The wrestling between China and the US over the Taiwan question escalated following US President-elect Donald Trump's telephone conversation with Taiwan leader Tsai Ing-wen and his provocative remarks on the one-China policy. Trump's actions seem pro-Taiwan, but in fact, Taiwan would be the biggest victim.
The Taiwan authorities, especially pro-independence forces, joyfully welcomed Trump's behavior at the very beginning. This top-level telephone interaction was the first since the establishment of China-US diplomatic relations in 1979. Trump's acceptance of the call has upgraded communication channels with and dramatically boosted ties to Taiwan. His remarks about the one-China policy have jeopardized the political basis of China-US diplomatic ties, and are what pro-independence forces are eager to see.
However, the Taiwan authorities and public opinion soon changed their attitude over the issue. Tsai asked her Democratic Progressive Party to stop commenting on Trump's actions, and deployed Wu Chao-hsieh, "Secretary-General of the National Security Council," and Lee Ta-wei, "Minister of Foreign Affairs," to Washington to ascertain Trump's real Taiwan policy. Local media outlets also advocated Taiwan to be alert to whether Trump would abandon Taiwan for US interests.
Taiwan has good grounds to be concerned about Trump's actions. To begin with, Trump has not yet officially taken office, and his remarks cannot represent the US government. US President Barack Obama voiced totally different views on Taiwan in the wake of Trump's provocative actions, asserting that the US will not change its stance on the one-China policy. Trump has also been criticized by mainstream US scholars for his behavior.
By hyping up the Taiwan question, Trump is just using Taiwan as a bargaining chip to win more benefits from China. "I fully understand the one-China policy, but I don't know why we have to be bound by a one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade," Trump said in an interview with Fox News. Trump is trading the Taiwan question with China.
The Chinese government has reiterated that the one-China policy is not negotiable. If China makes concessions, does it mean that the US would abandon Taiwan? There are always forces in the US advocating that the country could abandon Taiwan to obtain maximum benefits from China.
Taking a step back, Trump's pro-Taiwan stance would bring no good to the island. It is predictable that Trump would allow top-level exchanges with, sell a large amount of advanced weapons to, and use the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement to expand exports to and absorb investments from Taiwan. These actions, seemingly beneficial to Taiwan, are, in essence, forcing it to pay high prices for protection from the US. Taiwan would have to sacrifice trade, economy, public welfare and its overall interests for it.
More importantly, the advancement in the US-Taiwan relationship will invite a strong retaliation from the Chinese mainland. Just as most media outlets analyzed, Taiwan would be first to be targeted if it moves closer to the US.
Pro-independence activities, in all forms, and pro-independent forces colluding with exterior forces can never be tolerated. If the Taiwan authority boosts its ties with the US, or is willing to be maneuvered by the US as a pawn, it will touch the bottom line of the Chinese mainland.
China and the US reached consensus on the one-China policy in the 1970s when China was weak and poor. China has now developed into the world's second-largest economy in the 21st century, and has the capability; determination and wisdom to make Taiwan and the US pay heavier prices.
(The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of Taiwan Studies, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. firstname.lastname@example.org)