Don’t allow Taiwan issue to strain Sino-US ties
The world’s two most powerful nations have much to gain by cooperating on more important matters, including the American bugbear of North Korea
The latest US arms sale to Taiwan may step up the pressure on Beijing over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. But it has added to tensions beneath the surface in relations between Beijing and Washington. President Xi Jinping (習近平) confirmed that in yesterday’s phone call with President Donald Trump, in which Xi said US-China relations had been affected by negative factors since the two men met for the first time at the Mar-a-Lago summit in Florida in April.
Friendly appearances around the recent inaugural diplomatic and security dialogue with the Trump administration therefore did not reflect realities. It is clear from Trump’s urging of Xi to step up pressure on Pyongyang that the Americans felt China could have done more to exert its economic leverage over the rogue nuclear state. Xi in turn urged Trump to abide by the recent reaffirmation of the one-China principle and a decades-old undertaking during the normalisation of bilateral relations to taper arms sales to Taiwan.
Signals of American disappointment over the lack of progress on North Korea have angered Beijing, ahead of Xi’s expected meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany this week.
The US$1.4 billion arms deal sparked condemnation at the diplomatic level and claims of violation of the Xi-Trump consensus. Beijing declared approval by the US Armed Services Committee of a bill that would allow regular stops by US naval vessels in Taiwan’s ports an affront to its sovereignty. Tensions have also been raised over Beijing’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, with a US destroyer sailing within 12 nautical miles of one of the Paracel Islands on Sunday.
That said, such measures and their timing contain a large element of posturing by Washington ahead of the Xi-Trump meeting, aimed at turning up the pressure on Beijing to do more on North Korea. The Taiwan arms sale is calculated to press sensitive buttons. We should not read too much into it. On a practical level it neither alters the military balance across the Taiwan Strait nor signals any deviation from the one-China principle. However, after the Xi-Trump summit in April brought an improvement in relations with the fledgling US administration, the latest events are a reminder that risks remain and that from time to time we can expect to see bilateral tensions rise.
We trust they will be contained by mutual understanding that they have more to gain from pursuing common interests. There is now nothing more important in the long run to world peace, stability and prosperity than the Sino-US relationship. Bilateral relations are too important to be derailed by the Taiwan issue. In that respect, the two leaders’ recommitment to strive for a denuclearised Korean peninsula should be paramount.