PRESIDENT Joe Biden of the United States, on a recent visit to Japan as part of his first trip to East Asia after taking office, was most ill-advised in offering Taiwan a guarantee of military help in the event of any armed attack by the People’s Republic of China. Such guarantees are not given at press conferences. One may be forgiven for suspecting, though, that it was a planted question. He clarified, “That is the commitment we made.”
This is not borne out by the record. Such a guarantee would require Congressional approval. It is well known that previous US administrations have been reluctant to give such an assurance to Taiwan, which has long sought it — and most eagerly. What the US gave in the past was “strategic ambiguity” about how far Washington would go if Taiwan was invaded by China. In the aftermath of Biden’s assurance, the State Department tried to dilute its implications, stating that America’s “One China policy and [US] commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait … remains”.
The Taiwan Relations Act, 1979, enacted by the US Congress and assented to by the president, contains no guarantee of military intervention. Will the US Congress agree to amend it? What the US has done in the last 40 years is to arm Taiwan to the teeth while maintaining the One China policy since Henry Kissinger’s historic visit in 1971.
Read: Taiwan crisis
True enough that last October, President Biden had held out a similar assurance to Taiwan. But interestingly, the US did not include Taiwan among the members of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.
It remains to be seen whether the initiatives suggested by China will be accepted.
There is, however, a more fundamental issue. It is China’s place in the evolving world order and, relatedly, China’s self-perception of its role. China has refrained from criticising Russia over Ukraine but it has indicated some distance from Russia in its position, however small.
China values its relationship with the countries of the European Union. Recently, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that every effort should be made to prevent the war in Ukraine from intensifying to a point of no return.
Last month, President Xi proposed a Global Security Initiative “to stay committed to the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security”. One is reminded of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s proposal for a collective security system in Asia and prime minister Alexei Kosygin’s proposal for freedom of trade and transit in Asia — both in 1969.
Writing in China Daily, Liu Guangyuan, an official at China’s foreign affairs ministry, described President Xi’s initiative as a “systematic proposal”, and as one that “underscores the importance of both traditional and nontraditional security for a peaceful and stable world”.
Liu wrote: “The interests of all countries are closely entwined. Various nontraditional security issues such as terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity, refugee crises and public health, emerging as the main threats facing all mankind, have led the world to an interconnected security dynamic that has a global impact.”
The writer claimed that both, the security initiative and the Global Development Initiative that was suggested by the Chinese president last year “are the two driving wheels of a vehicle”. They represent the need for cooperation in peace and development.
On the matter of Ukraine, China has defined its position as one based on impartiality and its own judgement of the situation. Nevertheless, as Liu wrote, Beijing “will continue in-depth exchanges with other countries and build up consensus on the Global Security Initiative. It will double down on efforts to translate the visions in the initiative into reality, respond to the calls of the times with concrete actions and work for proper settlement of regional and international hotspots for a world of lasting peace and universal security”. It remains to be seen how these claims are fulfilled. The vision may be a noble one. But will it be realised?
China wants to have closer ties with Germany, France and the Asean bloc. It also wants to have closer relations with the European Union, but realises that there may be impediments that relate to the economic bloc’s relations with the US. Xi supports a role for Europe in promoting peace talks and in the creation of a balanced European security framework. He has urged negotiations in the war between Russia and Ukraine.
There is no doubt that peace and development are the need of the hour across the world. The two initiatives that the Chinese leader has suggested carry weight. The question, as always, is one of global consensus and implementation in a world where political and economic divisions have made it hard to realise the goal of security and development for all.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2022