US urged to take actions to build guardrails, reject Lai’s ‘transit’ trip
Published: Aug 04, 2023 11:23 PM Updated: Aug 05, 2023 12:01 AM


Like the heavy rain and strong winds brought by the recent Typhoon Khanun over Taiwan, the Taiwan Straits is also clouded by growing political tensions. After a brief thaw brought by a string of trips by US senior officials to Beijing, the US has resumed its provocation on the Taiwan question, including arms sales and a bill challenging UN Resolution 2758 over Taiwan's status. In addition, the upcoming US "transit" tour of Lai Ching-te, deputy leader of the Taiwan region and a diehard secessionist, will bring more danger and uncertainty.

Experts said that the repeated back-and-forth in the US on the Taiwan question will only damage Washington's fragile political credibility. The White House should realize that, in the face of its own paradoxical politics, it has not done enough to build guardrails and manage differences in its relations with China.

As the 2024 election approaches, there will be less and less room for the White House to adjust its China policy. If the Biden administration sincerely wants to do something to stabilize the China-US relationship, it should not blindly bow to congressional and electoral pressure, otherwise the previous engagement will lose its effect. How Lai's US "transit" is handled will be an occasion for China to closely examine the attitude of the US, experts noted. 

The defense department on the island of Taiwan on Friday reported that 14 People's Liberation Army (PLA) aircraft and 11 PLA Navy vessels around Taiwan were detected by 6 am Friday. 

Some Taiwan-based analysts expressed concerns that Lai's "transit tour" may trigger a military drill from the Chinese mainland, whose intensity may be equal to the response against former US House speaker Nancy Pelosi's provocative visit to the island last August.  

On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the US to refuse to let Lai "transit" the US through a statement, stressing that China firmly opposes any visit by "Taiwan independence" secessionists to the US in any name or under any pretext, and firmly opposes any form of US connivance and support for secessionists and their separatist activities.

Paradoxical US

During former US diplomat Dr. Henry Kissinger's Beijing visit last month, the Financial Times said US officials have asked Lai to clarify his controversial remarks about his "White House visit," highlighting doubts over his approach when dealing with cross-Straits relations. 

It also came after remarks made by China's ambassador to the US Xie Feng during the Aspen Security Forum, which described the secessionist's so-called transit as a "a grey rhino charging at us" that must be stopped. 

Lai, who is also the front-runner in the 2024 Taiwan regional election race, is expected to "transit" through New York and San Francisco later this month en route to and from Paraguay. Some Taiwan-based observers said Lai may receive a reception similar to one given to Taiwan's regional leader Tsai Ing-wen. Tsai traveled through New York on March 29 and passed through Los Angeles in April as a "stopover" to and from Guatemala and Belize. 

Bowing to pressure from China hawks in Congress, the Biden Administration has decided it will bar Hong Kong's chief executive John Lee from attending the APEC summit in San Francisco this autumn. The Chinese Foreign Ministry later expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposition to the move.

Ironically, the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday expressed a wish to meet with Chinese senior diplomat Wang Yi in the US, which some viewed as a prelude to a possible discussion of a Xi-Biden meeting at the APEC summit. Blinken also said no response has been received, according to Reuters. 

There are rational voices that are wary and skeptical of the US' efforts to contain China by playing the "Taiwan card" in both the US and the international community, but at the same time, the Biden administration is also facing pressure and challenges from opposition and Congress, making it more difficult to distinguish White House policy from the ideas of the China hawks in Congress, Sun Chenghao, a fellow and head of the US-EU program at the Center for International Security and Strategy in Tsinghua University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

On July 25, the US House of Representatives passed a piece of legislation titled the "Taiwan International Solidarity Act," which represented a calculated distortion of UNGA 2758, showing the US deception of public opinion on the Taiwan question.

On July 28, the US announced its latest arms sale package to Taiwan island worth up to $345 million, but Washington did not elaborate on the package details. The 11th arms sale to Taiwan under the Biden Administration drew strong opposition from the Chinese Defense Ministry.

America has always had a two-faced approach, Xin Qiang, deputy director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, told the Global Times on Friday, noting that US support for "Taiwan independence" secessionists was intensifying. 

Playing the "Taiwan card" to contain the Chinese mainland is a mainstream of US policy, but avoiding direct conflict with China is a hidden path, Xin said. 

Due to the fierce partisan rivalry and the obstruction of Congressional lawmakers, the discontinuity and unpredictability of US policy has become more serious. If the executive branch does not control this trend, it will further damage the political credibility of the US, which is already at a low, Xin noted. 

According to experts, the US has not done enough to build guardrails and manage differences in the process of its "strategic competition" with China,

When it comes to prudently handling the Taiwan question, the Biden administration is incapable of doing anything under pressure from Congress, and it is irresponsible to attribute the situation to the "separation of powers," said Sun, "Perhaps the Biden administration is afraid that a detente with China over the Taiwan question could hurt his standing at home."

If the US government wants to show some sincerity in its engagement with China, it needs to do so in areas it can decide on.  

As the 2024 election approaches, the Biden administration will have increasingly less room for flexibility in its China policy. If the White House wants to do something about stabilizing bilateral ties and maintain the limited positivity from previous engagements, it must do it as soon as possible, Sun said. 

It is impossible for the US to give up playing the "Taiwan card" in the short term, but one priority is managing "Taiwan independence" secessionists and stabilizing China-US relations, Xin said, "China will firmly safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, but we will not voluntarily close the door to cooperation."

"The situation across the Taiwan Straits has always been in a high-risk state, and the PLA is always prepared... China's countermeasures depend on the level of provocations from the US and secessionists, and the US should manage the words and actions of Lai during his possible "transit trip" if it does not want to escalate tensions," said Chinese military expert Song Zhongping.