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Opinion

Confusing statements by the US; a confused China

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

Deciphering the real position of the United States on China’s actuations towards Taiwan is proving to be a challenge. Where exactly does the US stand as far as China’s intention to re-claim Taiwan is concerned?

In his state visit to Japan, US President Joe Biden voiced his support for Taiwan, saying that the US will defend the island nation if it is attacked by China.

On the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore earlier this month, the United States blasted China over its destabilizing and proactive military activities in the Taiwan Strait and surrounding seas. To this, Chinese Defense Secretary Wei Fenghe said that if anyone dares to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese army will definitely not hesitate to start a war, no matter the cost.

However, the US Department of Defense released its official statement stating the contrary. The statement reads, “We (the United States) remain firmly committed to our long-standing One China Policy. We categorically oppose any unilateral change in the status quo from either side. We do not support Taiwan’s independence… We remain focused on maintaining peace, stability and the status quo across the Taiwan Strait.”

But in the statement of US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in Singapore, he said: “We will continue to fulfill our commitment per the Taiwan Relations Act. That includes assisting Taiwan in maintaining a sufficient self defense capability and it means maintaining our own capacity to resist any use of force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security or the social or economic system of the people of Taiwan.”

So is the US upholding its One China Policy and not supporting Taiwan’s independence? Or is it supporting Taiwan as it resists China according to the Taiwan Relations Act?

Edward P. Joseph of John Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies provided the explanation to the position of the United States.

What we have here are two diplomatic positions, both of which are in force, Joseph asserts.

At the heart of the US position are the words “status quo” and any change thereto. What is the status quo? The status quo is Taiwan enjoying independence from China and having the freedom to enact its own policies to ensure its continued prosperity and democratic way of life. The status quo is also not recognizing Taiwan’s sovereignty in deference to the One China Policy.

The United States is not alone in its commitment to defend Taiwan’s independence and securing the continued peace and stability of the region. During President Biden’s visit to Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said (translated from Nihongo): “In the South China Sea, are the rules really being honored? Neither international law, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, to which all relevant countries agreed after years of dialogue and effort, nor the award rendered (to the Philippines) by the Arbitral Tribunal under the convention are being complied with.”

China’s increasing aggression in the region has caused alliances to form to balance power and maintain the status quo.

In Singapore earlier this month, members of the Five Powers Defense Arrangements (FPDA) consisting of Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and the United Kingdom said that “they need to prioritize and regenerate our military and cooperation collectively.”

Last September, a trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States (AUKUS) was established to maintain the peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region. Under the pact, the US and UK will help Australia acquire nuclear powered submarines to help equalize China’s naval force.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, colloquially known as the QUAD, is a strategic security grouping between Australia, India, Japan and the US. Established in 2007, QUAD was revived Manila in 2017 to counter China’s military and diplomatic offensive in the Indo-Pacific region.

The existence of FPDA, AUKUS and QUAD underscores the threat of armed conflict in light of China’s expansionist ambitions. It shows that the world’s attitude towards China has shifted to one characterized by distrust.

The distrust stems from four reasons. First, China proved that it cannot be trusted to honor international treaties in which it is a signatory. This was made evident when it claimed parts of the West Philippine Sea as its own even if it meant disregarding the UNCLOS convention and the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Second, it lies. Throughout the early 2010’s, China maintained that it was not militarizing the disputed waters in the West Philippine Sea only to discover later on that it built an armed military base. Three, it provokes aggression. Apart from bullying tactics of smaller nations, it continues to engage in dangerous military drills in the Taiwan Strait.

The fourth and most serious reason is that China is seemingly confused about its definition of “sovereignty.”

On one hand, China claims that it is a staunch advocate of sovereignty. So fervent is its “respect” for a country’s independence that it invokes its own sovereign rights whenever it is questioned about its human rights record, its actions towards Hong Kong, its unfair trade practices and other violations to global accords.

But on the other hand, China abets the most blatant affront to sovereignty in Russia’s attacks on the Ukraine. It will be recalled that in the UN General Assembly, China was among the few that refused to condemn Russia’s invasion. In fact, it even refuses to refer to the attacks as an “invasion.”

The statements made by the United States may be confusing but there is rhyme and reason to it all. China is confused, period. This is because it wants to have its cake and eat it too. And here lies the danger. This is why China is considered a high risk, volatile actor in this decisive theater and why groupings like the FPDA, AUKUS and QUAD are necessary.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @aj_masigan

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