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Monthly Archives: August 2022

Taiwan Tensions

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Taiwan is an autonomous region off the southeast coast of China, with a highly contested legal status. China has consistently maintained that Taiwan is part of their government, and that the island of Taiwan forms part of the country’s territory. Although distinctions have risen between the citizens of these countries, nothing has been done to officially recognize Taiwan. This is a very delicate issue, as it primarily deals with relationships with China, one of the United States’ major trade partners, and a major economic player within international relations today.

Tensions between China, Taiwan, and the U.S. have risen due to trips made by U.S. diplomats to Taiwan in the summer of 2022. Most notably, Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. The House of Representatives made a trip to Taiwan in August 2022, which was followed by several other politician visits to the island. There are many reasons for this rise in tensions, but to fully understand it, we must first take a look at the history and the current “status quo” regarding foreign policy between these three countries.

The Taiwan Relations Act, signed in 1979 by the U.S. government, declared that the United States’ official stance on Taiwan was maintaining unofficial relations with them. Before this act was signed, the United States enjoyed an official relationship with Taiwan, but Carter was able to normalize relations with China in 1979, which ultimately led to the shift in policy towards Taiwan. The United States pulled their troops from Taiwan and took away the embassy. Jimmy Carter stated after the signing of this act that the U.S. would maintain their relationship with Taiwan through non-governmental means. These non-governmental means primarily include arms sales to Taiwan as well as repeated statements from the U.S. government stating that the Taiwan Strait Crisis must be handled peacefully, essentially sending a message to China that although we do not officially recognize Taiwan, we still have a vested interest in what happens in the Taiwan Strait, and do not want any military conflicts. The arms sales and statements of interest in the Taiwan Strait are the United States’ way of reassuring Taiwan that the U.S. did not totally abandon them, and helps demonstrate the continued interest the U.S. has in Taiwan.

Although relations with China were normalized, China still desired more promises from the United States about their goals and actions. One point China continued to worry about were the unofficial arms sales to Taiwan. To solve this issue and further reassure China, the Reagan Communique was signed in 1982, which stated that the United States would gradually reduce arms sales to Taiwan. China was appeased. Despite this communique, the number of arms sales to Taiwan has yet to be reduced. According to the notices provided to the U.S. Congress, the U.S. sold 5.76 billion dollars worth of arms to Taiwan in 2020. The amount fluctuates each year, but has never seen a downward trend in sales. The United States’ current goal is to help “further peace and stability in Asia”. The United States seeks to promote peaceful solutions to any conflicts between Taiwan and China, and “opposes unilateral changes to the status quo by either side. Currently, this goal is met by maintaining commercial and cultural ties with Taiwan without providing direct U.S. financial assistance. These unofficial relations are managed through the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), a private corporation established to council on Taiwan relations. Though the United States actively promotes peace in the Taiwan Strait, the U.S. has not officially stated what action will be taken in the case of armed conflict. The United States continues to be ambiguous on this point, stating only that we oppose military conflict.

While strategic ambiguity is still the United States’ official stance towards Taiwan, ties have been strengthened over the past few years. Former President Trump increased military spending on Taiwan, and the current Biden administration has continued this trend. They also allow U.S. officials to more freely visit Taiwan. As previously stated, Nancy Pelosi is the most recent highest ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan, a move that Beijing strongly condemned. Several reasons have led to heightened tensions because of this visit. One reason is because of Pelosi’s long history as an advocate for human rights, including her visit to Tiananmen Square to support the victims that passed away there. She is also an outspoken critic of the Chinese concentration camps in Xinjiang. Additionally, Pelosi’s status as the 3rd highest ranked official in the U.S adds to the tension because of the deteriorating relationship between the U.S. and China. Biden especially has made several statements that have worried and angered China, including a statement last year. When asked about Taiwan, Biden said that “Taiwan is independent. We should just let it make its own decisions.” Administration officials were asked if this reflected an official change in policy, to which the answer was no. These factors have raised concern in China about potential future policy changes. China views Pelosi’s visit as part of a “slippery slope” towards an official U.S. change in policy regarding Taiwan.

During her visit, Ms. Pelosi met with high ranking Taiwanese officials, as well as Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen. Pelosi said to President Ing-wen that “the world faces a choice between democracy and autocracy. America’s determination to preserve democracy here in Taiwan and around the world remains ironclad.” Given the recent tensions discussed earlier, this statement was alarming to Chinese officials, especially when Taiwan took her visits and statements as a “symbolic victory”. Pelosi also offered news of a possible trade deal with Taiwan, a move that is especially alarming for China as one of the United States’ largest trade partners. Her entire visit was celebrated by the Taiwanese government.

So, what did China do in response to Pelosi’s visit and the continued “slippery slope”? First, a spokesperson for China by the name of Hua Chunying said the U.S. and Taiwan should expect countermeasures in response to this visit. “As for the specific countermeasures, what I can tell you is that they’ll include everything that should be included,” Hua said. “The measures in question will be firm, vigorous and effective, and the U.S. side and Taiwan independence forces will continue feeling them.” China continued their response to this visit by holding military demonstrations, one of which includes live-fire drills, which will take place uncomfortably close to Taiwan’s coastline. These exercises began on August 4th, and there are several reports that missiles flew over the island itself. China also blocked food imports from Taiwan, which will negatively affect their economy. China’s foreign minister Wang Yi also condemned the visit by saying that “the United States has become the ‘biggest destroyer’ of peace across the Taiwan Strait and for regional stability…China will definitely take all necessary measures to resolutely safeguard its sovereignty and territorial integrity in response to the U.S. Speaker’s visit. All the consequences arising therefrom must be borne by the U.S. side and the ‘Taiwan independence’ separatist forces.”

What are the short- and long-term consequences from this visit for the Taiwanese people as well U.S.-China relations? The short-term consequences of this recent visit will be born primarily by the Taiwanese citizens. China is escalating their military demonstrations and practices, causing fear among these citizens. This will continue to alienate them and hurt China’s plan for “reunification” of the two governments. Long-term, the relationship between the U.S. and China will likely continue to deteriorate, especially if confusion persists about the official U.S. stance on Taiwan. There have been previous tensions like this between the U.S. and China regarding Taiwan, but circumstances have changed, especially when China’s growing military capabilities are taken into account. If another Taiwan Strait Crisis were to take place, it would be more destructive than the past incidents because of this increased military capability, as well as increasingly intertwined economic ties between the U.S. and Taiwan. Only time will tell what will happen in the Taiwan Strait. Tensions will continue to rise between the U.S., China, and Taiwan as the status quo becomes less clear, creating a need for U.S. officials to act carefully and diplomatically to stay away from any armed conflict in the future.