Playing the Taiwan Card

Trump Is Needlessly Provoking China

A military honor guard holds a Taiwanese national flag, Taipei, Taiwan, March 16, 2018. Tyrone Siu / Reuters

On Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump signed into law the Taiwan Travel Act, a bill that gives the president political cover to significantly shift U.S. policy toward Taiwan in a manner that would deeply rile Beijing. The legislation, which congressional Republicans introduced a year ago, and which both houses passed unanimously this February, argues that it “should be U.S. policy” to allow American officials at all levels to travel to Taiwan to meet with their Taiwanese counterparts and for high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the United States “to meet with U.S. officials, including officials from the Departments of State and Defense.” By signing the bill, Trump signaled to Beijing that he would consider allowing high-level U.S.-Taiwanese contacts of a sort normally reserved for nations with official diplomatic ties.

Since the United States derecognized Taiwan and established relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1979, Washington has maintained only unofficial relations with the Taiwanese government. Sino-U.S. relations are underpinned by three joint communiqués (agreed upon in 1972, 1979, and 1982) in which the United States “acknowledged,” but did not explicitly accept, the Chinese position that there is only one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States would continue to maintain unofficial relations with “the people of Taiwan,” including those in Taiwan’s government, through the American Institute in Taiwan, an embassy-like entity established through the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979. This law states that Washington’s decision to establish diplomatic relations with the PRC “rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” To promote a peaceful solution, the United States would sell Taiwan arms of a defensive nature and maintain the military capacity to resist Chinese coercion.

From the early 1990s until about 2008, the PRC rapidly ratcheted up its military pressure on Taiwan. Beijing did not stop threatening Taiwan after 2008 but directed most of its military energies to securing its expansive claim to nearly

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