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MOSCOW (Sputnik) – The United States could maintain a tough stance if China decides to respond to a proposed top US official’s visit to Taiwan, political analysts said.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is expected to visit Taiwan in the coming days, the US Department said in a statement on Tuesday. Azar’s proposed visit will mark the highest-level visit by a US Cabinet official to the self-ruled island since 1979.
Amid escalating bilateral tensions between the United States and China in recent months, the top US official’s visit could trigger angry responses from Beijing.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Wang Wenbin expressed strong opposition to the planned visit.
“China firmly opposes any official interactions between the US and Taiwan. This position is consistent and clear. China has made stern representations with the US side both in Beijing and in Washington.” Wang said during a regular press briefing on Wednesday.
Official relations between central Chinese authorities and Taiwan stopped in 1949 when the Kuomintang government led by Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taipei after being defeated by the Chinese Communist Party, establishing the Republic of China on the island. Informal contacts resumed in the 1980s. Beijing does not recognize Taiwanese independence and claims the island is part of China. Taiwan similarly does not recognize the central government in Beijing.
The United States, along with many other countries, does not recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation and officially sticks to the “One China” policy. Nevertheless, Washington has kept informal relations with the island nation after severing diplomatic ties with it in 1979.
Beijing has repeatedly called Taiwan a sensitive issue in its relations with Washington, as China considers the island to be part of its territory. The Chinese authorities have also repeatedly protested over the supply of weapons by the US to the island.
Possible Military Conflicts
The top US official’s visit to Taiwan could be part of a series of moves from Washington to put pressure on Beijing amid deteriorating bilateral relations, political analysts suggested.
“The United States wants to decouple with China and that seems to have become a consensus between both the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. Azar’s visit will be an official visit and he may even meet with [Taiwan President] Tsai Ing-wen. A top Taiwan official could also follow up with an official visit to the United States and make it a highly public event. The United States could even begin to support Taiwan to join various international organizations,” Xu Guoqi, a history professor specializing in US-China relations at Hong Kong University, told Sputnik.
The scholar suggested that the Trump administration wanted to use Taiwan to put more pressure on China and would be unlikely to shy away from possible military confrontations if Beijing was to respond militarily as it did in 1995.
“The Americans are not afraid of accident military conflicts anymore. This is very different from the situation in 1995 when then US Secretary of Defense [William] Perry was shocked to learn that both sides were almost at war. That’s why both sides made compromises back then. But the US strategy today is very different. Before, the United States wanted to avoid hurting relations with China because of Taiwan. But today, the United States is no longer worried about this,” he said.
Angered by former Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui’s visit to the United States in 1995, China conducted missile firing drills in waters surrounding Taiwan. In response, the United States dispatched to two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region and one of the battlegroups sailed through the Taiwan Strait.
Nevertheless, Professor Xu noted that military conflicts between the United States and China were more likely to result from confrontations in the South China Sea than tensions related to Taiwan.
Relations between China and Taiwan soured after the current president, Tsai Ing-wen, took office in 2016. The bilateral tensions between the United States and China could offer the Taiwan leader a unique opportunity to be more vocal about her pro-independence stance, Professor Xu suggested.
“If you’re the Taiwan leader today and the island faces the possibility of being annexed by China in the future, this could be the best opportunity for you right now. Previously, the United States didn’t want to take a side in the relations between China and Taiwan, as long as the reunification process was peaceful. But today, the United States is clearly taking a side and views China as the aggressor. That’s why it makes more sense for the Taiwan leader to be more vocal about her position,” he said.
The expert pointed out that the United States’ obligation on Taiwan came in the form of US laws, while its pledge to the “One China” policy only existed in bilateral agreements.
“From a legal perspective, the ‘One China’ policy was only a pledge from the United States in a bilateral agreement known as the Three Communiques. But the United States and China established formal diplomatic relations in 1979, the US Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act. That’s why the United States has to fulfill its legal obligations to Taiwan under this law,” he said.
In 2018, US President Donald Trump signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, which allowed high-level US officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa. The Chinese Defense Ministry then said it was viewing the move as direct interference in China’s domestic affairs.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.