Taiwan: a Pawn Yet to Pass the Use-By Date

Taiwanese leader Tsai Ing-wen is nervous about the upcoming Trump’s visit to Mainland China. She’s concerned that Trump might sell Taiwan down the river in some sort of bargain between the two superpowers.

For all her long years as a crusader of Taiwan independence, Tsai is a babe in the woods in geopolitics. She fails to see what Taiwan really means to America : Not an ally or even a protectorate, but a mere tool to contain China. And America is prepared to abandon that tool if the cost of keeping it becomes unbearably high.

America forsook Taiwan in 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taiwan to Mainland China. The empire did so out of the geopolitical imperative of winning China over to its side in the Cold War. The Taiwan Relations Act was America’s way of having the best of both worlds : Getting Mainland China on board to counter the Soviets, while continuing to keep China divided.

The level of American military commitment to Taiwan’s defence in the abrogated Sino-America Mutual Defence Act was lowered by several notches in the Taiwan Relations Act. The Taiwan Relations Act potentially requires the U.S. to intervene militarily if the PRC attacks or invades Taiwan. The act states that “the United States will make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capabilities”.

However, the decision about the nature and quantity of defense services that America will provide to Taiwan is to be determined by the President and Congress. America’s policy has been called “strategic ambiguity” and it is designed to dissuade Taiwan from a unilateral declaration of independence, and to dissuade the PRC from unilaterally unifying Taiwan with Mainland China.

Two key aspects of the Taiwan Relations Act are worth noting : Strategic ambiguity, and America’s desire to maintain the status quo. As typical of a master-servant relationship, Uncle Sam will come to Taiwan’s defence only when it suits the master. Hence the strategic ambiguity. Thus, in the 1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis, America sent two carrier groups and numerous warships into the Taiwan Strait and adjacent area to intimidate China. The Yankees were swaggering in the strait, knowing full well that China then had no missiles powerful enough to hit cripple the carrier battle groups.

Will America do the same again if another crisis erupts? One thing is certain, American carriers and warships won’t enter the Taiwan Strait again. They will be sunk by China’s new, powerful anti-carrier missiles, faster than the Yankee sailors can swear WTF!

On its part, China has countered America’s Taiwan Relations Act with its own anti-secession law which draws clear, unequivocal Red Lines against Taiwan independence. America knows the score : China means what it says. McArthur learnt it the hard way by ignoring China’s warning not to cross the 38th parallel in the Korean War.

That’s the reason every Taiwan politician aspiring to the highest office must pass the litmus test set by America : Keeping the status quo. As in the Korean peninsula, Taiwan is most useful to the empire when the status quo is maintained : No reunification, and no declaration of Taiwan independence. Truth is America has no desire nor stomach to come to Taiwan’s defence if a Taiwanese leader crosses the Red Line and provokes an attack by Mainland China.

Whatever bargain Trump and Xi may reach in Trump’s forthcoming visit to China, Tsai can rest assured that America won’t throw Taiwan under the bus, YET. Taiwan has yet to pass the Use-by-Date to America. In the same vein, Trump can be expected to mouth adherence to the One China policy for the umpteenth time, without an iota of meaning and sincerity. If Tsai expects Trump to persuade China to abandon the Red Line on Taiwan Independence or go soft on her party DPP’s crusade to break away from China, she’ll be sorely disappointed.