Competition between the US executive branch and Congress to portray themselves as the best defender of American national interests against China has added an important perspective to examine the passing of an unprecedented number of anti-China legislative documents through Capitol Hill offices in the past few years. Like their Republican counterparts, the Democratic lawmakers are also eager to adopt a tough attitude toward China in order to play up as much to their supporters in their own constituencies as to their allies in the Biden administration.
These acts are: the Taiwan Travel Act of 2018, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020, the Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (a merger of several China-related bills), the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act of 2021, the Strategic Competition Act of 2021, the Meeting the China Challenge Act of 2021, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, and the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, which is under discussion in the US Congress.
The recent decision by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee to approve the Taiwan Policy Act, a move that will advance the bill to the Senate floor, has burst like a clap of thunder over placid Chinese skies. In response to the US’ attempt to hollow out the one-China principle, Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang warned that China-US ties would disintegrate if the act were to become law. What disastrous effects the act could have on Sino-American relations and how such effects could be mitigated.
Before the introduction of the act, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, and other conservative think tanks in the US have publicly denounced the one-China principle and even advocated Taiwan independence (Wenzhao Tao (ed.), The US Policy Making Process for Post Cold War China (Singapore: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, 2018), p 159). At the moment, many members of Congress are eager to jump on the anti-China bandwagon. The approval of the bill by the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations is indicative that even liberal legislators are willing to move with the conservative tide as containing China has now become the mainstream view of American politicians.
From the perspective of China, the proposal by the law draftsmen to treat Taiwan the same way as America’s other non-NATO allies by allocating $4.5 billion in security help over four years is too much to put up with. The new status would allow Taiwan to receive American arms that would undoubtedly embolden the separatists on the island. Equally intolerable is the proposal to set up a broad economic sanctions scheme to target Chinese officials and financial institutions in case of perceived hostility toward Taiwan.
In the diplomatic sphere, the bill introduces measures to remove international restrictions on official interaction with officials from Taiwan, who would be allowed to display the island’s emblem, symbols and flags in meetings with US officials. The bill also proposes renaming the island’s representative office, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, in Washington the “Taiwan Representative Office”, and allows Taiwan officials to enjoy diplomatic treatment equivalent to that given to foreign countries. In the words of Senator Brian Schatz, the symbols of sovereignty being granted to Taiwan would be too “provocative”.
Judging from above, the act signals a malicious attempt by the US Congress to fundamentally depart from the one-China principle, which will inevitably dismantle the foundation of Sino-American relations. The act is also a departure from the so-called “dual deterrence” policy, or “strategic ambiguity”. (John Copper, Taiwan at a Tipping Point (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2018), p 194). Being a pawn for American strategic interests, the Democratic Progressive Party in Taiwan may be emboldened by the act to take more dangerous steps to provoke Beijing.
To step back from the brink, David Shambaugh has recently opined that there is an urgent need to re-establish a functional framework for managing the acute sensitivities and danger surrounding the Taiwan question. Such a framework should intrinsically include an American return to the “political understandings” of 1979, so that Beijing will refrain from carrying out further military exercises around the island. His proposal may be used as an analytical framework to explore ways to mitigate the disastrous effects of the act.
Following the normalization of Sino-American relations, clouds have still hovered over their relationship because of the enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act in April 1979. The so-called “political understandings” of 1979 focus on two points; namely, the maintenance of unofficial relations between the US and Taiwan, and the “ambiguous commitment” made by the US to help Taiwan maintain a self-defense capability. Shambaugh deserves great credit for reminding the US of the need to return to the understandings of 1979. Although Beijing has criticized the Taiwan Relations Act for breaking the one-China principle (Wenzhao Tao, ibid, p 92), the Taiwan Relations Act is less threatening and disruptive to Sino-American relations than the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022.
But we have deep reservations about the fairness of his comments on the “provocative acts” taken by Beijing. In fact, the US could easily press the “stop button” to stop Beijing from taking escalatory countermeasures to deal with Washington’s provocations. Beijing has a legitimate right to give reasonable warning to anti-China forces in the US and the pro-independence forces in Taiwan. If US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had canceled her provocative trip to Taiwan in August, the People’s Liberation Army would not have staged the unprecedented live-fire military exercises around Taiwan Island. The mainland has no intention of using military exercises to threaten its compatriots in Taiwan.
In an atmosphere of rising geopolitical rivalry between China and the US, US President Joe Biden should defuse the tense situation by refusing to sign the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 into law. Resuming cooperation on nonpolitical transnational issues could help put a floor under the deteriorating bilateral relations. The two sides should start with small issues and address bigger issues in future. Incremental steps to improve the Sino-American relationship will help lay the foundation for normalizing mutually beneficial economic relations and lowering the political temperature across the Straits. It is a win-win solution.
Junius Ho Kwan-yiu is a Legislative Council member and a solicitor.
Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, a part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and the Macao Basic Law Research Center, and co-founder of the Together We Can and Hong Kong Coalition.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS