Illustration: Craig Stephens
James Hinote and Earl Carr
James Hinote and Earl Carr

On Taiwan, the US and China must talk their way back to the status quo

  • Both sides need to dial down military action, and return to the negotiating table in good faith
  • A Biden-Xi meeting is tentatively planned for November. The two leaders should focus on areas of cooperation, not bones of contention
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan enraged the Chinese government, which had threatened severe consequences should she land. In response to Pelosi’s trip, Beijing has banned 2,000 food products, launched multiple missiles and held military drills near the island.

Tensions have reached boiling point between the United States and China, and many are wondering if relations can ever return to normal. For this to happen, we will need to see a renewed commitment to the status quo, a halt to military posturing on all sides, and a return to the negotiating table with cooler heads.

On May 23, President Joe Biden said the US would come to the defence of Taiwan militarily if China decided to launch an assault, despite the US’ long-standing one-China policy. This sparked outrage from the mainland and threatened peacebuilding initiatives. To help combat this threat to Sino-US relations, the White House clarified that Biden’s comments do not represent a change in US policy regarding the one-China policy and the Taiwan Relations Act.

These responses have been enough to preserve the status quo in the past. However, the present situation and its proximity to the comments by Biden may require a firmer reaffirmation.

Instead of a simple statement by the Biden administration, a reaffirmation needs to come from a high-ranking source. Biden is unlikely to make this announcement because of personal feelings and a reluctance to show weakness ahead of the US midterm elections.

Other sources, such as Secretary of State Antony Blinken or National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, would hold enough significance to have a similar effect to past reaffirmations of the one-China policy and the three joint communiques.

Almost immediately after Pelosi left Taiwanese airspace, the People’s Liberation Army started a planned four days of military exercises in six zones around Taiwan. These exercises were extended to nearly a week and encompassed the firing of at least 11 nuclear-capable missiles, multiple aircraft incursions and drills by amphibious forces of the PLA.

In response, the US military, with fighter bases in Japan, South Korea and Guam, has been on high alert in the region. The US had a carrier strike group in the region to protect Pelosi. The US and South Korea had also been conducting military exercises on the Korean peninsula, in anticipation of the Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise from August 22 to September 1.

In the build-up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, troops gathered near Ukraine’s borders with Russia and Belarus under the banner of military exercises. Since then, many have been sceptical of a nation’s intentions when performing military drills; hence the rising tensions between the nations of East Asia and the US.

For Sino-US relations and those between the US and others in the region to improve, there needs to be a pause in these exercises. Not just the PLA’s exercises around Taiwan but also the exercises being held by the US and its allies in the region. The presence of active militaries will continue to put a strain on Sino-US relations.

PLA military drills around Taiwan weaken the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy

Finally, the US and China will need to return to the negotiating table in good faith. Biden and President Xi Jinping have had five calls during Biden’s term, two of which were soured by threats over Russia and Taiwan. For the two nations to return to the status quo, or coexistence as competitors and not hostile rivals, their leaders must be able to negotiate with each other.
The best opportunity for this is during Xi’s visit to Indonesia and Thailand, his first foreign trip in nearly three years and a significant trip. The meeting with Biden is tentatively planned for November and would be the first face-to-face meeting between the two leaders since Biden’s inauguration.

During this meeting, instead of debating the Taiwan issue and the grievances of the two nations, the two leaders should focus on areas where they can cooperate and compete fairly. These areas include international food security, climate change and economic stimulus.


Xi warns Biden that US ‘playing with fire’ as tensions soar over Pelosi’s proposed Taiwan visit

Xi warns Biden that US ‘playing with fire’ as tensions soar over Pelosi’s proposed Taiwan visit
Right now, these are issues that are critical to international stability. The war in Ukraine has caused food prices to rise throughout the world and threatens to cause mass starvation. China is facing a devastating heatwave that is taxing water reserves and power grids.
The need for economic collaboration is perhaps the most pressing point. The US has been combating high inflation and many think it is on the brink of recession. Inflation is persisting in part due to supply chain bottlenecks in East Asia.
China is also facing a liquidity crisis in the property sector, with real estate companies such as Evergrande in trouble. An easing of trade tensions and tariffs could see lower prices for Americans and an infusion of needed capital for China.

For Sino-US relations to return to normal, there will need to be many events and concentrated efforts to redefine the relationship between the two great nations. For a start, they will need to reaffirm the status quo by clarifying a commitment to policy, reducing military action, and returning to the negotiating table in good faith.

James Hinote is a geopolitical analyst at CJPA Global Advisors. A graduate of Auburn University Harbert College of Business, he studied at East China Normal University in Shanghai

Earl Carr is founder and chief executive officer at CJPA Global Advisors and editor of the new book “From Trump to Biden and Beyond: Reimagining US-China Relations”. He is also an adjunct instructor at NYU’s Center for Global Affairs