Now is the time for sober minds in Washington, Beijing, and Taipei to assert themselves.
The Natiopnal Interest
Date: September 26, 2020
By: David M. Lampton
The probability of war, or something like it, is growing in the Taiwan Strait. The effects of such conflict would not remain geographically or functionally confined. Convinced of its power and its righteousness, Beijing is preparing for this eventuality, fearful that prospects for a “peaceful reunification” with the island are slipping from its grasp. For its part, Washington, persuaded it must defend a fellow democracy and its own role as the leading power, also is taking steps to prepare. The United States and China are sleepwalking toward conflict. If not the current Trump administration, then the next administration in Washington likely will be tested severely in the Taiwan Strait and more broadly in the region. In terms of an historic parallel to this moment, Think Pacific, 1940–1941, a circumstance in which American moves to deter imperial Japan through embargo and other means arguably hastened the initiation of conflict.
Events, like a river, build as they move downstream, gaining volume, force, and destructive power as successive tributaries dump into the main channel. As these tributaries feed into the ever-swelling current of Sino-American relations, what was once a manageable flow progressively is becoming alarmingly less so. Though we cannot forecast precisely when and where a breach of the river’s containment structures will occur, once it does everyone will be able to explain why and how it occurred. Five major tributaries are feeding into the increasingly turbulent torrent of Sino-American relations:
Tributary One: The Erosion of the One China Policy. The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have gone from mutually irritating, but at least minimally shared norms with respect to the management of cross-Strait relations, to very few shared norms and understandings with respect to Taiwan. We see this in current trends with respect to: U.S. weapons transfers to the island; what “unofficial ties” between Washington and Taipei entail; increasingly worrisome Sino-American military shadowboxing in the vicinity of the Taiwan Strait and the East and South China seas; and in Beijing exerting its rapidly tightening control of Hong Kong as a template for how it might handle a coercive takeover of Taiwan. All this is occurring as the overall U.S.-China relationship is becoming more ideologically freighted, increasingly framed in America as a struggle between democracy and tyranny (the “surveillance state”), and in the PRC as a fight for a “rejuvenated China’s rightful place in the world” that Washington seeks to obstruct. FULL STORY]