Sino-US ties on brink over Taiwan Travel Act

By Wang Congyue Source:Global Times Published: 2018/2/12 19:53:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations on Wednesday passed the Taiwan Travel Act, allowing visits between the island and the US at all levels, including high-ranking officials after the House passed the bill on January 9. The bill will become law after it is passed by the US Senate and signed by the president.

In that case, US President Donald Trump's administration will break the US commitment to maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan, challenging China's red line. It will also undo efforts of former US presidents and experts to balance relations with Chinese mainland and Taiwan as well as regional security. Being capricious and self-negating in diplomacy has become a mark of declining strength of the US.

The Taiwan question, which relates to national sovereignty and territorial integrity, concerns China's core interests. Adhering to the one-China policy and the three joint communiqués between Beijing and Washington is the premise and the political foundation for orderly, healthy and stable bilateral relations.

Due to a steeper learning curve after taking office, Trump hasn't fully realized what significance the Taiwan question carries for Sino-US ties and international stability, hence failing to deal with it discreetly.

The businessman-turned president applied his transactional mind-set in international relations and chose to play the Taiwan card as an easy way to bargain with China. After all, using other issues like trade, the South China Sea and North Korea seems not to be working out well.

Meanwhile, some pro-Taiwan hawks around Trump have tried to build up the momentum for Washington to adjust its policy toward Taiwan while right-wing conservative think tanks kept up their lobbying efforts. As a result, the Republican's pro-Taiwan stance, discouraged by the Obama administration, has gained ground. Guided by the "America First" doctrine, the Trump administration will probably continue raising the Taiwan question in Sino-US relations.

The Taiwan Travel Act is one of the US Congress' portfolio moves to check China. Once the bill becomes law, Washington would intentionally use Taiwan as an instrument against China in its Indo-Pacific strategy and meddle in cross-Straits relations. Besides, the US will also calculate its moves to collect intelligence from the mainland with the help of Taiwan.

Given its capability of managing cross-Straits and Sino-US relations, the mainland will not back off over an issue that concerns national dignity. As a result, China and the US may be mired in confrontation. The situation may turn more serious than during former Taiwan leader Lee Teng-hui's trip to the US in 1995.

However, whether the bill will become law remains uncertain. It is based on the attitude of US administrative departments. Although Trump has repeatedly doubted former US administrations' adherence to the one-China policy and even phoned Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen right after being elected president, his administration has gradually realized that Sino-US relations are more vital than the Taiwan question. The US' continuous bid to balance the role between the mainland and Taiwan will benefit the country and bring it closer to its global strategic goals. It is a better choice than confronting the mainland. Hence, cross-Straits military conflicts or making the Taiwan question a hurdle in Sino-US relations are not in Washington's interests.

The bill also faces massive public pressure inside the US. Distinguished American professor Dennis V. Hickey, an expert in cross-Straits relations, is highly disapproving of the act. "This bill ought to die in the Senate: it is frivolous, unnecessary, and provocative," he said.

Above all, the bill was passed by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations probably because senators used it to gain more votes as the US midterm elections are approaching. But Washington needs to keep in mind that if the bill eventually becomes law, the consequences for Sino-US ties, Asia-Pacific region and world peace will be hard to imagine.

The author is assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, Chinese Academy of Social


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