Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen met with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Governor Greg Abbott in Houston on Sunday as she stopped over in the US on her way to Central America. This is the general treatment for Taiwan leaders when they transit via the US.
Cruz, who was defeated by Donald Trump
in the Republican primaries, told media that "The People's Republic of China needs to understand that in America we make decisions about meeting with visitors for ourselves." Texas has a close trade relationship with Taiwan, with many of the local electorate hailing from the island, which is believed to have something to do with Tsai's meeting with Cruz and Abbott.
On principle, the US government should not allow Taiwan "presidents" to transit its soil or carry out activities within the US. Washington should not sell arms to Taiwan and interfere in cross-Straits affairs. But Beijing cannot sever US-Taiwan relations now.
Tsai's meeting with the Texas governor matches her title which is equivalent to the head of China's Taiwan Province. Cruz failed in his bid to become US president. He may find it congenial to talk with Tsai, a pretend Taiwan "president."
No federal officials met Tsai this time, and the Trump team also said it would not meet her. It is not known who else she has met. Her activities in Houston seem furtive.
If the US wants to have a normal relationship with the People's Republic of China, it cannot act wantonly. Previous Taiwan "presidents" have never managed to transit via Washington, DC. Chen Shui-bian once transited in New York. At the current stage, neither China nor the US can force the other to fully accept its own principles or accept rules set by the other. They are locked in a stalemate.
Taiwan chooses to drift between Beijing and Washington, the two major powers in the world. It is bound to be kicked around by both. In 2006, Chen Shui-bian was asked to transit in Alaska rather than a major continental US city. The Tsai administration had a phone call with Trump, but may be "betrayed" by the president on another day. This is the fate of being a pawn of external forces.
China and the US have been locked in a seesaw struggle since the Taiwan question intensified in 1996. Taiwan independence reached a climax during that time. But the mainland has also enhanced its ability to control the situation in the Taiwan-Straits. At the beginning, the Americans dominated the trend of Taiwan independence, but as the Chinese mainland's strength increases, it is gradually taking the initiative back.
In the past, the mainland only focused on sticking to its principles, but lacked flexibility. In the future, it should seize strategic initiatives and be flexible in its tactics. The mainland can play the Tsai administration like a fiddle. It may not fix the issue once and for all, but at least it can entertain the mainland public, which has been angered by Taiwan independence forces.