Prepared by the researcher – Dana Nabil Khalil Abu-Haltam – Master’s Degree in Diplomatic Studies – University of Jordan, Amman Jordan
Democratic Arab Center
Journal of Strategic and Military Studies : Eighth Issue – September 2020
A Periodical International Journal published by the “Democratic Arab Center” Germany – Berlin
This paper examines the interests of both People’s Republic of China and the United States of America in Taiwan. Taiwan has become a very sensitive issue between both countries due to the military, political, and economic importance of it in the historic and present realities of China and the US. In other words, Taiwan Strait plays a role in the political competition between the world’s two superpowers. China considers Taiwan as part of its land and wants it to follow One China policy: One Country, Two Systems. Taiwan, with its democracy, is trying to escape from China and seeks its independence especially after Tsai Ing-wen winning the elections in 2016. America is using Taiwan to provoke China, by giving military support to Taiwan, particularly during Trump’s administration. This study will examine the historical aspect of this issue, as well as highlight and study both China and US interests in Taiwan.
- What are the US interests in Taiwan?
- Why does the US support Taiwan’s military?
- Why does China insist on keeping Taiwan as part of it, and follow One China two systems policy?
The relationship between China, US, and Taiwan is a complex relation. This relation influences the whole international system, especially the Asian region. As it affects most of the countries in the region and reflects the interests of China and the United States in the region. With the US interference in China’s internal affairs as China declares, and its arms sale to Taiwan. The tension between China and Taiwan increase, as China began to threaten Taiwan for noticing the movements and statements that is hinting for independence. This paper will examine the historic base of Taiwan’s issue and the reasons behind this conflict and why this issue considers a sensitive problem between the most powerful countries in the World.
Literature Review and previous studies:
Dario Kuntic, The Ominous Triangle: China-Taiwan the United States relationship, 2015
This paper studies the complex relationship between China, Taiwan, and the United States. It examines the theoretical approach of the China-Taiwan-US relationship, especially realism. It studies the reasons for China and the United States’ concerns in Taiwan, and why the Taiwanese fighting for their own independence. This paper also examines the importance of Taiwan’s strait, especially its role in maintaining regional security.
Ian Easton, The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan’s Defense and American Strategy in Asia, 2017
This book gives a general explanation in the history of the issue between China, Taiwan, and the American role in this issue. It also explains China’s military plans toward Taiwan and possible issues it may face, Taiwan’s defense plan too, US policy during an invasion. It mentioned the inner works of the Chinese Communist party, US policies in Asia.
The Taiwan issue is one of the main dispute spots in Sino-US relations. The Chinese have a special sensitivity about Taiwan, as they consider it a part of the one China and cannot be forfeited or accept its independence and secession from China. As The US military and political presence in Taiwan, and Washington’s stance in support of Taiwanese policy, despite US statements negating this sometimes, it represents an extreme concern to China.
In 1937, the Chinese Communists and the Chinese nationalists (Kuomintang) made a trace to counter the Japanese intervention in China. After the end of World War II, and the defeat of the Japanese a Chinese Civil war flared up again. In contrast to their first civil war, which was before the armistice and the Japanese intervention, that was marked by the progress of the nationalists over the Communists and their control over large areas of the mainland China, but during the second civil war, the Communists made astonishing military progress what they call it “(Chinese Communist Revolution and the Liberation War)”, they succeeded in overthrowing the Nanjing- based ROC nationalist government in 1949 and they dominate most of the mainland. On October 1, 1949, the leader Mao Zedong the foundation of the People’s Republic of China.
With the Communist military progress in Sichuan Province, Chiang Chung-cheng, the leader of the nationalist (Kuomintang), left the mainland with two million of his followers and soldiers to settle on the island of Taiwan, even it was part of China then, and he declared that Taipei is the temporary capital of the Republic China and declared himself the legitimate authority representative of the entire Chinese people refusing to recognize the authority of the Communist leader Mao Zedong on the People’s Republic of China.
At that time, the United States of America under President Harry Truman administration was refused to intervene in any dispute in the Taiwan Strait. The Communist leader Mao Zedong succeeded in the military campaigns on the islands of Hainan, Zushan and Wonshan in 1950, but when it was about to the invasion Taiwan Island; which was essentially lacking in naval military capabilities such as troop carriers and warships, the United States of America changed its position and pledged to protect all the non-communist regimes in the region after the Korean War broke in June 1950.
The Taiwan Strait witnessed numerous escalations, for example in January 1954 the Communists forces attacked other Taiwanese islands and in the same year the People’s Liberation Army forces bombed Kinman Island, which prompted the US Congress to pass laws to give the president authority to defend Taiwan. And they refused to recognize the People’s Republic of China since its inception, and the years 1958 and 1996 witnessed other crises on the Taiwan Strait that almost resulted in the outbreak of a war between the Americans and the Chinese. But the US-PRC relations start getting better in beginning of the seventies. In 1971, the People’s Republic of China won the Taiwan seat in the United Nations, even that in 1972 the President of United States Richard Nixon visited Beijing and met with Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong. This coincided with the passage of a law by the US Congress that allowed US arms sales to Taiwan this was a major contention point between the US and China that effect the international politics by changing the bilateral relations shape between United States of America and the People’s Republic of China.
United States of America Interests in Taiwan
In the early of 1950, US had no military position to prevent the leader Mao to take Taiwan from Kuomintang but when the Korea War started, the United States needed “to demonstrate a firm commitment to defend against aggressive communist expansion anywhere and shore up the morale of its allies during the early stages of the Cold War”. This strategic made US hold an unformal diplomatic relation with Taiwan given to the Taiwan Strait strategic importance, the United States signed with Taiwan Mutual Defense Treaty to consolidate their military alliance in 1954. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed a law that the US will supply Taiwan with defense capability and arms in what call Taiwan relations act.
US interested in Taiwan for many reasons, first one is that US consider Taiwan as key to military balance in the entire western Pacific Ocean. Because it is the first of the chain of islands that extend from Japan to the Philippines, and it forms a barrier in the open ocean for the Chinese air and sea powers; so their concern is that if Taiwan were under Chinese government control, it would represent a regional dominance of China which United States tries to avoid. And China will expand the reach of its anti-ship missiles, air defences, bombers, combat aircraft and other weapons.
Secondly, if Taiwan get back to be part of China, it will challenge the credibility of the United States. America’s alliances in the Pacific are based on the belief that Washington is capable and willing to protect its allies from harm especially any Chinese threaten. Once Taiwan is annexed to China, it will be proved that America was not able to protect it so Tokyo, Manila or Seoul will question whether they should remain in conflict with China and ally with the United States.
“The United States recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal government of China, acknowledging the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China”. America does not have an embassy in Taiwan, but it has a robust unofficial relationship and maintain a diplomatic relations with Taiwan and but it open an Institute their (American Institute Taiwan) that responsible for implementing United States’ policy toward Taiwan.
President Ronald Reagan adopted a policy of support for Taiwan and claimed that his administration would provide a better defense to Taiwan. After his election, he sought to increase arms sales to Taiwan, but this led to a dispute between China and America. This dispute continued until America promised to reduce arms shipment to Taiwan by signing the second communique between China and America in June 1982.
President Reagan led a campaign for Taiwan after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After that, President George H.W Bush, the father, had rebalanced the relations between his country and Japan. But Bill Clinton (Democratic) chose to deal and exchange trade with China and gave it priority and support it to be member of World Trade Organization in 2001. The following administrations like George W Bush described China as a “Strategic rival”.
Obama’s administration faces many challenges with China more than any previous U.S. president. In his first term, he hoped to reach more cooperative relationship with China. But his administration failed to deal with China by valuing and supporting Taiwanese democracy and security.
Trump administration were different, it is using Taiwan as a tool to confront Beijing, in the late of 2017, President Donald Trump had framed his policy toward China under “great power competition” term. In his administration, Washington kept recognizing the One China policy and maintain formal ties with PRC but kept maintaining unofficial ties with Taiwan too, including defense aid. “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, visiting Beijing in March 2017, describes the U.S.-China relationship as one “built on non-confrontation, no conflict, mutual respect, and always searching for win-win solutions”.
The Trump administration supports Taiwan through decisions passed by Congress between 2018 and 2020, as one decision that calling for an exchange visits between US and Taiwan officials, and another affirming Washington’s commitment to the island by implementing the “Taiwan Relations Act” that was approved shortly after the end of the official alliance in 1979. As well as the US military presence in Taipei.
In general, Sino-American military relations have been characterized by volatility and less developed than their economic counterpart. This fluctuation is due to the position of both countries regarding to problematic issues between them, especially Taiwan. In 2010, the United States of America decided to sell 6.4-billion-dollars’ worth of arms to Taiwan. Following this decision, the Chinese government suspended its military relationship with America until the end of 2010. This led to arrange the tenth round of defense talks between the two countries. In 2019, US sold $ 2 billion worth of military hardware to Taiwan in order to bolster its defense capabilities against Beijing.
The Chinese and American military relations have followed different development paths, China reformed the Chinese military force rapidly after the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996 (China’s defense spends around 11 percent per year (1996-2015) and started modernizing its capabilities and focus on developing air, cyber and counterpace capacities and naval forces. On the other hand, the American military budget increased rapidly after the attacks of September 2001, in 2015 America defense spending was 560$ billion, 57 percent more than in 1996.
In 2016, US President Donald Trump breached the diplomatic policy adopted by his country for decades in dealings with both Taiwan and China, by speaking by phone with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, which would cause China’s anger. In 2020, Minister of Health Alex Azar from the US President Donald Trump’s administration arrived in Taiwan, for the first visit of high-level American delegation to the island since 1979. China accused the United States of “endangering peace,” and It sees the American visit as a threat to it and a violation of its sovereignty.
China’s Interests in Taiwan:
To China maintaining national unity, territorial integrity, and national dignity is a priority. In the past, Taiwan was called Yizhou and Liuqiu  and it was part of the mainland China, since then the international communityrecognize the Mainland China as a country that Taiwan is part of it. Since the founding of PRC, 157 countries recognize that there is only one China, and Taiwan is a part of China.
China is using political and economic means power to bring the island back under China control instead of using the military (force), it uses the concept “peaceful reunification and one country, two systems.” Policy toward Taiwan issue to solve the issue.
This policy stands on four Principles:
- One China, this policy stands that there is only one china and Taiwan is part of it.
- The two systems coexist, this policy stands that all Taiwan’s systems, cultural, economic relations with foreigner countries will stay the same. And the Chinese socialist system and Taiwan capitalist system will coexist together.
- A high degree of autonomy, Taiwan will have its own administration and legislative power, independence judicial power. It has its own army and take leadership positions.
- Peaceful negotiations: china see that it should engage in negotiations (on the premise of One China) with Taiwan to end the hostility and achieve peaceful reunion. And China sees Taiwan issue as an internal affair that other country should not get involve in.
All countries that China had build diplomatic relations with them complied the international law and the One China policy. And made an agreement with China to not build any unofficial relations with Taiwan. China also worked so hard in their generation education and made Taiwan’s issue an country’ concern that each citizen concern about it.
The reasons behind insisting China of getting Taiwan back under its control not only because of historic reasons and that Taiwan used to be part of China and belong to it. Neither for the Chinese national dignity is a priority for China. But it concerns about it and works very hard politically, economy and military aspect to solve this issue and get it back to its sovereignty because of the huge interest of the United States in the area, since the Korean War in 1951, John Foster Dulles mentioned “Island Chain Strategy” that suggest to surround China and the Soviet Union by sea to create concerns and fear to China in which the United States encircled it via sea.
PRC is officially holds the title of China but many countries still have unofficial ties with the ROC, such as, the US congress set up the Taiwan relations act allowing the US to continue some foreign missions in Taiwan such as arm sales to the island. China asked the United States to stop all arms sales and military ties with Taiwan to prevent further damage to Sino-American relations. However, the United States keep provoking China, for instance, the US Department of Defense (the Pentagon) announced that it had concluded a defense agreement with Taiwan to sell 66 F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan. And 108 “Abrams” tanks, 1,240 anti-armor “TOW” missiles, and 250 anti-aircraft “Stinger” missiles. As a result, China headed to develop its militarily technology and increase the rate of military spending that the annual military spending exceeds the rate of growth of the Chinese economic “In 1990, China constituted 23.6 percent of total East Asian expenditure. As of 2019, this number stands at 70.5 percent. In terms of the broader regional context, the Chinese military budget constitutes 52.2 percent of the total cumulative spending across all of Asia” .
In 2005, China passed the “Anti-Secession Law”, which provides the Chinese forces with a legal basis for military action against Taiwan in the event of its independence or approaching secession.
In 2016, Tsai Ing-wen assumed the presidency of Taiwan, that belongs to the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party, at her rule, the relations between China and Taiwan deteriorated. China suspended the diplomatic contact with Taiwan and compounded military actions in the air and sea.
China has intensified its military readiness, especially in the air or in the waters near Taiwan. In September 2020, China launched two Sixty-two missiles in the South China Sea to defend its sovereignty. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Chinese Central Military Council, Li Zhucheng, during a seminar marking the 15th anniversary of the “Anti-Secession Law”, said that “if the opportunity for peaceful reunification is lost, the armed forces will take all necessary steps in order to thwart any separatist plans and steps and ensure stability and control in Taiwan Straits. Recovering Taiwan in a non-peaceful manner is the last option. China believes that there is no room for Taiwan independence, and any challenge to this law will face severe punishment”.
Taiwan realizes that it is not in its interest to provoke Beijing publicly, but the United States still using Taiwan as a means of provoking China. Starting from accepting a congratulatory call from Tsai, then receiving the Taiwanese vice president-elect in Washington and it has raised its strategic relations with Taiwan to the “level of Other U.S. allies in its strategy in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in an effort to protect the Western-led order in the Pacific”. Taiwan Affairs Office spokesman Ma Xiaoguang said, “We have sufficient capacity to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we will never tolerate any separatist activities or any interference by foreign powers in China’s domestic politics.” After the won of Tsai Ing-wen new elections, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated and praised Tsai for her “courage and wisdom,” prompting condemnation from Beijing, which rejects any official recognition of Taipei. The Chinese Defense Ministry said that Pompeo’s action was “wrong and even dangerous.” The Chinese Foreign Ministry “accusing Washington of breaching its diplomatic obligations”. All these actions lead to create more tensions in the relationship between China, Taiwan, and the United States.
Sino-US relations are experiencing an increasing tension due to conflict of interest, the most important are those in the Asian region, especially the Taiwan territory. This conflict is considered one of the most sensitive for China as Taiwan is a part of China land that should be back under the Chinese sovereignty. And China considers the US continued support to Taiwan as an interference in Chinese internal affairs. As for the United States of America, official speaking Taiwan is considered as part of Mainland China and believe that they should work to solve the problem in a peaceful way, away from military solution. However, the US also supplies Taiwan with weapons adhering to the Taiwan Law in 1979. This Shows the contradictory position of US, it recognizes China’s sovereignty but also supports Taiwan military and presence politically in which it maintains unofficial relations with it and its military. With the continued sale of weapons by the United States to Taiwan, The United States is keen to impede any rapprochement between China and Taiwan for reasons mentioned in the paper. In return, China is keen to find a solution to this issue, to get Taiwan back to its sovereignty, starting with peaceful ways, but in the present, with the interference of the US by selling arms to Taiwan, and Taiwan’s hints about its independence. This provoke China and made it to develop its military and transition from peaceful to military statements. Lastly resorting to the Chinese military exercises at the Sothern and northern sides of the Taiwan Strait that indicates the increasing tension in the region.
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