Trump’s policy on Taiwan could turn the island into just another US colony as China’s threats achieve little

Chi Wang says China’s hardline stance on Taiwan, backed up by little action, is pushing the island further into the US’ sphere of influence

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 10:59pm

Overshadowed by news of the on-again, off-again June 12 summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un is the scheduled opening on the same day of the US$240 million headquarters of the American Institute in Taiwan, a de facto US embassy.

It has been reported that Marie Royce, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, is due to open the institute. It is understood that the Trump administration decided not to send a top cabinet-level official to the ceremony to avoid a strong response from Beijing.

Nevertheless, the construction of such an expensive building and its opening on the same day as the US-North Korea summit indicates not only that the US is determined to keep a strong grip on Taiwan – with which it does not have formal diplomatic relations, in honour of the one-China policy it promised to uphold in the Shanghai Communiqué – but that it plans to bolster its influence on the island.

The US has been quietly building its influence in Taiwan ever since Trump accepted a phone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ying-wen, soon after winning the 2016 US presidential election. The Taiwan Travel Act he signed this March allows more high-level visits between Taiwan and US officials, and the US still regularly sells weapons to Taiwan worth billions of dollars.

Trump’s administration is filled with China hawks and the president has imposed, cut and re-imposed tariffs on China at his whim, depending on whether he feels like “punishing” China with a trade war at any given moment. His “America first” policy hardly seems to give much weight to the well-being of any nation’s priorities but his own.

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US actions in Taiwan are undertaken at least in part in defiance of China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific. With important trade routes and trade partners located in and near the South China Sea, Washington has a vested interest in maintaining its presence directly in opposition to Beijing’s.

Despite all the lip service in Congress about democracy, the US does not care about Taiwan for Taiwan’s sake

And, US$240 million is not a small investment for a non-profit organisation’s headquarters. Beijing is well aware of the significance that the institute’s new building will have for US-Taiwan relations. It has repeatedly indicated that high-level visits to Taiwan from US officials will not be kindly received; they would be seen for what they are – attempts to bypass the agreements of the Shanghai Communiqué.

Even the date of the opening is unlikely to be a coincidence. The announcement of the building’s completion comes after two countries, Burkina Faso and the Dominican Republic, cut ties with Taiwan in favour of establishing formal diplomatic relations with Beijing. Additionally, the opening ceremony takes place on the same day as the US-North Korea summit, which is a major global event. By choosing June 12, the US has given itself an opportunity to act while dealing with a distracted international arena: one that includes Beijing.

So what is the US really trying to do? Despite all the lip service in Congress about democracy, the US does not care about Taiwan for Taiwan’s sake. It cares about power and trade in the South China Sea, especially directly in defiance of China, and Taiwan is just a vehicle to obtain it.

Watch: PLA force conducts training flights around Taiwan

South China Sea: what does US hope to gain by antagonising China?

The US routinely carries out naval patrols in the South China Sea and criticises China for doing the same, but it is China, not the US, that has a coastline in that region. The US regularly inserts itself into the affairs of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and sells weapons to Southeast Asian nations as subtle threats to China.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ... claimed he cares about Taiwan, but he has done little to follow up on this

The US has openly asserted that free passage in the South China Sea is in its own “national interest” – rather than about the interests of the other nations actually bordering the area. Washington is happy to criticise Beijing’s behaviour in its own backyard and to accuse it of riding roughshod over other countries’ interests.

But what about Asian countries’ interests? What is the US doing, if not trying to use Asian nations to gain power?

Chinese President Xi Jinping has in turn claimed he cares about Taiwan, but he has done little to follow up on this but send ships into Taiwan’s sphere of influence. Without a way to resolve the Taiwan problem, America will continue its push until the island is an American puppet used only to defy Beijing.

Aggressive action from Beijing will accomplish little; heavy-handed policy, control and suppression will only make Taiwan more resentful of mainland China. Xi needs to wake up and act to resolve the tension across the Taiwan Strait, or he risks losing Taiwan to the American sphere of influence for good.

Watch: Beijing says Taiwan independence is doomed to failure

As a Chinese American who grew up in a time when mainland China and Taiwan were not so divided by their differences, it is sad to see them growing further apart. I do not want to see Taiwan become a part of American colonialism. I wish Taiwan and the mainland could resolve their differences, but that will not be accomplished while America exerts an increasingly stronger influence on the island and while Xi is content to do nothing.

Of course, the Taiwan issue is a difficult one, but America’s presence, in defiance of the Shanghai Communiqué, only serves to make Taiwan one more piece on someone else’s chessboard.

Chi Wang, a former head of the Chinese section of the US Library of Congress and former university librarian at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, is president of the US-China Policy Foundation