42 years ago on April 10, U.S. President Carter signed the “Taiwan Relations Act” (TRA). On April 15 this year, U.S. President Biden used the occasion of commemorating the 42nd anniversary of the TRA to his best friend and former Senator Christopher Dodd and two former Deputy Secretaries of State to visit Taiwan to meet with Taiwan’s President, Premier, and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Although the U.S. has made it clear that this trip is “unofficial,” the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in addition to expressing protests and discontent, immediately announced that they will conduct live-fire exercises. The trilateral relationship between Taiwan, the U.S. and China has once again attracted worldwide attention and speculation.
Biden is a typical decision-maker of the establishment. He sent special envoys to Taiwan through “unofficial” channels, showing his seasoned experience in handling the trilateral relationship between Taiwan, the U.S. and China. Everyone knows that Dodd and Biden are very close. As the President’s special envoy, Dodd visited Taiwan together with two other veteran officials who are well-versed in the Taiwan-U.S.-China triangle strategy, succeeding indeed in deepening an ambiguous and elusive trilateral relationship that seems to imply infinite possibilities. However, there are two aspects worth noting. First, Dodd was one of the important promoters in the U.S. Congress to promote the TRA. Second, the current director of the American Association in Taiwan (AIT), William Brent Christensen, personally greeted him at Songshan Airport. When these two points are cross-referenced, the message is clear, that Taiwan-U.S. relations have once again returned to the core guidelines stipulate in the TRA.
Similar Measures for Indo-Chinese Relations
First of all, Section 2, Article 2 of the TRA stipulates that the U.S. would “preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan, as well as the people on the China mainland and all other peoples.” Therefore, another special envoy authorized by the president, John Kerry, visited mainland China on the same day.
Secondly, Section 3 of the TRA stipulates that in order to implement the policies specified in Section 2, the U.S. shall determine the nature and quantity of defense articles and services based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan, and such determination of Taiwan’s defense needs shall “include review by U.S. military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the Congress.” Because of this, after Biden took office, a number of arms sales approved during Trump’s period (approximately 14) were suspended, but the arms sales to Taiwan were not. Third, the exchanges or other relations between the President of the United States or the various departments of the U.S. government and the people of Taiwan should be within the scope of the “President’s” instructions and should be implemented through AIT, which is a non-profit legal person.
It is clear that Biden’s Cross-Strait policy is that the Beijing authorities cannot order military offense against Taiwan. However, the Taipei authorities cannot obtain official recognition from the U.S. In fact, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Edward Price has publicly stated on February 3 that the “One China Policy” will not change. A group of scholars in Taiwan has long asserted that as long as the TRA is still valid American law, it is impossible for the Taipei authorities to obtain diplomatic recognition from the U.S., and it is impossible for the U.S. to terminate diplomatic relations with the Beijing authorities. If this critical point is not taken into account, any judgment or prediction of the future relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. will be out of focus and twisted.
Because of this, the CCP’s Maritime Safety Administration announced that it would conduct live-fire exercises in the waters off the Taiwan Strait near Guangdong and the Nanpeng Islands from the 15th to the 20th. This is a normal reaction out of their standard operating procedure, aimed at protesting against President Biden, venting anger toward President Tsai Ing-wen, and offering an explanation to the CCP for its internal politics.
In contrast, although Kerry is also a former Secretary of State, he is visiting Shanghai as an official Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. On the surface, this trip is to discuss the environmental issues of global warming and to seek the possibility of restarting cooperation between the two major carbon emission countries, the U.S. and China. However, climate change is closely intertwined with the economy. The real mission of Kerry is actually highly similar to the joint climate statement by the Obama administration. This can be proven by the meeting between Kerry and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few days ago, that is, the U.S. and India plan to form specific cooperation on clean energy and green technology around 2030.
In fact, the U.S., China, and India started cooperation in this field as early as 2014, but at that time they failed to establish a trilateral common mechanism. However, in Biden’s eyes, India and China are both “large carbon-emission countries.” They have negotiated and cooperated with these two countries to control global warming separately, helping the U.S. to formulate climate governance that is different from the Paris Agreement. Although the U.S. is currently negotiating with India and China individually, in the end, the three countries can benefit from common cooperation. In particular, the United States can manipulate the rivalry between Indian and China to make the best of any discordance. The logic and the two-faced strategy are identical to its measures for the Taiwan Strait.
Mutual Interests of Taiwan and U.S. to Be Advanced
President Tsai and Dodd concluded their talks and expressed the hope that the dialogue for the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) will be resumed as soon as possible and that the Taiwan-U.S. trade partnership will be optimized. This appeal undoubtedly reflects the unrealized national benefits expected to be gained in exchange for opening the Taiwanese market to U.S. pork. How the Taiwan-U.S. relations could be strengthened with more cooperation in the future is inevitably suspected.
Looking back on the past 42 years, the guiding principle for the U.S. to manage its relationship with its allies is never credibility maintenance or democratic values, but the scope of common interests. Only when the interests of the U.S. are aligned would it stick to its commitments to allies and act as a reliable or generous partner.
In view of the fierce competition between the U.S. and China, pro-American Taiwan will help the Biden administration gain its leverage and advantage for its Asia-Pacific strategy. Only if this opportunity can be seized to widen the differences in interests between the U.S. and China while strengthening the convergence of interests between Taiwan and the U.S. could the U.S. become a rock-solid ally of Taiwan.
(Tan Wei-en, Associate Professor, Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University)
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