Taiwan Travel Act a dangerous trigger moment

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/10/14 1:23:39

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which attempts to remove restrictions on official travel between the US and Taiwan at all levels that have been in place for 39 years. Before the bill becomes law, it must pass the House and Senate and be signed by US President Donald Trump. Observers believe the possibility of the bill becoming law is small but cannot be totally ruled out.

Despite having no legal validity, the bill is nothing but a provocation against China's sovereignty, territorial integrity and security interest launched by Taiwan and a few US congressmen. It reflects the complex system of US diplomacy where some politicians play good cops and others play bad. The act might just be a feint or it might also become a real attack.  

It will not only set back relations between China and the US, but also disastrously overturn cross-Straits relations. The few US congressmen who initiated the bill and the Taiwan side thought they have the leverage to arbitrarily upgrade relations between the US and Taiwan, but they have greatly underestimated the systemic risks that their move may provoke. They perhaps do not know they are pressing a fatally dangerous button.      

When the US Subcommittee on Asian and Pacific Affairs passed the Taiwan Travel Act in June, Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen tweeted her appreciation to US politicians. In response to the latest developments involving the bill, her office spokesman expressed "official gratitude." But the island's newly elected executive head Lai Ching-te said in a faux display of modesty that there is still some way to go before the bill is signed into law. 

The Taiwan question is essentially a question involving the relations between China and the US and the status quo mirrors the balance of military power between China and the US over the Taiwan question. On legal grounds, "One China" is widely recognized by the world and previous US administrations accepted it. It would be extremely difficult for the new Washington administration to do otherwise. The US generally has greater military might but Taiwan is closer to the mainland. The mainland's military strength is capable of effectively deterring Taiwan pro-independence forces and the US army in the surrounding area.  

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee that is pursuing the Taiwan Travel Act is overstepping the red line of China-US relations. If the act is signed into law, it will surely change the cross-Straits atmosphere. For every card the US and Taiwan play according to the act, the mainland will fight back. The Taiwan question is China's core interest and Beijing will not bow to Washington.   

The Tsai administration thinks the closer the US and Taiwan get, the more secure is Taiwan. This is a total misjudgment by Tsai and Taiwan's Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). China's anti-secession law stipulates a series of conditions where the Taiwan question is solved through non-peaceful means. Once the status quo of cross-Straits relations is overturned, it will massively encourage pro-independence groups in Taiwan and therefore peace across the Straits will be shaken.

The DPP administration should not think they will not receive decisive punishment from the mainland regardless of how actively they engage in pro-independence activities and collude with foreign forces. They should not think the mainland will hold back from taking action against Taiwan as long as US military forces are present. The mainland has a lot of leverage and options against pro-independence forces and its willingness to activate these options is far greater than the US' will to stop the mainland. 

A handful of radical political actors in the US Congress are a common presence in Western institutions. US Congressman Steve Chabot who initiated the act is one of them. He seeks a political presence even at the expense of the US national interest.

The understanding of different US administrations on the cross-Straits question over the past four decades is generally rational and pragmatic. We hope this rationality won't be disrupted by the Taiwan Travel Act. China will never use the Taiwan question to cut deals with other countries. China will defend the bottom line of cross-Straits relations at any cost.



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