It’s no secret that for Beijing, the most sensitive issue within Sino-American relations is that of Taiwan, the semi-autonomous island territory that China considers to be a breakaway province. Now, a political move made by the U.S. on Taiwan has Beijing warning of the possibility of military action.
Back in January, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act, a bill aiming to significantly strengthen ties between U.S. officials and their Taiwanese counterparts. The bill reached the Senate floor on Wednesday, where it also passed without opposition. Now, all that’s required for the legislation to become law is Donald Trump’s signature.
Taiwan welcomed the bill’s passage. Speaking to reporters in the capital of Taipei, Premier William Lai said the U.S. is a “solid ally” of Taiwan and that the two sides’ ties can now become even stronger.
“We wholeheartedly anticipate that this law can in the future further raise the substantive relationship between Taiwan and the United States,” Lai said.
Unsurprisingly, China had an altogether different reaction — one that included a warning to its neighbor and a hint at military confrontation if things continue to progress in this manner.
“We are firmly against the act,” China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted Taiwan Affairs Office spokesperson An Fengshan as saying. “We sternly warn Taiwan not to rely on foreigners to build you up, or it will only draw fire against yourself.”
The U.S. cut formal ties to Taiwan when it recognized Beijing as the Chinese capital in 1979. This event marked official acceptance of the “one China” policy, which regards Taiwan as a Chinese territory.
But Beijing has grown increasingly concerned over what it views as Taipei’s push toward independence since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. This push, if it continues, “would lead to the inevitable consequence of triggering the Anti-Secession Law that allows Beijing to use force to prevent the island from seceding,” China’s state-run Global Times wrote Thursday.
Complicating the issue further is the fact that the United States, while not officially recognizing Taipei, is still legally bound to help the island if trouble kicks up. This, writes the similarly state-run China Daily, is precisely what Beijing is worried about:
“Since the U.S. is bound by domestic law to act on behalf of the island in that instance, it would only give substance to the observation that the descent into hell is easy.”
There’s no confusing this message. Beijing is saying that a military dustup between Taiwan and mainland China has the potential, by law, of drawing in the United States. The aforementioned “descent into hell” is quite literally a reference to war.
Further, the Global Times writes that the passage of the Taiwan Travel Act is a direct reflection of the “growing nationalist sentiment in the U.S. in the face of China’s rise.”
In other words, the United States is becoming more and more concerned over China’s global clout, and the legislation, now awaiting Trump’s signature, is a perfect example of this. As the Global Times asserts:
“Bellicosity has peaked in Congress and legislators approved the bill to vent their anxieties about China.”
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