“The most dangerous issue in US-China relations is Taiwan,” according to previous President of the United Nations Security Council (Singapore) Kishore Mahbubani in a paper commissioned by Flat Global Capital. And this is precisely why it is ‘”unwise” for the Trump administration to allow a high profile transit by President Tsai Ing-wen through the US this month, said Mr Mahbubani.
At the end of a 12 day visit to Taiwan’s allies in the Carribean, President Tsai had a layover in New York and Colorado where she met with ambassadors, senators, administration officials and delivered speeches.
This ‘stopover’ ignores past precedents as the current US administration allowed Mdm Tsai to have public meetings attended by the media and meet with UN representatives of Taiwanese allies, said Mr Mahbubani who added that this has ‘angered Beijing’.
Mr Mahbubani said in the paper, “Taiwan is the only issue that can trigger a war between the US and China. Yet, despite this, war is unlikely. Over several decades, the US and China have worked out an understanding on the Taiwan issue that has kept the peace.”
However, the expert noted that there is some ambiguity in this understanding between the two major nations.
“On one hand, the US acknowledges that both Beijing and Taipei “maintain there is but one China” and withdrew diplomatic recognition of Taipei in 1979. On the other, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) that same year, which provides for American support for Taiwan’s defense,” he said.
Even so, US US and China have managed to maintain a stable relationship on the Taiwan issue despite this ambiguity.
Unfortunately, Mr Mahbubani cautions that this may change under the Trump administration which is “less sensitive to Beijing’s concerns on Taiwan”
The paper reads, “President Trump took a personal congratulatory call from Tsai Ing-wen upon his election. He authorized new defense sales and allowed Tsai to travel through the US. His National Security Advisor, John Bolton, has been even more provocative in his call for Washington to “revisit” the one-China policy.”
Additionally, the Trump administration’s “erratic behavior on several international issues” may work to Beijing’s advantage, according to the paper.
“Richard Bush, an American expert on Taiwan, has said that the Trump Administration may be prepared to sacrifice Taiwan if it wants to settle larger issues with Beijing, making Taiwan a geopolitical pawn,” Mr Mahbubani noted.
On that note, he added that the biggest concern for Beijing is whether other countries would follow the Trump Administration’s lead and step up ties with Taiwan. Mr Mahbubani says he is certain this will not happen as “China will inevitably become the world’s largest economy” and so “no country will sacrifice its relations with China for the sake of Taiwan.”
As such, the expert suggests that Taiwanese leaders should “develop a sense of geopolitical realism in dealing with China”, adding that the best way for Taiwan to expand its diplomatic space is to accept the 1992 Consensus.
As for the US, Mr Mahbubani says it should develop greater political sensitivity. “It has two choices towards Taiwan. If it views Taiwan as an unsinkable aircraft carrier, this would only reinforce Taiwan’s isolation from the mainland and, consequently, the rest of the world. However, if the US views Taiwan as a healthy virus, it would encourage greater contact between the mainland and Taiwan, which, in the long run, could lessen the differences between the political systems of the mainland and Taiwan.”
Essentially, Mr Mahbubani says, that there is a possibility of a positive outcome from the Taiwan issue if Beijing, Taiwan, and the Trump Administration learns to handle it sensitively.