November 16, 2022
BEIJING – President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Joe Biden met face-to-face in Bali, Indonesia, on Monday. In their talks lasting three hours and 12 minutes, the two leaders agreed that it was essential that both countries take concrete steps to get bilateral ties back on a stable track.
With Biden reiterating that the US does not seek a new Cold War or to revitalize alliances against China, and that the US does not support “Taiwan independence”, “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan”, and it has no intention of having a conflict with China, the meeting has raised hopes that the seemingly impending free fall in Sino-US ties can be averted.
However, it is crucial that the US should back those words with concrete actions to show its sincerity. The midterm elections have given Biden a fillip as the Democratic Party did better than expected. However, it reinforced the stark divide in US politics. Although the predicted “red wave” didn’t appear and the Democrats have control of the Senate, the Republicans seem likely to regain control of the House of Representatives, which will make US domestic politics even more confrontational, as well as the relationship between the Executive Branch and Congress. This paints a gloomy picture for the direction of China-US relations.
At present, the US Congress is working on the “Taiwan Policy Act”, which will not only elevate Taiwan to be a major non-NATO US ally but also pre-position US munitions on the island, with a clear message that the US will send its military to Taiwan in case of a Taiwan Straits contingency.
It should be noted that the US domestic politics is driving China-US relations along an ever more dangerous path. The previous president Donald Trump declassified president Reagan’s “six promises” while he was in office in 1982. And Biden has already said on four occasions that US forces will defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion”.
The current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan in August to challenge China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. And other US politicians are likely to follow her example. If the Republicans do gain control of the House, Republican leader Kevin
McCarthy has said he will visit Taiwan if he becomes the new House Speaker. Given Beijing’s response to Pelosi’s provocative visit, it is hardly possible to expect its response will be any less forceful should he do so.
To show its sincerity, the US administration needs to prevent Congress from making any more provocative moves. The present draft of the “Taiwan Policy Act” would deal a deadly blow to Sino-US ties as it calls for the appointment of an individual to the position of Director of the American Institute in Taiwan’s Taipei office, who upon Senate confirmation, would have the title of Representative, thus providing “the people of Taiwan with de facto diplomatic treatment equivalent to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities”.
The draft also proposes that the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECO) in the US be upgraded to “Taiwan Representative Office”. Such a move threatens to cut off all China-US trade. Early this year, Lithuania permitted the Taipei office in Vilnius to be renamed the “Taiwan representative office”, seriously challenging One-China principle. In response, China has banned all imports from Lithuania, including those from other countries or regions that include parts or components that are made in Lithuania. Beijing’s resolute act sends the signal that that it will not let the One-China principle be undermined.
The Biden administration needs to exercise caution lest US domestic politics derail China-US relations completely.
If the US does not act in accordance with Biden’s commitment on the Taiwan question, one has to question how rational the US Congress and the entire political mentality of the US are.