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U.S And China Tussle Over Taiwan

Here we go again, confusing strategic ambiguity on Taiwan and riling China.

President Joe Biden: The 2022 60 Minutes Interview, screen grab

In his reply to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley regarding America's commitment to Taiwan, President Biden remarked it is well established, "…that there's one China policy, and Taiwan makes their own judgments about their independence."

"But would U.S. forces defend the island?" Pelley probed.

"Yes, if, in fact, there was an unprecedented attack," said the President.

"So unlike Ukraine, to be clear, sir," Pelley said, "U.S. forces, U.S. men and women would defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese invasion?"

"Yes," the President replied.

Once again, the White House quickly reiterated that the national policy on Taiwan remains that of "strategic ambiguity." The Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, by the U.S. Congress, 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" and "shall maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan." The sitting President and the U.S. Congress have the final say regarding the extent, the form of assistance, and the quantity of defense articles – and that is the "ambiguity" that is in play.

The President's strong words come just a fortnight after the U.S. State Department approved a $1.1 billion package of arms to Taiwan. Pending approval of Congress (which is as good as certain), the latest military aid includes $665 million for an early radar warning system capable of tracking incoming missiles and $355 million for close to 60 advanced Harpoon missiles, which can sink incoming ships. The arms sale was to enhance Taiwan's security after Beijing stepped up military activity in the region in response to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's defiant visit to Taipei.

Taking matters further, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act and offered the self-governing island security assistance of $4.5 billion over four years. Senator Menendez, who leads the committee, said, "We are carefully and strategically lowering the existential threats facing Taiwan by raising the cost of taking the island by force so that it becomes too high a risk and unachievable."

China has reacted furiously to the latest bill. Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated, "It will greatly shake the political foundation of China-US relations, and will have extremely serious consequences for ... peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait." Asserting that Beijing favored peaceful reunification, he continued, "At the same time, we will not tolerate any activities aimed at secession."

The recently concluded Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, would likely have furthered Beijing's ambitions and determination. Reports suggest that the "excellent" meeting between the heads of China and Russia allowed the two leaders to express their support for each other's "core values." Though Beijing does not "fully support" Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the two Asian nations are strong allies. It is believed that Russia will back China should Beijing opt for a military operation to "reunify" Taiwan.

China sees U.S. aid and support of Taiwan as abetting the pro-independence sentiment gathering steam on the island. Beijing's efforts to suppress the pro-democracy movement and regulate life make the Taiwanese look to the West.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit seems to have become a watershed moment in the U.S.-China-Taiwan tussle. During Pelosi's visit, Beijing's war-like military drills in the Taiwan Strait upped the ante. Though the possibility of a direct confrontation was slight, the heightened tensions prevail.

As the world grapples with the Ukraine invasion and the consequent rising fuel and food prices, the necessity to avert a confrontation with the "world's largest manufacturer" and America's biggest trade partner cannot be stressed enough. Though the possibility of an outright war may be remote, the world looks to seasoned politicians and tactful diplomats to maintain peace and provide diplomatic solutions.

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