By: Perizat RYSBEK KYZY
The Taiwan issue has once again become the cause of the confrontation between the United States and China. In a recent CNN town hall event, US President Joe Biden responded positively to the question of whether the United States would defend Taiwan in the event of a hypothetical Chinese aggression. Beijing perceived this statement as harsh and aggressive.
Subsequently, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin tried to extinguish diplomatic scandal and stated that Washington will continue to adhere to the “One China” policy towards the PRC, while maintaining the established relations with Taiwan, including ensuring its security according to Taiwan Relations Act 1979.
US-China relations are greatly complicated by various contentious issues, including economic rivalry associated with the “trade war” and traditional arms race. From this point of view, the sensitivity of the Taiwan issue and the degree to which it affects other aspects of Sino-US relations is certainly increasing.
How China and the United States see the future of Taiwan:
Based on the statements of the parties, it is obvious that China and the United States see the future of this territory in different ways.
• China regards Taiwan as an integral part of China and its reunification with the homeland is a sacred mission of the Chinese government and it’s “One China” policy;
• The United States is committed to supporting Taiwan’s conditional independence and Taiwan’s security against external aggression based on the Taiwan Relations Act on April 10, 1979.
Measures and reactions
As Taiwan’s most important ally, Washington has offered Taipei stronger support on several fronts in recent years. For example, with the coming to power of the Trump administration, relations between the United States and Taiwan reached a new level of development. In 2018, the US approved a Taiwan Travel Act, which raises the level of official contacts. In the same year, the United States opened a new office building on the island – the American Institute of Taiwan (AIT). As well as stepping up political ties with Taiwan, the United States has also gradually begun to step up work to improve the interoperability of US and Taiwanese military forces, which in turn has led to counteraction from China.
Beijing is strengthening its presence in Taiwan, since for Chinese leaders, the accession of Taiwan is of paramount interest and significance both for the reunification of China and for the legitimacy and longevity of the ruling Chinese Communist Party. Recently, China’s fears about Taiwan’s future have been mounting, in part due to the growing US influence in the Indo-Pacific region, the growing links between events in Hong Kong and events in Taiwan, and a changing generation of political leaders in Taipei who currently reject the idea of a ‘One China’. In response to these developments, China has recently increased the frequency and scale of People’s Liberation Army bombers, fighters and surveillance aircraft patrolling over and around Taiwan. It is also increasingly using its warships and aircraft carriers across the Taiwan Strait in a show of force.
As a result, we are witnessing the United States and China engaging in a traditional arms race in Taiwan. As China builds up its capabilities, the United States responds to change by building up Taiwan’s military might against a potential Chinese military aggression.
The future perspective and ways to prevent conflict
Competition between the United States and China is intensifying and diversifying. The fact that many immediate issues, including Taiwan, can lead to conflict makes the situation even more dangerous. These problems exist against the backdrop of an accelerating arms race between the US and Chinese militaries in the West Pacific. Against this background, the risks of conflict are increasing due to the lack of effective tools to manage this increased competition. This situation causes that all three sides – Beijing, Taipei and Washington – are approaching a point where direct conflict cannot be avoided.
However, both China and the United States are well aware of the risks and losses associated with the conduct of hostilities and their development into a full-fledged conflict between the two nuclear powers. Washington is likely to continue to use Taiwan as leverage to oppose China in the South China and East China Seas. But to avoid a full-scale confrontation over Taiwan, Washington must respect its commitment to pursuing the One China Policy, which has been a cornerstone of bilateral relations since 1979. For its part, Beijing also should continue to seek a peaceful path to reunification with Taiwan and not resort to the use of military power, which could completely destabilize the region and negatively affect political support from the residents of the southern provinces of China, who have very strong kinship, trade, cultural contacts with Taiwan.