What a US free and open Pacific policy means for Taiwan
US-Taiwan relationsOpinion What a US free and open Pacific policy means for Taiwan October 30, 2018 3:12 PM (UTC+8)
As Washington pursues a âfree and open Indo-Pacificâ foreign policy under the Trump administration, many onlookers have struggled to define exactly what that policy will mean for those in the Indo-Pacific region. Among those onlookers anxiously awaiting details of the US strategy are the Taiwanese, who since 1979 have come under the security blanket of the US Taiwan Relations Act.
While not equivalent to the mutual defense treaty in place from 1955 until 1979, the act does seek âto provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.âThe dailyReport Must-reads from across Asia - directly to your inbox
Yet in recent months, as Beijing ramps up pressure on Taiwan, some analysts are again questioning the strength of that commitment, as an âAmerica firstâ US president confronts Beijing over trade, and an independent-minded Taiwanese president faces rising threats from âChinaâs aggressive maritime strategy.â Others fear the deal-making US president will sacrifice Taiwan as a âpawnâ to gain more important pieces, such as Iran or North Korea, on the geopolitical chessboard.
While the term âfree and open Indo-Pacificâ (FOIP) has been used in the past by Australia, India, Japan and others, the US latched on to the concept last November, during President Donald Trumpâs speech at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEOs Summit in Danang, Vietnam. This month, the FOIP from Washingtonâs point of view gained some definition after a speech by Vice-President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute, an American think-tank. In his comments on October 4, Pence significantly revealed an end to Washingtonâs strategic patience with China:
âAfter the fall of the Soviet Union, we assumed that a free China was inevitable. Heady with optimism at the turn of the 21st century, America agreed to give Beijing open access to our economy, and we brought China into the World Trade Organization.
âPrevious administrations made this choice in the hope that freedom in China would expand in all of its forms â" not just economically, but politically, with a newfound respect for classical liberal principles, private property, personal liberty, religious freedom â" the entire family of human rights. But that hope has gone unfulfilled.â
Pence also took time to devote a significant portion of his speech to s pecify what the Trump administrationâs tougher policy toward China means for Taiwan, shaming Beijing for specific actions to undermine Taiwanâs international status:
âAnd since last year alone, the Chinese Communist Party has convinced three Latin American nations to sever ties with Taipei and recognize Beijing. These actions threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait, and the United States of America condemns these actions.
âAnd while our administration will continue to respect our One China Policy, as reflected in the three joint communiquÃ©s and the Taiwan Relations Act, America will always believe that Taiwanâs embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese peopleâ¦.
âChinese authorities have also threatened US companies that depict Taiwan as a distinct geographic entity, or that stray from Chinese policy on Tibet. Beijing compelled Delta Airlines to publicly apologize for not calling Taiwan a âprovince of Chinaâ on its websit e. And it pressured Marriott to fire a US employee who merely liked a tweet about Tibet.â
This month, the Taiwanese got an inkling of what the US commitment to Taiwan and a âfree and open Indo-Pacificâ mean for them when two US warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait.
The two ships, the USS Curtis Wilbur, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, and the USS Antietam, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, âconducted a routine Taiwan Strait transit on October 22, in accordance with international law,â according to Christopher Logan of the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, who added: âThe shipsâ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the US commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. The US Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.â
The âfreedom of navigation operation,â or FONOP, by the two US warships coincided with the launch of the first week-long naval exerc ise by China and member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, off the city of Zhanjiang in southern Guangdong province. Several Chinese warships safely followed the two US warships through the Taiwan Strait, according to two US defense officials.
Despite the strong words of support by Pence and the overt flexing of American military muscle, some are not convinced of the Trump administrationâs commitment to a âfree and open Indo-Pacific.â The decision by Trump to avoid the ASEAN meeting in Singapore and the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea next month, and to send Pence in his stead, âwill only amplify regional concerns that Americaâs commitment is opportunistic, and not enduring,â according to Abigail Grace, a research associate with the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Dr Collin Koh Swee Lean, a research fellow at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) in Singapore, is also skeptical, suggesting in an e-mail to Asia Times that while US initiatives draw serious attention from regional governments, âthe bigger question that always persists is, to what extent the US government would commit to those initiatives.â
Koh believes âmuch more work needs to be done to elucidate what FOIP means and what it really entails for the region.â For now, as Koh points out, the US FOIP appears to be âvisibly represented by intensified US defense and security engagements in Southeast Asia especially.â
This month, Beijing certainly tested the Trump administrationâs commitment to a FOIP, resulting in a near collision with a US destroyer sailing in the South China Sea. Many of the status-quo-minded Taiwanese are thankful such an incident did not occur during the FONOP conducted by the US in the Taiwan Strait, though given a nascent âfree and open Indo-Pacificâ policy, some will remain skeptical over the coming months concerning Washingtonâs commitment to Taiwan in the face of Beijingâs increasing belligerence.Asia Times is not responsible for the opinions, facts or any media content presented by contributors. In case of abuse, click here to report. Gary Sands is a senior analyst at Wikistrat, a crowdsourced consultancy, and a director at Highway West Capital Advisors, a venture capital, project finance and political risk advisory. He has contributed a number of op-eds for Forbes, US News and World Report, Newsweek, The Diplomat, The National Interest, EurasiaNet, and the South China Morning Post. He spent six years in Shanghai, four years in Ho Chi Minh City, and is now based in Taipei. Twitter@ForeignDevil666 continue readingSource: Google News Taiwan | Netizen 24 Taiwan