Biden says he is ready to militarily defend Taiwan. Because here will be the decisive challenge of the century
Between statements, corrections and partial denials, it is now clear to everyone: the main focus of the United States is Asia-Pacific, or the Indo-Pacific as they prefer to call it in Washington and Tokyo. The facts speak for themselves, but if further proof were needed to understand what America primarily worries about, here is yesterday Joe Biden broke the delay and, for the third time in a few months, declared that the US would be ready to militarily defend Taiwan in the case of an invasion of the People’s Republic of China.
It is an atavistic, historical and unresolved question, the one between Taipei and Beijing. The US has always played as an arbiter of the status quo, since 1979. It was then that Washington broke official diplomatic relations with the Republic of China (still the official name with which Taiwan is de facto independent, even if Beijing claims it as its province) to weave those with the People’s Republic. But to calibrate and balance the situation, the Taiwan Relations Act, which established the American commitment to protect the Taiwanese defense, without establishing an obligation to intervene in the event of external aggression.
The intention of the US has always been, at least at an official level, to protect the status quo of relations between the two sides of the Strait. So defense of the de facto independence of Taipei as the Republic of China, but no formal declaration of independence as the Republic of Taiwan. A delicate and complex balance which, except for rare jolts, has allowed both Taipei and Beijing to become protagonists of important economic growth paths. Only in 1995-1996, with the third crisis on the Strait, Washington had to send its Pacific fleet to stop the missile launches of the People’s Republic in the waters of the Strait, following the American visit of Lee Teng-hui, then Taiwanese president, and the first free elections of 1996 held in Taiwan.
US and China flirt with changing the status quo on Taiwan: negotiation impossible
Now, however, the balance has changed and both Washington and Beijing seem to be flirting with a change in the status quo. Both of them for a long time now, at least since 2016 and the double election of Tsai Ing-wen in Taiwan and Donald Trump in the USA, they seem to test their respective resolutions by trying to cross step by step the red lines that had worked until the last few years. A complex game in which the two powers try to convince the other that their conviction is superior to that of their rival, hoping that rival will yield.
A scenario that appears, however, very complex. Nobody seems to want to give in on Taiwan. On the one hand, Beijing considers “reunification” a historic goal to be achieved at all costs, not negotiable. And thanks to an army much stronger than that of the times of the third crisis on the Strait, he flirts with the idea of intervening by force if necessary. On the other hand, Washington has several reasons for considering the fate of Taiwan as central, more than that of Ukraine.
For the US, China has become the first rival and the center of their strategy has become Asia-Pacific. Since then, the White House has made every effort to reassure Taipei of its willingness to defend it. Between alleged gaffes (by Biden) and fake secrets revealed (the presence of the US military in Taiwan), the strategic ambiguity seems to be less ambiguous. Kiev is Washington’s 67th trading partner, Taipei the ninth. The semiconductor sector, of which Taiwan is the undisputed global leader in the manufacturing and assembly sector, is of crucial technological and therefore strategic importance in the dispute between powers. It is no coincidence that Washington is repeatedly trying to cut the still existing umbilical cord of Taiwanese chip exports to the People’s Republic, bringing in-house a plant of the TSMC giant with expected opening in 2024 in Arizona. Not only. Taiwan also has symbolic importance. Living example, to use a Mike Pompeo view, that an ethnically Chinese government can thrive without Communist leadership.
The Chinese government, however, has no intention of negotiating on what it describes as a “historic goal”. Indeed, it seems to be moving in the direction of clarifying a timeline within which what the People’s Republic calls “reunification” and that the Taiwanese call “annexation” must take place. The signal came from the third historic resolution published during the last plenum and from the report by Premier Li Keqiang at the opening of the “two sessions” in March. Pledging a commitment to “the peaceful growth of relations in the Taiwan Strait” and rejecting “foreign interference” on an issue considered purely internal, the report contains a commitment to “resolve the Taiwan issue” within the “New Era”.
The progressive reciprocal tests on the respective intentions could speed up, according to some, the decisive challenge, according to others to avoid it, on what is the decisive junction of the dispute between the two main global powers.
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