Playing With Fire: The Inconsistency Of The US In Its Taiwan Policy
The strategy of the United States regarding Taiwan is highly problematic. Taiwan is a hard spot for both the US and China. Where the White House insists that it supports the One China policy, the actions of other segments of the government suggest otherwise. This inconsistency is especially highlighted by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s recent controversial visit to Taiwan. She arrived in Taipei in almost secrecy to meet President Tsai Ing-wen, without informing China. What appeared to be a trivial matter had brought the two adversaries close to conflict. Aircraft carriers had been deployed around Taiwan and missiles were fired. Previously, President Joe Biden had called the visit “not a good idea”. This begs the question: is there an explicit policy of the US regarding the status of Taiwan?
Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, is an almost-independent state. It has a defined territory, a self-governing body, and diplomatic relations with a few states. The most important characteristic of its statehood is sovereignty, which is claimed by China. Supporting the One China policy means acknowledging that Taiwan is the de facto overseas territory of China. This regards any visit to Taiwan, especially by US officials, either open or secret, berated by China as it considers it a violation of its policy. It also means that any external entity has no claim to interfere if China annexes Taiwan either militarily or through other means. But there is more to the conundrum. In May, a reporter asked President Joe Biden if the United States will defend Taiwan militarily. He said, “Yes. That’s a commitment we made.” He later added, “We agree with the One China policy.” The former statement points toward the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) of 1979 of the US government. It is under this act the US sells weapons to Taiwan. Over the years, the US government has somehow made a unilateral policy to support Taiwan militarily in case of a conflict. If the US supports the One China policy, why is it so adamant about opposing a potential, and probable, Chinese annexation of Taiwan with force? The history of the United States is incomplete without such oxymoronic remarks.
Operating on the One China principle and TRA simultaneously has created significant ambiguity in US state policy. These two contradict each other. Washington is sending mixed signals to an already provoked Beijing. Its gathering of the military during Pelosi’s visit cannot be deemed unwarranted. It was a message that any involvement of an outside party in Taiwanese independence shall see the fury of rising China. It has made an abundantly clear warning that “those playing with fire will get burned”.
In reality, embracing the One China policy is just a facade. The US withdrawal from Afghanistan was celebrated as an end of American imperialism. But the facts hint at something different. This inconsistent policy implies that it has little to do with a “moral obligation”. It is power politics and always has been. Once again the worn-out “democracy vs. autocracy” rhetoric is being flaunted by US officials. In the past, it had been used to imperialize West Asian countries. This time, however, the route is toward Southeast Asia. The tradition is nowhere to an end, only a geopolitical shift is in the making. The US seems to have learned nothing from its past ‘humanitarian’ interventions. Humanity had the least part in the roots of these interventions. To induce Taiwan into independence is equivalent to starting a full-fledged war, one in which many nations will get undesirably enmeshed. Weaponising Taiwan under TRA is Washington’s clear violation of its diplomatic foundations with China. Even Taiwan’s constitution does not acknowledge its separate existence. It is a matter of dispute among the ROC and PRC as to who is the rightful government of One China. This discourages other states to intervene either on ‘humanitarian’ or military grounds.
The China-Taiwan conflict is inevitable. Seeing Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea might soon disturb the peace in the region. Unless an event of such type happens, or any concerned party openly asks for aid, any third party does not have the right to interfere. Even if the Taiwanese leadership asks the US for help, it still must not intervene militarily. The previous cases of American intervention do not reassure anybody of a fallout. The best possible solution to the worst-case scenario would be to leave the matter at an internal conflict, rather than engaging half the world in a state of total war.