Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
US President Barack Obama signed the US National Defense Authorization Act for the 2017 Fiscal Year into law on Friday. For the first time, it included a section that allows civilian officials at the level of assistant secretary of defense or above and serving military officers to visit Taiwan for exchanges - a breakthrough in upgrading the level of military exchanges since the US ended its diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979.
The signed bill was approved by the US Senate and House of Representatives earlier this month, getting the jump on Obama's successor Donald Trump
before he leaves the Oval office, which brings about new challenges for Sino-US relations and adds uncertainties to the cross-Straits situation.
It would be unrealistic for Taiwan to take it as extra protection from Washington and think it will become safer. The island has been overwhelmed by the Chinese mainland in terms of strength, and the US military can no longer dictate the cross-Straits situation. The military exchanges between Washington and Taiwan bear more political symbolism than anything else. Whatever attitudes the US military takes wouldn't matter if Beijing resolves to take over the island.
One important point is that the upgraded military exchange is sure to dampen Beijing's faith in a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question, thus prompting a serious consideration of military action which has been widely discussed in the mainland after Tsai Ing-wen, the leader of the island, directly called the US president-elect. The debate is not driven by the nationalist anger, or the attempt to intimidate Taiwan. Many have agreed to the fact that Beijing will have to strengthen its military forces to secure the Straits.
Since 1996, Beijing has stopped its missile test in the region, as well as other military warnings against Taiwan's "independence" ambition. However, this ambition has been revived again after Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took the leadership and Washington appears ready to use the island as a bargaining chip with Beijing. The challenge facing Beijing to take practical actions against the ambition is now an unavoidable and realistic question.
Sao Tome and Principe's split with Taiwan doesn't seem strong enough as a punishment to quell the ambition. Apart from the diplomatic measures, Beijing needs to take military actions to crack down on DPP's arrogance.
Previous editorials from the Global Times have suggested the need for Chinese warships to cross the "middle line" in the Taiwan Straits, and fighter jets to fly over the islands, which has been echoed by influential Chinese including academicians.
It is believed that Chinese military has potential options to respond to any provocations from Taiwan, especially on its offshore islands closer to the mainland.
But Taiwan doesn't believe Beijing would really take military actions and those "independence" advocates still believe they are taking the control.
As such, Beijing is expected to break their mind-set, dismiss Tsai's strategy with a feasible practice to shock the island and force DPP to pay the price.
Additionally, the national Anti-Secession Law needs to be activated against those advocates and other organizations who schemed to divide the country under the mainland's law enforcement, which could exert mental stress on the separatists.
There is no need for Beijing to worry about Washington's intervention though. The moves, such as Tsai's denial of the 1992 Consensus, Trump-Tsai phone call and the upgraded military exchanges, have interrupted the stability across the Straits. If the Trump administration opts to engage in a geopolitical friction with China over the Straits, Beijing has the edge - stronger military control and resolution - and would win over Washington.
A few of Beijing's actions on the island would undermine Tsai's political approvals, as well as Taiwan's economy. This doesn't signify a potential war but a high pressure germane to the Straits conflict that Taiwan wouldn't even bear. It's Beijing who has the final say between peace and war on cross-Straits relations, not Taiwan or the US.The article is an editorial of the Chinese edition of the Global Times Monday. firstname.lastname@example.org