Aimed at provoking China, the US harms its own historic strategy. Writes Lucas Leiroz
Historically, relations between the US and China are problematic and unstable, but Washington, due to pragmatism, maintains a policy of recognition of the government of mainland China, adopting the idea of “One China Policy”. Despite maintaining para-diplomatic relations with Taiwan for commercial purposes, the US government officially accepts Beijing. However, recent US maneuvers seem to indicate a possible change in this perspective, considering that US officials are constantly violating the country’s policy on the Taiwan issue.
On Tuesday, June 14, US officials supported in interviews to the media the thesis defended by the Taiwanese government that the strait that separates the island from Mainland China is an international waterway, rejecting the Chinese claim for sovereignty over the site.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said to Reuters: “The Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, meaning that the Taiwan Strait is an area where high seas freedoms, including freedom of navigation and overflight, are guaranteed under international law (…) [The world has] an abiding interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, and we consider this central to the security and prosperity of the broader Indo-Pacific region (…) [The US is concerned about Chinese] aggressive rhetoric and coercive activity regarding Taiwan, [but will] continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, and that includes transiting through the Taiwan Strait”.
Reiterating Price’s words, Taiwan Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Joanne Ou on the same day emphasized Taipei’s understanding of the Strait as an international territory and thanked the American support and recognition: “The Taiwan Strait is international waters, and the waters outside our territorial waters are subject to the ‘freedom of the high seas’ principle of international law (…) We understand and support the U.S. freedom of navigation missions’ contribution to promoting regional peace and stability”.
Both statements come in response to earlier comments by spokespeople for China’s Foreign Ministry, who said that Beijing “has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the Taiwan Strait”, calling it “a false claim when certain countries call the Taiwan Strait’ international waters'”.
Indeed, the opposition of ideas between Beijing and Taipei is easy to understand. For mainland China, the Strait is part of its sovereign territory as the island of Taiwan itself is part of China, with local waters being internal to Chinese national borders. On the other hand, Taipei, considering itself independent, sees the waters as a space without sovereignty dividing two States, which would place it as an international territory.
The main problem is the American involvement in this controversy. Officially, the US recognizes the legitimacy of the Beijing government, despite considering China as a geopolitical adversary. The concept of “one China” is part of American foreign policy and is a point of diplomatic dialogue between both countries, despite rivalries. Therefore, as a consequence, Washington should logically see the Strait as part of Chinese territory, not an international zone. If there is only one China, the waterway between the parts of this China obviously belongs to China.
The US position, in this sense, is inconsistent with the US understanding of the Chinese matter. Or, on the other hand, it could be meaning a change to come. American statements about Taiwan have become increasingly supportive of Taipei’s separatism. This is not the first time that US officials claim that the Strait is international territory and that American ships will continue to sail through the region without the need for Chinese authorization. Likewise, Joe Biden himself has recently indicated that he is willing to militarily assist Taiwan in a possible conflict situation with mainland China, in addition to several mentions by other authorities about an American desire to review the joint Washington-Beijing agreement that recognize Taiwan as part of China (Joint Communiqués – 1972).
So, there are two possible scenarios: either the US will continue to violate its own foreign policy by supporting Taiwan’s claims; or a complete review of the US policy on Taiwan is on the way, possibly showing open support for Taipei’s separatism. In either scenario, the inevitable result will be increased international tensions and diplomatic and military instability in Asia.
Furthermore, it is not acceptable for the interactional society and the UN to remain silent in the face of an evident increase in tensions between major nuclear powers, such as China and the US.
Lucas Leiroz, researcher in Social Sciences at the Rural Federal University of Rio de Janeiro; geopolitical consultant.
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