It is un­wise for Wash­ing­ton to play the Tai­wan card

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

The past week was noth­ing but event­ful con­sid­er­ing the rel­a­tive peace China-US re­la­tions have en­joyed since Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and his US coun­ter­part Don­ald Trump struck a con­struc­tive note for bi­lat­eral ties when they met in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, in April. Over the past few days, Wash­ing­ton has ap­proved a $1.4-bil­lion arms sale to Tai­wan and black­listed a Chi­nese bank for al­leged business ties with the Demo­cratic Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of Korea, and the US Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has ap­proved a bill for US naval ves­sels to make reg­u­lar stops at Tai­wan ports and help the is­land de­velop un­der­sea war­fare ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The moves run counter to the con­sen­sus reached by the two pres­i­dents on that oc­ca­sion that the two coun­tries should work to­gether to forge a con­struc­tive part­ner­ship.

Al­though the ap­proval of the arms sales to Tai­wan agreed last year is the most provoca­tive move the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has taken thus far, it is ac­tu­ally the lat­est act of a decades-old rou­tine stem­ming from the US De­fense Autho­riza­tion Act. It is hardly a novelty in bi­lat­eral ties, and is only sur­pris­ing be­cause of its tim­ing, scale and the tech­nolo­gies in­volved.

The pro­posed port vis­its are another mat­ter, should they gain the ap­proval of Congress and the autho­riza­tion of the pres­i­dent, the con­se­quences for ties are likely to be ex­tremely se­ri­ous, be­cause be­sides send­ing a mis­lead­ing mes­sage to the se­ces­sion­ist forces in Tai­wan, they would con­sti­tute a sub­stan­tial in­fringe­ment on China’s sovereignty.

Wash­ing­ton is well aware that Bei­jing will not tol­er­ate any ex­ter­nal in­ter­fer­ence in its in­ter­nal affairs, es­pe­cially any chal­lenge to the coun­try’s ter­ri­to­rial in­tegrity and sovereignty. Some­thing Xi spelled out very clearly dur­ing his just-con­cluded visit to the Hong Kong Spe­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tive Re­gion.

At this stage, the moves made last week are noth­ing more than an­noy­ing, and they do not nec­es­sar­ily mea­sure up to a re­ver­sal in the US’ China poli­cies as some are claim­ing.

It may be the out­come-ori­ented Wash­ing­ton is anx­ious to lever­age im­me­di­ate gains from bi­lat­eral col­lab­o­ra­tion in re­la­tion to pri­or­ity is­sues on its agenda or a price-hik­ing ploy prior to ne­go­ti­a­tions at the up­com­ing Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic Di­a­logue. Ei­ther way, go­ing over­board in try­ing to put pres­sure on Bei­jing may prove coun­ter­pro­duc­tive, since it will sim­ply prompt a tit­for-tat re­sponse from which the US will not emerge un­bruised.

Bei­jing, protest­ing against the moves, has called on Wash­ing­ton to cor­rect its mistakes so that their co­op­er­a­tion on ma­jor is­sues will not be af­fected, show­ing the con­struc­tive part­ner­ship they have pledged to for­mu­late is still at­tain­able if there is a shared will.

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