Bottom line on Taiwan question will be shaped through fight with US: Chinese scholar
Published: Jul 25, 2022 05:45 PM
Photo: China military

Photo: China military

Editor's Note:

China has warned of "strong and resolute measures" against US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's planned trip to Taiwan island in August. If she does make the visit, what will it mean for the situation in the Taiwan Straits? What short-term and long-term impact will it have on China-US relations? What measures should China take? Zheng Yongnian (Zheng), professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, and president of the Institute for International Affairs, Qianhai, talked with Global Times (GT) reporters Wang Wenwen over these issues.

GT: In response to Pelosi's planned visit, US President Joe Biden said in response that the US military thinks Pelosi's trip is "not a good idea right now," adding that "I don't know what the status of it is." How would you interpret Biden's words?

Zheng: The current US government is generally semi-paralyzed and divided. As US House speaker, Pelosi has not coordinated with the president, and many things that the president aims to do would be vetoed by the Congress. The US government is not an example of checks and balances right now, with every one doing their own thing without any coordination.

Pelosi reportedly planned to visit Taiwan in April, but the trip was cancelled after she tested positive for COVID-19. There were speculations saying it was due to the pressure from the US military. This time, according to Biden's words, the US military also has different opinions and claims it is "not a good idea right now." This shows that the US is very divided internally.

GT: Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is believed to have considerations of mid-term elections, trying to save some momentum for the Democratic Party. US domestic politics is increasingly overwhelming rational foreign relations. To what extent will domestic affairs of the US affect its actions regarding Taiwan?

Zheng: Biden and Pelosi share political interests in visiting Taiwan, as mid-term elections are coming. After Biden came into power, the Democratic Party has made no achievements in internal affairs. Although Biden has acted tough toward China and Russia diplomatically and reached some bipartisan consensus on the Taiwan question, these did not help him much. Biden's approval rating is even lower than Donald Trump's. Trump took the populist line and was not supported by elites. But when Biden just took office, some Republican elites were optimistic about him. Now that Biden's performance is sluggish, how should the Democratic Party deal with such a situation? Only by playing with diplomatic issues.

Judging from the US' history, external conflicts and wars are usually effective ways to shift internal conflicts. External enemies are an important condition for internal unity. In the context of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, the US did not focus on Russia and Ukraine, but the Indo-Pacific, and its imaginary enemy is China.

GT: If Pelosi really pays a visit to Taiwan, what does it mean for the situation in the Taiwan Straits? What short-term and long-term impact will it have on China-US relations? To what extent can China-US relations be the worst?

Zheng: Pelosi's visit to Taiwan would constitute a US misjudgment of China. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has shown this. The US worries that its democracy is weakened and China's so-called autocracy will become stronger, which will lead to China's expansionism, especially prompting China to resolve the Taiwan question. Therefore, since the Russia-Ukraine conflict started, the US attention did not completely shift to Europe. Instead, it did not forget Asia, especially Taiwan, and has continued to hype up the Taiwan question. The US' misjudgment is that it believes China will resolve the Taiwan question when the US is politically weak. The US wants to bluff to its Asia-Pacific allies and Taiwan to show that Washington will not forget their interests, even when it is weak itself. If China acts tough, the US will think its judgment is correct. If China behaves in a weak way, it will also be beneficial to the US.

If a conflict does occur, the US can use this opportunity to promote an Asian version of NATO, which has become clearer as a direction for the US. Therefore, Pelosi's visit to Taiwan is not just a matter of midterm elections or a whim. On the Taiwan question, the US has no bottom line. There will be a bottom line, but not through paperwork or lip service, but fight.

Like I said, there will be a bottom line only through fight. When there is a bottom line, there will be cooperation. Without a bottom line, China and the US will head toward conflict. Cooperation, competition and confrontation coexist in the US' China policy. Now the climate issue has become the ballast of China-US relations after trade and economics. We should emphasize healthy competition. China has proposed the Belt and Road Initiative, and the US has also launched some infrastructure construction projects. China should make it clear that it supports all actions conductive to local economic and social development.

The US has claimed that there should be guardrails for China-US relations. Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the three Sino-US joint communiqués are the most reliable guardrails for the two countries. But this is not enough for the US anymore. For a major power like the US, it views itself as law and rules that itself does not have to obey. Therefore, we need to fight for the right to make rules.

Zheng Yongnian Photo:Courtesy of Zheng

Zheng Yongnian Photo:Courtesy of Zheng

GT: If Pelosi really visits Taiwan, what countermeasures can China take?

Zheng: Pelosi will visit Taiwan if China does not exert strong pressure. China should not have any illusions, but should take real actions. China has earlier announced that the "middle line" is a non-existent line that some on the island wishfully think divides the Taiwan Straits into the mainland side and Taiwan. Now we may take a step further and send military aircraft to accompany Pelosi's plane into the island of Taiwan and conduct military exercises at the same time. China must fight resolutely, but avoid open conflict. This is our bottom line. We must exert maximum pressure to show our resolution of doing whatever it takes to realize national reunification. Taiwan is at the heart of China's core interests.

Why is the US eager to do this right now? Because time is on our side, especially considering the development of China's military modernization. The US feels that if it does not do this now, there will be no hope in the future. Meanwhile, with the development of our military and economy, the reunification is inevitable.

China should unveil the US' intensions. The US government wants to use the Taiwan question to cover up its internal contradictions. Playing the Taiwan card cannot save the US' interests. The US has kept saying that it wants to protect Taiwan's so-called democracy and freedom, but it wants to turn Taiwan into another Ukraine. This will only lead Taiwan to a dead end.

GT: Military exercises or sending warplanes around Taiwan seems not enough to prevent the US and DPP authorities from colluding in salami-slicing tactics. What else could we do?

Zheng: Reunification by force is the most effective way to prevent Taiwan secessionism. But the approach of reunification is open. There can be different versions of "one country, two systems" in Hong Kong, Macao or even Taiwan. When China's military level is beyond a certain level, it can neutralize the US' intervention. National reunification requires sticks and carrots. 

The US is a paradox. We should not underestimate the US' irrationality. We need to prepare for conflicts, as well as ways to contain conflicts.

GT: The US' adherence to the "one-China policy" and its non-support for Taiwan secessionism are the foundation of China-US relations. Now the US wants to undermine this foundation to contain China. Does this reflect that the previous US cards to contain China do not work? Will the US government continue its trial and error in its China policy?

Zheng: From Barack Obama's pivot to Asia, to Trump's Indo-Pacific Strategy, then to Biden, the US has tried everything. Technology blockade and decoupling have resulted in the US' high level of inflation. The US has tried many things and has reached no effective results. In the end, it can only play the Taiwan card. In the future, the US government will continue its trial and error in China policy.

The US has become the most powerful country after WWII, which is because it is the end consumer market for almost all Western countries. But the US now adopts trade protectionism and many policies are not working. The US policy regarding the South China Sea has also failed. If we view China-US relations from this dynamic, we have reasons to be optimistic.