OPINION / VIEWPOINT
Biden team strikes a delicate balance between boldness and caution over Taiwan question
Published: Mar 10, 2021 09:16 PM
Taiwan Photo: Unsplash

Taiwan Photo: Unsplash

US Admiral Philip Davidson, commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, told a US Senate committee on Tuesday that China could invade Taiwan within the next six years. He also suggested that the US reassess its "strategic ambiguity" policy toward Taiwan that it has harbored for more than 40 years. 

Davidson was chosen by former president Trump to implement the strategic and military policy of US hawks. Davidson himself takes a hard-line approach toward China. Although Davidson is set to retire later this year, he still wants to influence US policy. Even the US media noticed that Davidson "has spent the past few weeks trying to bring more attention to the danger posed by an ever-bolder China." Davidson claimed, "Taiwan is clearly one of their [China's] ambitions… And I think the threat is manifest during this decade, in fact, in the next six years." This in fact shows the US is lack of confidence in the Indo-Pacific region. 

The US has always raised concerns about China's development of its military and combat capability. This is an outdated mentality. The US wants absolute military superiority to realize its security. But such moves will jeopardize the security of other countries. In other words, the US notion of absolute security is misguided. 

In the past few years, the US has not achieved many gains in its dealings with China. The US may feel powerful, but in the end it often finds that it lacks confidence, and because of this, it becomes even more eager to showcase its strength. This is a vicious cycle. So far, the China policy of the Biden administration, including its Taiwan policy, is cautious. It is different from the latter phase of the Trump administration which spared no efforts playing the Taiwan card to show its tough stance toward China and to obtain political advantages. That is why some secessionist forces in Taiwan fear that Biden's Taiwan policy may leave less room for them to exploit. 

One reason for Biden's caution is this: the new administration dare not give the impression of being weak. Biden's team believes the president could be scolded, or even pay a political cost, for being weak on Taiwan question. On January 23, three days after Biden's inauguration, the US State Department issued concerns over the PLA's exercises near Taiwan Straits. It urged Beijing to "cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan."

Meanwhile, some opinions in the US believe Biden can use Trump-era conflicts as bargaining chips when dealing with China. In this case, it will have more cards to play. For instance, before former secretary of state Mike Pompeo stepped down, he said he was lifting restrictions on official contacts between the US and Taiwan. Actually, therefore, the new US administration is still undergoing a process of evaluation, which will lead to a redefinition and adjustments of US policies towards China. 

What is certain is that the US will not give up its one-China policy. Nor will it explicitly commit itself to the defense of Taiwan if the latter were ever attacked. But it will likely increase the difficulty for the mainland's reunification with Taiwan. As the US did previously, it lifted the status of the "Six Assurances" to that of the "Three Joint Communiqués." 

Washington is clear that it will end up in a difficult position if it ties itself to the Taiwan chariot. Therefore, the "strategic ambiguity" policy fits the Biden administration's calculations. Attempts by the Trump administration in its later stage to alter the policy have triggered some bounce within the US. The Americans do not really want to pay the costs for Taiwan secessionists. Rather, Washington could have more room to maneuver if it adopts an ambiguous strategy. Of course, this does not mean the US will not play or will play fewer Taiwan cards. But it prefers to play them in a crafty way. As the US did previously, it lifted the status of the "Six Assurances" to that of the "Three Joint Communiqués."

Some American scholars suggest the US encourage the mainland and Taiwan to resume talks. The mainland does not oppose to talking with the island of Taiwan. However, Taiwan should not pursue secession under the guise of real talks. Similarly, the mainland will never accept the US encouraging talks on the surface while it supports Taiwan secessionists under the table.

The author is deputy director of the Department for American Studies, China Institute of International Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn
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