China stands as a rising global power in an increasingly interconnected world. Therefore, the United States must adopt a foreign policy that maintains stability in East Asia. However, relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the US have undergone many changes in recent years, some for the worse. The most striking point in PRC-US relations is the fact that China views the independence of Taiwan as the continuation of civil war. Understandably, US support of Taiwan only furthers the tension within the region. Consequently, US-Taiwan relations are an ever-changing aspect of US foreign policy that attempts to balance its delicate relationship and maintain peace in the region.
US support for Taiwan is a direct confrontation with the PRC. Historically, the US has supported Taiwan, perhaps to check a rising PRC. For example, congress has recently approved the sale of increased defense aid to Taiwan. In current foreign policy the US indicates that it is not ready to cut ties with Taiwan in order to build stronger bonds with the PRC.
The US has a foreign policy predating 1991, known as the Taiwan relations Act, which outlines the potential measures the US would take to support and sustain Taiwan. This act is seen by the American population as an attempt to stabilize the region and counterbalance perceived Chinese aggression towards Taiwan. However, from the Chinese perspective, this policy and the measures prescribed in it, such as the sale of F-16s to Taiwan, only weaken and undermine PRC authority. In other words, this policy is seen as an intentional violation of Chinese sovereignty.
Despite this and other points of tension, cross-strait relations are stabilizing. With the election of Ma Yingjeou, Taiwanese policy has changed course and now focuses on improving relations with the mainland. Due to these new policy changes, economic and political stability has been steadily increasing since 2008. However, the transfer of power in any country still carries with it some interesting questions about the future. The communist party has held control of China’s political atmosphere for many years, officially since 1921, and effectively since 1949. The communist party is organized to run parallel to the country’s leadership and usually both leadership positions align. The year 2013 marks a once-in-a-decade transition within the communist party, and consequently within the government. With the presidential assignment remaining merely a formality, Xi Jinping has already begun his work as leader of the Asian world.
A telling indicator of political forecasting lies in the statements a leader makes during his or her first few months in office. Recently Xi visited with Lien Chan, a high ranking Taiwanese diplomat. In regards to Taiwan, Xi has said that
“Safeguarding the interests of our Taiwan compatriots and expanding their well-being is the mainland’s oft-repeated pledge and solemn promise of the new leaders of China’s Communist Party central committee.”
However, Xi maintains that “Core Issues” have not been met. Territory is a core issue for the PRC. Evidence of China’s Territorial nature can be seen by their recent territorial disputes with Japan. While the issue of territory itself is a volatile subject, China’s new leader is not a volatile leader; he recently commented on the Taiwan issue, saying,
“We also are soberly aware that historical problems remain in cross-Strait relations, and that there will be issues in the future that will require time, patience and joint effort to resolve.”
Given the increasingly stable post-2008 trend in China-Taiwan-US relations, the US will need to change its policy if it wishes to see increased regional stability. Chinese officials take a hard line on territorial issues and view US interference with Taiwan as one of the largest problems facing US-PRC relations. Therefore, as mutual understanding grows, the US will need to allow China to settle its own internal disputes. Selling weapons to Taiwan not only weakens the stability of cross-strait relations, but it also weakens Sino-American relations, and greater East Asian relations. According to Chinese policy makers, if stability is to be achieved in East Asia, the US will need to stop interfering in Chinese internal affairs.