US-Taiwan-China Conundrum And The Limits of the American Global Power

  • The notion of American hegemony and predominance in geopolitical power games is steadily declining, as witnessed in its capitulation to China’s diktats in recent times, including on Tawain.
  • Biden’s strong reassurance of its One China Policy, aimed at not upsetting the Chinese establishment has raised eyebrows on the real depth of the strategic commitment of the USA towards Taiwan.
  • With the world order experiencing a constant churn, time and again, a golden opportunity has been given to the Chinese, on a platter to take precedence as “the” global hegemon.

The recently held elections in Taiwan have created turbulent waves and irked-up sharp reactions from China. The ruling party in Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party, has made a comeback with a thumping majority. Its new president, Lai Ching-Te who is an open supporter of Taiwan’s Independence, holds a robust relationship with the USA and has most blatantly declared that he would defend Taiwan in the face of Chinese Aggression.

As this development is taking shape to be the new and confrontational future of Taiwanese Politics, it is most likely to affect the strategic scenario in the region. The US government sent a high-power delegation headed by Mr. Stephen Hadley, the former NSA (National Security Advisor) in the wake of this development, to hold talks with the Taiwanese leadership and to reassure their strategic commitment. But Biden’s strong reassurance of its One China Policy, aimed at not upsetting the Chinese establishment and their wolf worrier diplomats, has raised eyebrows on the real depth of the strategic commitment of the USA towards Taiwan. It is however not sure that the Americans are willing to open a third front on Defence, security and intelligence amidst its draining involvement in the festering conflicts of Israel and Ukraine.     

Historical Background and One China Policy:

The United States has a historical connection with Taiwan, dating back to the Chinese Civil War (1927-1950). After the Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) lost to the Communist Party in the civil war, the KMT retreated to Taiwan. The U.S. supported Taiwan during the Cold War era, recognizing the Republic of China (ROC) government on the island as the legitimate government of China until 1979.

Cold War Dynamics: During the Cold War, the United States sought to counter the influence of the Soviet Union. Establishing diplomatic relations with China was seen as a way to create a strategic alliance against the Soviet Union. The normalization of relations with the PRC helped in isolating the Soviet Union, and it also contributed to the end of China’s isolation in the international community. This position of the USA was more or less led by its hostile ideological binaries that existed between the socialist block and the capitalist western block. But its future relationship with mainland China became a groundbreaker. 

Normalization of Relations with China (1979): In 1979, the United States officially switched diplomatic recognition from the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) on the mainland. This move was part of a broader effort to normalize relations with the PRC, which was gaining global importance. The U.S. saw an opportunity to engage with China economically and strategically. This development happened steadfastly, because of the efforts of Henry Kissinger’s delegation that played a pivotal role in back-channel diplomacy. 

The “One China” policy refers to the official stance of the United States regarding the issue of Taiwan and the broader relationship between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan. The policy is rooted in the complex historical and political dynamics between mainland China and Taiwan.

The core principle of the One China policy is that there is only one legitimate government representing China, and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is recognized as that government. This means that, according to the U.S. government, Taiwan is not considered a separate and independent country. Instead, the United States acknowledges the position that both the PRC and the ROC hold—that there is one China—but they differ on which government is the legitimate representative of that single China.

Global Economic Interests: China has become a significant economic player on the global stage. By recognizing the PRC as the legitimate government of China, the U.S. aimed to foster economic ties and take advantage of the opportunities presented by China’s rapid economic growth. This economic engagement has continued to be a crucial aspect of the U.S.-China relationship. Presently their economies are so intertwined that, both country’s trade values have crossed more than USD 750 Billion. Therefore the Americans are always careful not to hamper their trade relations with mainland China, which can bring about massive economic turbulence. 

Regional Stability: The One China policy is viewed by the U.S. as a means to maintain stability in the Taiwan Strait and the broader East Asian region. It aims to prevent tensions and conflict between the PRC and Taiwan, which could have broader regional implications. As far as its Security Cooperation is concerned, The U.S. and Taiwan engage in robust security cooperation, with the U.S. supplying Taiwan with defensive weapons and military equipment. The U.S. commitment to Taiwan’s security is a key element of the strategic partnership. 

The enactment of the Taiwan Relations Act and the strategic security cooperation with Taiwan: While the U.S. recognizes the PRC diplomatically, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) was enacted simultaneously in 1979 to provide a legal framework for the continuation of unofficial relations with Taiwan. The TRA commits the U.S. to help Taiwan defend itself, and it allows for the provision of arms and support to Taiwan’s security. The US considers Taiwan, as a strategic hedge player in their larger goal of a geopolitical game of balance of power and instrumental deterrence,  to the rise of China as a significant global power, with the obvious intention to turn into an offensive hegemon. The Americans are bound to protect the security interests of Taiwan as a part of their policy commitment and treaty obligation. 

Shared Democratic Values: Both the U.S. and Taiwan are democracies, sharing common values such as freedom, human rights, and the rule of law. This shared commitment to democratic principles strengthens the bond between the two. Moreover, Taiwan fits properly in the American liberalizing template of “ freedom and democracy”. Although this policy of theirs, has resulted in unnecessary regime changes and destabilized several countries to a point of no return, a shared value system commonality exists between Taiwan and the USA, and therefore there is a great degree of cooperation possible between both countries. Also, it’s important to note that most of their political leaders are educated in American Universities, including its present President-elect, Mr Lai Ching-Te. As a result of this, a flair for the West and the indoctrination of Western values are commonly found in the Taiwanese elite. 

US Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific

The roles of Taiwan and the United States in the Indo-Pacific are interconnected, with both contributing to the region’s security, stability, and prosperity. The constant bullying of China in the South China Sea, through its naval excises and drills and the increase in the patrol of the key Chinese naval vessels has become increasingly threatening for the Taiwanese and their security situation has remained in peril in the past two years. The Indo-Pacific region has been a subject of discussion and debate in most parts of the world including the USA, Europe, Asia, China, Australia, and off late in Africa too. 

The geostrategic weight of the 21st century rests in the Indo-Pacific, and India would be geo-politically, geo-strategically and geographically sitting at the crossroads of Eurasia, North East Asia, and the Asian continent to dominate the region. Indo-Pacific is largely a bio-geographic region of the Earth’s seas, comprising the Indian Ocean region starting from the east of the African coast, including the western and central Pacific Ocean, along with the larger Indonesian territorial waters, and the Island countries in this ambit. This region is host to almost three-fifths of the world population, being a central zone for the transit of the global supply chains and amounts to nearly sixty per cent of the global GDP. It is quite fascinating to know the fact that Asia, for the first time in 200 years has the PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) GDP, which is higher than the world. From agendas of mutual interests between allies to partnership development with favourable terms of trade, there are challenging security and economic scenarios that are arising because of the growth of Chinese dominance in the region.

The quest of both the Americans and Taiwanese is to secure a free and safe Indo-Pacific, to ensure the freedom of navigation in the entire region. However, due to the recent election results in Taiwan, and the rise of its pro-independence leader, securing the shared objectives of the Indo-Pacific will be a challenge from now on. With their entire paraphernalia of ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats, threatening leaders and countries across the world not to congratulate the new president-elect of Taiwan, the Chinese are using their cohesive strategy and gunboat diplomacy to pin down the potential enemies of the Chinese establishment. Gunboat diplomacy is a foreign policy approach where a country employs its military strength, especially naval forces, to influence or coerce another nation. The term originated in the 19th century when powerful nations would dispatch gunboats to assert dominance, secure trade interests, or enforce agreements. Essentially, it’s the use of military might as a tool in diplomatic negotiations or to achieve strategic goals. As the Chinese believe that their entire political, economic and military might is now capable of taking on the great power game, in International relations, this new posturing of theirs has already started to bear results in a significant manner. The Taiwanese leadership, despite its stance on being an Independent country, is forced to mellow down its tone, tenor and intentions as a result of the cohesive strategic posturing of Mainland China. 

Therefore the One China policy of the United States acknowledges the PRC as the legitimate government of China while maintaining unofficial relations with Taiwan. It seeks to balance the sensitive issue of cross-strait relations and promote stability in the region. Even the Americans are tied up with their strategic compulsions of maintaining international peace and stability. By not being able to open a third front (Ukraine and Israel) being the first two, and being caught up in the unending brawl in the Middle East with Houties, Hezbollah and Iran, with potential conflict spillovers in each zone, Americans probably have self-activate a strategic conflict entanglement, which would most likely turn out to be a vicious conflict cycle.

Now, the notion of American hegemony and predominance in geopolitical power games is steadily declining. With the world order experiencing a constant churn, time and again, a golden opportunity has been given to the Chinese, on a platter to take precedence as “the” global hegemon. As China always desires an unsettling social and economic environment, with political turmoil always being triggered by its direct or indirect actions, the world order, might likely experience a larger disorder shortly, unless and until China is contained by a combination of multi-dimensional strategic alliances, and creating the union of major powers as a deterrence measure. 

(The author has an MA in International Relations. Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of SamvadaWorld)

References:

  1. Zuo, Yana. “The U.S. Global Strategy and Its Taiwan Policy.” China Review, vol. 18, no. 3, 2018, pp. 149–76. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/26484536. 
  2. Wu, Charles K. S., et al. “Prospects for US-Taiwan-China Relations under the Biden Administration.” American Journal of Chinese Studies, vol. 28, no. 1, 2021, pp. 1–12. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/45377128.  
  3. Lo, Catherine Yuk-ping. “‘Taiwan Flashpoint’ in the Indo-Pacific Region: ’Russian’ Lessons for Xi Jinping?” Atlantisch Perspectief, vol. 46, no. 2, 2022, pp. 32–37. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/48732599. 
  4. Jue, Stanton. “The ‘One China’ Policy: Terms of Art.” American Journal of Chinese Studies, vol. 13, no. 1, 2006, pp. 79–88. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/44288816.
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  • Saumitra Singh

    The hegemony of any one country or group is detrimental for an equitable world. A rules-based world order that respects every concern is the way forward. The current systems have failed to ensure this. The author wonderfully captures the essence of what is wrong with US or China’s hegemony and the way forward. Kudos.

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