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The Taiwan Travel Act signed by U.S. President Donald Trump on March 16 this year dealt a deadly blow to the volatile and complicated ties between China and the United States, two of the world’s largest economies.
The act encourages official visits between the United States and Taiwan at all levels. It is also regarded as the biggest diplomatic policy change by the U.S. towards China since 1978. Media reports said that Alex Wong, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of East Asia and Pacific Affairs of the U.S. State Department, paid a visit to Taiwan from March 20 to 22. Such a visit made Wong the first U.S. official to visit Taiwan after the signing of the act.
A quasi-diplomatic relationship with Taiwan is eroding the political foundation of China and the United States and disrupting ties between the two countries. President Trump pledged to support the one-China policy shortly after taking office, but he ate his own words. Chinese ministries of foreign affairs and national defense and the Chinese Embassy in the United States all lodged serious representation and dissatisfaction, urging the U.S. Government to keep their promise, handle Taiwan-related issues properly and cautiously, stick to the one-China policy and adhere to the three joint communiqués between the two nations.
Besides seriously hurting China-U.S. ties, the act will also put greater pressure on Taiwan. Originally, Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen and her party attempted to use political ambiguity to dodge inquiries about their position on the 1992 Consensus and maintain the status quo in cross-Straits relations. But now, with the act coming into effect, Tsai has been totally hi-jacked by the United States and cannot use ambiguous terms any more.
Since the act will bring benefits to nobody, why did Trump insist on signing it?
In my point of view, Trump seems to think he has a full hand of trump cards to play. As a businessman-turned politician, Trump will do everything he can think of to advocate the theory of “China threat” and gain more bargaining power over other countries.
In order to hold a fast-developing China in check, President Trump has used many cards such as the South China Sea issue, the East China Sea issue, the Korean Nuclear issue and others to cause difficulties for China. However, all these attempts are proved to be in vain. Without support from the 10 ASEAN countries, the U.S. lost steam in the South China Sea. After the establishment of the East China Sea Air Defense Zone by China, there is little Japan can do now to help the United States in the area. Moreover, the situation on the Korean Peninsula is also turning better with a pending meeting between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sometime in May.
President Trump then shifted to inward-looking policies and raised high the banner of protectionism as a weapon to curb China. He signed a memorandum Thursday to impose up to US$60 billion in punitive tariffs annually on China for its intellectual property policies and practices, in addition to his recent orders to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports in the name of national security.
However, in order to abide by the WTO rules and enhance global trade, China always tries its best to use restraint and calm trade tensions between the two countries. Under these circumstances, Taiwan may be regarded the last trump for Trump to check China and hurt the political foundation for cross-Straits relations.
Compared with trade friction and some other money issues, Taiwan concerns territorial integrity and is not up for bargaining. The mainland and Taiwan belong to one China and a strong China will never allow an inch of land seceded from its territory. From this perspective, Trump surely miscalculates and underestimates the determination of the Chinese people to safeguard their territorial and sovereign integrity.
At the closing meeting of the 13th National People’s Congress annual session on March 20, President Xi Jinping vowed to defeat secessionist attempts in his speech. “Chinese people have the resolve, the confidence and the ability to defeat secessionist attempts of any form,” he said.
(The author is the editor-in-chief of the Shenzhen Daily with a Ph.D. from the Journalism and Communication School of Wuhan University.)