Pelosi’s trip continues careful engagement with Taiwan
Special to Stars and Stripes August 4, 2022
The tension between China and Taiwan is in the news again as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leads a U.S. congressional delegation through Asia. The itinerary includes Taiwan along with Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.
The brief Taiwan stop involved meetings with President Tsai Ing-wen and other top leaders. Beijing, which regards Taiwan as part of China, angrily denounced the visit. China’s military is conducting live-fire exercises near Taiwan.
Last week, President Joe Biden had a lengthy phone conversation with President Xi Jinping of China. Biden also noted publicly the U.S. military regards the congressional trip as unwise. These were low-key, sensible efforts to mitigate tensions.
The Democratic Progressive Party, which has controlled Taiwan government for the past six years, is formally committed to independence from China. Tsai is also notable as the first woman elected to lead the island. The conservative opposition Kuomintang is carefully ambiguous on Beijing relations.
China has become increasingly assertive in the region, including reconfirming commitment to absorbing Taiwan. Aggressiveness of China in maritime and military terms adds teeth to the continuing expansionist rhetoric.
In February 2014, Taiwan and the mainland agreed to exchange representative offices. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun of China and Taiwan Mainland Affairs Minister Wang Yu-chi led face-to-face negotiations. In hindsight, that was a high point of possible reconciliation. Since then, however, relations have deteriorated.
The two sides share a bitter legacy of battle and blood. Following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, Japan occupied Taiwan for five decades, until the end of World War II. In 1949, nationalist forces of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek evacuated to Taiwan. Mao Zedong’s armies consolidated control of the mainland. Except for the island territory, communist revolution was complete.
The outbreak of the Korean War in late June 1950 resulted in the U.S. 7th Fleet moving to patrol the Taiwan Strait. China and the United States became direct combatants in that war; the Cold War become global.
Gen. Douglas MacArthur, in command of the United Nations forces defending the Korean Peninsula, became increasingly public and strident in criticizing the restraints placed on him by the U.S. government. Finally, President Harry Truman, out of patience, fired him.
Truman reaffirmed civilian control of the military. This was the greatest test of that principle since Gen. George McClellan directly challenged President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.
U.S. commitment to Taiwan security became explicit during the Korean War. The island became a controversial flashpoint in American domestic politics. Before North Korea invaded South Korea, bringing strategic shift, the Truman administration was resigned to victorious communist forces taking Taiwan along with the rest of China.
Nonetheless, de facto economic cooperation between mainland China and Taiwan, built steadily if slowly over time, continues. Pragmatism characterizes Taiwan’s approach to mainland China. Following formal U.S. diplomatic recognition of Beijing in 1978, a consequence of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit, Taipei immediately launched a comprehensive essentially non-confrontational strategic response.
In November 2008, agreement was achieved on far-reaching trade accords, including direct shipping, expansion of weekly passenger flights from 36 to 108, and introduction of up to 60 cargo flights per month.
In 2010, the bilateral Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement was concluded. This has remained a major triumph for then-President Ma Ying-jeou. His election as Taiwan chief executive in 2008 and 2012 greatly furthered cooperation with Beijing.
Taiwan is essential investor for the economic revolution on the mainland. Successful overseas Chinese provide vital capital for the mainland. Expatriate Chinese vote in Taiwan elections.
Japan and the United States recently reconfirmed commitment to Taiwan. In 1969, Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato made a very similar public declaration.
In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Taiwan, the first and so far only sitting U.S. chief executive to do so. Earlier, he skillfully managed two serious Taiwan crises, in 1954-55 and 1958.
Ike was always fully in charge.
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War.”