It is unwise for Washington to play the Taiwan card
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.