China-US relations

Trump risks adding fuel to Taiwan fire

US president must resist signing travel bill at a time when cross-strait relations have nosedived and stand by the long established ‘one-China’ principle

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 3:34am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2018, 3:34am

The “one-China” principle remains the cornerstone of Sino-US relations. Although it has prevailed for 25 years since it was established by consensus between the two sides, it still requires full respect. Under US President Donald Trump, a chain of events has violated the policy and jeopardised the stability it brings to the region. The latest is the passage through the US Senate of the Taiwan Travel Bill, which forges closer ties with official face-to-face contacts. If endorsed, it would remove restraints on US officials and lawmakers wishing to display pro-Taiwan sentiments.

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This follows recent affronts to the 1992 consensus, such as approval by the US House of Representatives in January of a bill directing the secretary of state to help Taiwan regain observer status at the World Health Organisation, Trump’s phone call to Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen following his election victory in 2016, and plans for a defence conference to be held on Taiwan soil for the first time later this year. None of these events has done anything to improve cross-strait relations at a time when Tsai has failed to explicitly acknowledge the “one-China” principle.

The latest provocation may help tilt Washington and Beijing towards a collision course. Beijing has expressed “strong dissatisfaction” with a serious violation of the one-China principle and demanded the US cease official exchanges with Taipei.

US Taiwan bill runs risk of war, Chinese state media warn

The Taiwan Travel Bill encourages visits between the island and the US by those from both sides at all levels, including high-ranking officials, and Taiwanese cultural and economic activities in the US. The legislation has now been passed unanimously by the House of Representatives as well as the Senate and awaits endorsement by Trump. Amid the recent marked deterioration in cross-strait ties, Beijing can be expected to respond with stepped-up diplomatic efforts to isolate Taiwan and pressure Taipei to acknowledge the consensus, and with an increase in military drills that have heightened fears on the island.

Trump must resist pressure to endorse a measure that is playing with fire by allowing official exchanges between the US and Taiwan. His approval may only aggravate a worrying situation.