13 November 2020   Leave a comment

Foreign policy in a lame duck period usually fades far into the background, as the outgoing administration usually tries to tying the hands of the new administration with new or unexpected commitments. But, as has been true of the Trump Administration, normal behavior is rare. US Secretary of State made a bombshell statement in an interview with the conservative radio commentator Hugh Hewitt yesterday:

“QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, when I interviewed you at Langley and you were the director at the agency, and when I interviewed you at Foggy Bottom and you were the Secretary of State, both occasions you said our commitments to Taiwan are clear and they will be maintained. I know you talk to Democrats all the time. Do you believe that is a bipartisan commitment that the CCP has to realize? Because there is crazy talk among the most radical elements of the CCP that Taiwan ought to be retaken by force if necessary.

“SECRETARY POMPEO: Well, Hugh, remember, when we talk about – it’s always important to get the language right. Taiwan has not been a part of China, and that was recognized with the work that the Reagan administration did to lay out the policies that the United States has adhered to now for three and a half decades, and done so under both administrations. No, I actually think this is in fact bipartisan. I think the central understandings that this is a model for democracy, that the people who live on Taiwan ought to be honored by having the Chinese live up to the commitments that they have made – I think this is something that both parties can agree to.

“And I hope that this will continue for as long as it’s the case that the Chinese and the Taiwanese can’t figure their way through this. We ought to honor the commitments that have been made and we have a set of obligations. You’ve seen our announcements with respect to weapon sales to Taiwan to assist in their defense capabilities. All of these things are designed to live up to the promises that have been made between, frankly, China and the Taiwanese people.”

The statement “Taiwan has not been a part of China” represents a flat contradiction to US policy since President Nixon and Chinese Premier Chou Enlai signed the Shanghai Communique in 1972. That communique stated:

“The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all U.S. forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.”

It is very difficult to overestimate the significance of Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China. The Shanghai Communique essentially committed China to a peaceful resolution of the dispute between China and Taiwan as long as the US divested itself of the notion that Taiwan was an independent state. But the US has taken steps that tend to treat Taiwan as separate from China, particularly with respect to arms sales:

“In the latest case, the U.S. State Department approved a $600 million arms package Tuesday that includes four unmanned maritime patrol aircraft, along with maritime radar and other hardware to support the aircraft.  

“On October 21 the department greenlighted the potential sale of three weapons systems, including missiles, artillery and sensors. The full price was estimated at $1.8 billion. Five days later it approved a $2.37 billion sale of 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defense Systems. Two other arms sale authorizations were announced earlier in the year for a total $800 million. 

“’Now what we’re seeing is the transfer of weaponry that can certainly help Taiwan become fortress Taiwan, quote unquote, to make it that impenetrable fortress against Chinese attack,’ said Derek Grossman, a senior analyst with the Rand Corp. research institution. 

“Washington cleared sales for Taiwan twice in 2019. They covered three separate arms systems, including F-16 fighter jets and M1A2T battle tanks for a total price of about $10.2 billion. A single $330 million spare parts sale was approved in 2018.  President Donald Trump’s administration came out with its first arms package in June 2017 – the only one that year – for a total of $1.42 billion.”

Additionally, the Trump Administration has taken steps to allow high level US officials to visit Taiwan, has conducted military exercises in the Taiwan Straits to demonstrate a capability to fend off a Chinese invasion, and is considering the sale of advanced drones to Taiwan. And there is little question that Taiwan itself is preparing to defend itself from a Chinese invasion. And there is a strong movement in Taiwan for independence:

“Beijing’s worst fear is that China hawks in Washington would be tempted to take further steps toward cutting the U.S. clear of its commitment to the so-called One China policy, thus emboldening Taiwan to take actions to solidify its independent status. For example, Taiwan’s legislature has recently formed a committee to amend its constitution, a move Beijing is watching closely to see if Taipei tries to use constitutional amendments to legalize its separation from China.”

All these actions will have the effect of limiting President-elect Biden’s choices with respect to Taiwan. There should be no doubt, however, what the Chinese will do if the Taiwanese decide that the US support for it justifies a move toward independence. Global Times, a reliable mouthpiece for the Chinese government, makes this clear:

“As the US has reached a bipartisan consensus to show toughness toward China, no matter whether Trump gets reelected or his Democratic rival Joe Biden enters the White House, close military ties between the US and the island of Taiwan will only strengthen. But the US and the DPP authorities are clear that if Taiwan crosses the red line of the Anti-Secession Law, the Chinese mainland will definitely resort to force as the means of reunification. Even if the US and Taiwan are military allies at that time, it is uncertain whether the US will send troops to fight for Taiwan. What is certain is the unshakable determination of the Chinese central government to take Taiwan back.”

Posted November 13, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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