands” and yet to cause — by America’s constant further provocations and lying — this to be “so militarily, economically, and politically painful from the outset that the costs of coercion or aggression would be greater than the benefits.”
In other words: the U.S. regime expects to portray China as being the aggressor, and the U.S. regime as being the defender — but, actually, of what? It would be the defender of breaking off a piece of China to add it to the U.S. regime’s allies, against an ‘aggressive’ China that opposes America’s violating its own, and China’s, 1972 Joint Shanghai Communique — which prohibits that.
On May 19th, The Hill, one of the U.S. regime’s many propaganda-mouthpieces, headlined “China warns of dangerous situation developing ahead of Biden Asia trip”, and opened:
China warned the U.S. that President Biden’s visit to East Asia this week could put their relations in “serious jeopardy” if officials play the “Taiwan card” during the trip.
In a phone call with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi warned the U.S. against speaking out on the independent sovereignty of Taiwan, a self-ruling democratic island in the Indo-Pacific that China claims is historically part of the mainland and should be under Beijing’s control.
China doesn’t claim that Taiwan “is historically part of the mainland and should be under Beijing’s control,” but that, just like Hawaii is NOT a part of “the mainland” but IS “under U.S. control,” and NOT “a self-ruling” nation, Taiwan is NOT a part of “the mainland” but IS (not ‘should be’, but IS) under China’s control, and NOT “a self-ruling” nation. Just as there is no “independent sovereignty of Hawaii,” there also is no “independent sovereignty of Taiwan.” How many lies were in that opening? (And this doesn’t even bring in the fact that whereas Hawaii is way offshore of America’s mainland, Taiwan is very close to China’s mainland.)
And how long will the U.S. regime’s constant lying continue to be treated as if that’s acceptable to anything other than yet another dangerously tyrannical regime — a U.S. ally, perhaps?
When Will They Learn: Dealing with North Korea
On May 11, 2022, the United States called out China and Russia for opposing further action against North Korea in the backdrop of its growing nuclear ambitions. US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield, warned that the Security Council “cannot stay silent any longer” as Pyongyang is said to be preparing for its seventh nuclear test which, according to US intelligence, could be conducted as early as this month. The US Ambassador, in her remarks, condemned the two Security Council members stating that their silence in dealing with North Korea had only provided Pyongyang with tacit permission to continue its nuclear proliferation programme. Thomas-Greenfield stressed on the need for employing stricter measures stating that it was high time to encourage restraint in order to pressurise North Korea to stop escalating further and instead come to the negotiating table. Meanwhile both China and Russia have long been against such a policy, instead pushing for the Security Council to ease such measures on North Korea on humanitarian grounds.
The issue of dealing with North Korea has, for the longest time, troubled the International community and the various stakeholders in the Northeast Asian region. Although the United States continues to push for a policy based on retaliation and coercion, it is important to assess the viability of such an approach.
The Case for Sanctions
North Korea is one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world today. These sanctions date back to the Korean War (1950-53) but were further enforced after North Korea’s nuclear proliferation programme came to the fore. Implementation of sanctions is argued as a means of coercing the North Korean regime to dismantle its nuclear proliferation programme. Article 41 of the United Nations Charter lays down the provision for sanctions to apply pressure on a state to behave in accordance with the interests of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). As an alternative to using force, the UNSC can implement sanctions to compel compliance for states. It is argued that the economic stress that a state ladened with sanctions is bound to face will eventually lead to a change in its policies, giving way to favourable outcomes. In the case of North Korea, the possibilities of extracting favourable outcomes through sanctions have been explored time and again under various administrations, however this policy has not led to any concrete results so far. While it is true that the various sanctions have placed North Korea in a tough economic state even slowing down its nuclear ambitions, these measures have not led to the dismantling of its nuclear weapons programme. The closed nature of the country means that there is little pressure on the political elite of North Korea to implement economic reforms or dismantle its nuclear programme to gain economic concessions from the international community. Furthermore, considering that North Korea established its nuclear programme to ensure state survival at a time of turbulence which continues to this day given the high security threat posed by the US-South Korea military alliance, the North Korean regime has strong incentive to develop its nuclear weapons programme which has so far ensured regime survival through deterrence.
Inadequacy of monitoring and implementation mechanisms have further contributed to the failure of the sanctions regime. An Institute for Science and International Security report noted that currently 56 countries are evading existing sanctions to supply North Korea with necessary goods along its borders with Russia and China. The evasion of the current UNSC sanctions undermines the overall effectiveness of the sanctions programme.
The Problem with Retaliation
Dealing with an adversary can take the route of retaliation or reconciliation. Retaliation involves the use of coercive diplomacy and strict measures to coerce an adversary into falling in line, hence extracting favourable outcomes. On the other hand, reconciliation involves indulging in diplomatic advances with an adversary to churn out possibilities of peaceful and harmonious relations. The United States has, for long, preferred the route of retaliation in dealing with North Korea. This approach started with the stationing of nuclear weapons and troops in South Korea by the Eisenhower administration at the end of the Korean War and continued as a bipartisan measure under the successive regimes. The Agreed Framework achieved under the Clinton administration in 1994 marked the first diplomatic effort at dismantling the North Korean nuclear weapons programme in its early stages. However, the Framework was abandoned by the Bush administration as both North Korea and the United States failed to follow up on the commitments made under the agreement. In his 2002 State of Union Address, President Bush included North Korea under the infamous axis of evil further aggravating relations between the two nations. The succeeding Obama administration followed a policy of strategic patience, distancing itself from engaging with North Korea while maintaining pressure through sanctions. In a major shift, the Trump administration pursued a policy of engaging with North Korea which, while leading to a series of nuclear threats exchanged between the two countries, culminated in the Hanoi Summit of 2019. The current Biden administration has made its intentions clear of pursuing a policy favouring a “calibrated, practical approach” without necessarily prescribing to the strategic patience of the Obama administration or the “grand bargain” of the Trump era. Over the years, the nature of retaliatory policies has changed, from considering military intervention on the Korean Peninsula to economic sanctions on North Korea, but even in their evolution they have failed to bring any change in the status quo. Although the United States did encourage diplomatic advances under various administrations over the years, like the Six Party Talks of 2003 or the recent Hanoi Summit in 2019, retaliation has been an underlying feature of all negotiations as almost all of them have broken down and fallen prey to mistrust and lack of commitment in the preliminary stages. The failure of such coercive policies can be noted from the fact that North Korea’s nuclear proliferation programme is not only intact to this day but continues to grow at a remarkable pace in the face of economic and military sanctions.
Whether due to the nature of the North Korean state, lack of compliance by the international community or the failure of the UN sanctions regime, the policy of sanctioning North Korea into compliance has failed thus far and the prospects of it succeeding in the future seem very bleak.
A Viable Alternative
The United States has often argued that such retaliatory policies are put in place to bring North Korea to the negotiation table. An assessment of nearly seven decades of dealing with North Korea shows that retaliation has never contributed to bringing about successful negotiations. The highest points in relations with North Korea have all come under administrations that have favoured a policy of reconciliation as opposed to retaliation. The closest North Korea has reached to an agreement on dismantling its nuclear proliferation programme has been through the channels of diplomacy. The Sunshine Policy (1998) and the reconciliatory policies under the administration of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in are a testament that peaceful arrangements on the Korean Peninsula are possible if reconciliation and dialogue are made the norm instead of mistrust and coercion.
In her statement, the US Ambassador has stressed on the urgency of implementing measures in dealing with North Korea. Her concerns are not unfounded. With the appointment of President Yoon Suk-yeol and the conservatives in South Korea, who have favoured a hardliner policy towards the North, it is obvious that North Korea will indulge in nuclear brinkmanship in the coming months which can even go to the extent of a nuclear test as early as this month. Although the urgency is imperative, the measures must be rooted in reconciliation. The United States has to, much like the administrations of former South Korean Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Moon Jae-in, indulge in confidence building measures to achieve sustainable relations with North Korea. Although the diplomatic efforts have so far faced setbacks, they have not been implemented in a spirit of cooperation and mutual trust. To overcome the decades of animosity between the two nations, the United States has to abandon coercion and make way for cooperation as a viable alternative. The failure of retaliatory policies thus far shows that further entertaining such assessments will not lead to any breakthroughs and might well push North Korea to further develop its nuclear weapons programme. Meanwhile, both Sunshine and ‘Moonshine’ policies have shown that North Korea will be willing to cooperate if its primary concerns of security and economic needs are met. Although reaching agreement from the current state of affairs can be a long-drawn process, reconciliation is the only way the emerging threat from North Korea’s nuclear arsenal can be resolved.
U.S. Interests and Priorities: Why Ukraine & Taiwan are Similar Yet Different Geopolitical Situations
The February 24, 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia has spearhead a new chapter in the world of international politics. Russian decision to wage unprovoked war with Ukraine has succeeded in dissolving remnants of pro-Russia sentiments across the globe, cultivated in the post-Cold war era. Since the invasion, the reaction of all the major powers in the world, especially the United States, has been closely observed. Amidst burgeoning debate on the future of democracies and liberal internationalism in the wake of strengthened authoritarian regimes, this crisis has been viewed as a warning for the US led order. In the quest to assess the current direction of global politics, a common comparison between Russia-Ukraine crisis and the China-Taiwan situation in East Asia has been made by onlookers. In both the cases, the essential similarity distills to a democratic country being militarily threatened by a regional power on historical grounds and America’s support for the former. US response to the Ukraine crisis has been viewed as a ‘geopolitical compass’ for its possible course of action in a hypothetical scenario of Chinese invasion of Taiwan. As tempting the similarities are in both the cases, Taiwan’s position in American political discourse is vastly different from Ukraine’s due to multiple factors. The reasons behind this difference in America’s policy approach primarily stems within the context of US-China rivalry. The State department’s latest changes on their website regarding US-Taiwan relations further signal America reassessing its long held one China policy. The website omitted the sentence ‘US does not support Taiwan impendence’ and added US relations with Taiwan is ‘guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the three U.S.-China Joint Communiques, and the Six Assurance’.
Russian Invasion of Ukraine & American Response
Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the country has swayed between a pro-Russia and a pro-Europe political stance. This struggle reached the brim in 2013, when former Ukrainian President Yanukovych declined the idea of signing an agreement with EU, resulting into mass protests. The backlash eventually led to the forming of a new government. In 2014, Russian personnel captured Crimea, a territory the former believed to be of historical significance. Eventually, in March Crimea’s independence was deliberated in the assembly with a subsequent referendum overwhelmingly supporting union with Russia. The pro Kyiv supporters, EU and US denounced the union as illegal, but ever since Crimea has become a Russian territory. This major political victory for Russia resulted in Kremlin’s continuous support for Pro-Russia factions existing in Donetsk and Lohansk, located in the Eastern region of Ukraine. In the quest to ensure ceasefire, the Minsk Agreement was signed the same year which ultimately granted a special status to Donetsk and Lohansk. Even though peace was maintained in the region since the signing of the agreement, the Ukraine-Russia relations remained tensed.
In December 2021, US intelligence reports claimed that Russia was planning for a potential invasion of Ukraine in early months of 2022, alarming the rest of the world. Satellite images of Russia’s defense buildup around the Ukrainian borders with large portion of military & artillery units in Belarus confirmed the possibilities of an invasion. Ultimately, Russian troops entered Ukraine on February 24 from Russia, Crimea and Belarus with intent to encircle the nation. Further, Russian Duma recognized Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR), the two breakaway regions of Ukraine as independent further violating the Minsk Agreement.
Amidst an outpouring of public support, governments have rallied behind Ukraine with US and EU providing military assistance and architecting one of the most stringent sanction regimes to pressure Russia into stopping the ongoing war. Even though the Biden administration reiterated that United States would not be sending troops to fight the Russians, the nation came to a bipartisan consensus to support Ukraine. According to the Defending Ukraine Sovereign Act 2022, US would provide security assistance, back Ukraine’s cyber defenses, boost Ukraine’s interoperability with NATO forces, work closely with regional partners, counter Russian disinformation activities, deepen ties with Baltic states and impose elaborate sanctions. The US authorized military equipments and weapons worth $350 million dollars, largest package in the history of the nation including anti-tank missiles and air defense systems to Ukraine. Financially, US laid out expansive constraints like restrictions on Russian banks, complete sanctions on Nord Stream 2, Russian Direct Investment Fund, VTB Bank, export controls on oil and gas etc. To showcase America’s unflinching support to Ukraine and the crisis unfolding in Europe, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin made a high security visit to Kyiv in April 2022 and met President Zelensky and his officials. America presented an intention to contribute more than $713 million in foreign military financing for Ukraine, apart from the return of American diplomats at the earliest to further facilitate humanitarian efforts.
As the events in Ukraine unfolded, the debates surrounding America’s credibility and response to Ukraine crisis gained traction. Even as the West’s unified response to Russian aggression has been welcomed, understanding American interest vis-à-vis Ukraine-Russia war and its judgment to resist unilateral decision making becomes imperative. Firstly, avoiding a World War III like situation that involves multiple countries is of top priority for the Biden administration. With Putin ordering Russian nuclear weapons on ‘high alert’ as a response to barrage of sanctions, the cries for de-escalation have become louder. In this regard, Washington’s decision to deny American participation in the war not only restates US’ post 9/11 war fatigue but is also an attempt to avoid usage of weapons of mass destruction by parties involved. Even as fringe of partisan voices and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have lobbied for US to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine which would commit American and NATO forces to bring down any Russian plane that enters the zone, Biden administration’s resistance to this pressure signals American foresight.
Secondly, the divergence of interest between US and Ukraine stems from the fact that Ukraine has never been in America’s core policy calculations, which is not the case for Russia. At the same time, American decision to withdraw from ABM treaty (2002), Open Skies treaty (2020), INF treaty (2020) and steady NATO expansion since 1991 has made Russia insecure. Furthermore due to Ukraine’s close proximity to Russia, America’s past assurances of making Ukraine a NATO member has been viewed as American encroachment in Russian sphere of influence, a matter of national security for Kremlin. Thirdly, even though U.S has no immediate interest in Ukraine, resisting Russian win ‘at all cost’ is a wider test of American commitment at maintaining the current rules based liberal order. Beyond the narrative of ‘credibility dilemma’, the Ukraine crisis has yet again thrown light on the role of US as a security guarantor to states in various regions. This role becomes more complex for the US when dealing with allies and partners in East Asia which has been undergoing rapid geopolitical shifts.
Tensions in Taiwan Strait and the US Factor
In 2021, Taiwan (Republic of China) underwent one of the worst years of Chinese incursion in their defense zone. The situation has only become dire, with China (People’s Republic of China) sending a record number of warplanes in Taiwanese defense zone in a single day in January 2022. Expert analysis has echoed concerns of a possible war like situation, a catastrophic scenario for the regional security. The relations have especially become strained since 2016 when Taiwan elected Tsai Ing Wen, a pro democracy leader. Her reelection victory in 2020, rebuked Chinese pressure for possible reunification. Since 2012, China has witnessed a rise of nationalism, signaling country’s growing ambitions post the economic success. Out of the many national agendas, resolving the “Taiwan matter” has gained undivided attention from the Communist Party of China. Leaving the past century of humiliation behind, the new China has found itself on the path to seek great power status and ushering the Chinese Century. However for Beijing, reunification with Taiwan is critical for fulfilling the ‘Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation’, whether through appeasement or coercion. The dwindling cross-strait relations and China’s grey zone activities have posed new challenges for the regional power balance. Within the context of growing US-China rivalry, the Taiwan crisis has increasingly been seen as a possible flashpoint.
Historically, there have been instances when America being entrapped in a war with China over the island nation seemed inevitable. For example in the 1950s, PRC bombed Jinmen (Quemoy) and Mazu islands controlled by ROC. United States considered vast array of policy options including nuclear weapons to resist PRC’s control over these islands. Even though ultimately PRC approached US for negotiations to ease the situation due to Soviet pressure, this incident evidenced the risk of miscalculation in US-China relations. However, deteriorating security in Taiwan straits over the last two decades amidst the backdrop of growing anti-China sentiments in American political discourse across ideological spectrum sets apart the current situation from the past. Particularly, as American views on China have witnessed critical shifts in the post Trump era and as US-China rivalry has crystallized in various domains, Taiwan has further been elevated in US’ Asia strategy. America’s China policy reshaped under President Donald Trump as the belief in China’s economic success at the expense of US became a widely accepted phenomenon in Washington DC. The Trump administration levied tariffs on Chinese products and engaged in a trade war, though whether it benefited the US is open for debate. America also launched the Indo Pacific strategy framework with the aim to refocus America’s Asia policy following China’s ascendance to power and regional security developments.
As US-China relations hit rock bottom, US-Taiwan relations reached new heights during the Trump presidency. Removing past ‘self imposed restrictions’ and developing ties with Taipei beyond political rhetoric, US’ traditional stance of one-China policy has repeatedly come into question by Beijing since President Trump took office. When Trump and President Tsai Ing Wen had telephonic conversation after former’s presidential victory, America bypassed a longstanding diplomatic protocol. Even though later White House agreed to abide by one-China policy, President Trump succeeded in raising doubts about America’s likely deviation from this policy in the future if relations with China continue to sour. Some of the most important developments in US-Taiwan relations occurred during Trump presidency like: allowing senior officials to visit Taiwan (Taiwan Travel Act of 2018), increased sales of advanced weapons, supporting Taiwan’s diplomatic ties with states around the world (Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019) and pushing for Taiwan’s greater participation in international organizations & providing stimulus package (Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019).
President Joe Biden continued to build on this momentum by inviting Taiwanese ambassador to the inaugural ceremony. The hopes for any recalibration in US-China relations have been thwarted as officials from the administration have maintained a hard-line approach. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterating ‘terrible consequences’ if China invades Taiwan; maintaining ties with China being the ‘biggest geopolitical test’ for US and; Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks recognizing China as a ‘pacing challenge for the US military’ paints the seriousness with which Washington has embraced the reality of great power competition.
In the face of China’s overwhelming number of reserve forces and modernized military apparatus, Taiwan’s weak tactical abilities have been a point of concern for the US. Over various administrations, America has been sending small batches of troops as low-key exchanges to prepare the island nation. However, as Chinese air and maritime activities in the region near Taiwan have exponentially increased, U.S has sent special operations and marine unit to train the Taiwanese forces in an effort to heighten their defense capabilities. The precedence of sending special operation troops has been set by President Trump, which has been sustained by President Biden.
Impetus for US Support of Taiwan
As a symbolic gesture, President Biden sent a delegation of former security and foreign officials from Bush and Obama administration to Taiwan to reaffirm American commitment to the island nation as Ukraine crisis intensified. The flurry of diplomatic exchanges between US and Taiwan in the weeks after Russian invasion of Ukraine prompts at the graveness of Taipei’s security needs, China’s political clarity on this matter and America’s determination to maintain status quo. As early as 2021 when reports of a possible Russian invasion were being discussed in policy circles, the Biden administration was quick to re-emphasize American ‘vow to protect Taiwan’ even though officially US remains committed to the policy of strategic ambiguity. The similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan’s geopolitical situation are quite a few. Both the states have powerful neighbors with nuclear capabilities, share history with Russia and `China respectively, incline towards the West (specifically the US), have adopted democracy from past few decades and have developed a unique national identity. However, geopolitically their significance in American Grand strategy vastly differs. There are primarily four factors that have led to greater attention on Taiwan over various US administrations.
First, Asia is the priority region for the US, especially since the Obama administration. The pivot to Asia, rebalance to Asia and the Indo-Pacific strategy are recent American efforts to streamline their focus on affairs of the region. The latest Indo Pacific strategy report states US determination to strengthen ‘long term commitment’ towards Asia and maintaining security interests across the region including Taiwan straits. Even though Europe and transatlantic ties remain critical, Asia remains the region of significance for the US foreign policy.
Second, the US-Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 has been the raison d’etre for America’s approach towards Taiwan. This has been fundamental in initiating legislative and executive decision making on Taipei, which includes defense and economic issues. The act has been the guiding principle behind America’s resistance ‘to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan’. Taiwan Relations Act makes Taipei an exception, unlike Kyiv.
Third, supporting Taiwan is closely associated to the American alliance structure in Asia. American presence in East Asia through military alliances has been critical in maintaining balance of power, especially amidst the rise of China as region’s hegemonic power. The US role of being a security guarantor persists more than ever for the stability of the region. Therefore, American compromise on Taiwan’s security could gravely impact the psychology of alliance framework with allies like Japan and South Korea, detrimental for US influence in Asia.
And lastly, Taiwan’s transformation from an authoritarian regime into a thriving democracy with a distinct national identity has made the possibility for reunification more complicated. The island nation has undergone alterations in political identification and cultural orientation from past few decades as majority of the public associates to a Taiwan centered identity in comparison to dual identity of being Chinese and Taiwanese. The severity of democratic recession and the onslaught of authoritarian regimes across the globe with Ukraine as the latest victim highlights the American stakes vis-à-vis Taiwan. In this regard, President Biden’s decision to invite Taiwan at the Summit of Democracy in 2021 is a step towards Taiwan’s greater integration in international community.
Hypothetically, if and when the reunification of China and Taiwan happens, the political path adopted by both the parties would matter more to America than its power of influence over Taipei. The greater the probability of China using military means to reunify the two states and in process violating the hallmarks of international norms and values exist, the closer this matter would feature in the ambit of US national priorities. As US and China have embarked towards a perilous phase in bilateral relations, the spillover of their rivalry and divergence of opinion on critical issues will persist. Even though the scenario of America sending troops to Taiwan in the wake of a possible Chinese invasion remains slim or at least debatable, the strategic value of this crisis would reign supreme for White House while making critical decisions. Losing Taiwan to China via coercion would considerably extinguish America’s quest to repair its image abroad and its ability to maintain a rules based order in the Indo Pacific. Henceforth, considering that China is the ‘only country with the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to seriously challenge the stable and open international system’ Taiwan matter has carved a distinct position in US’ larger foreign policy calculations.
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