Scholars explain Taiwan’s continued balancing act against ChinaTaiwan News

Scholars explain Taiwan’s continued balancing act against ChinaTaiwan News

Taipei (Taiwan News) – Dr. Wang Deyu, a distinguished visiting scholar at the National Chengchi University’s Election Research Center, said on Tuesday (March 14) that Taiwan’s counterbalancing campaign against China is the best way out.

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, balancing is “the posture and policy of a state or group of states to protect itself from the influence of another state or group of states by matching its own strength with that of its opponent.”

Wang told Taiwan News that balancing is the “best” strategy for Taiwan because it can serve as a form of deterrence, although it requires the country to “reallocate scarce defense resources”. President Tsai Ing-wen has been strengthening Taiwan’s military and deepening ties with the United States and Japan, he said.

No previous president has been able to establish such close informal ties with other countries, but the international environment is more favorable for President Tsai Ing-wen to do so, he said.

Wang said Chinese nationalist sentiment was Beijing’s motivation for attacking Taiwan, not the amount of arms or support Taiwan received from the United States. Another factor, he said, was Beijing’s determination.

Wang said Chinese leader Xi Jinping has made clear he wants to leave a legacy and has repeatedly stressed that cross-strait disputes cannot be passed on from generation to generation.

“Xi Jinping wants to show that he is capable of unifying China. Taiwan is the last piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Strategic ambiguity still works

However, Wang said Taiwan has become part of a grand strategy by the United States and its Western allies to limit China’s expansion. He said that in addition to strengthening partnerships such as QUAD and AUKUS, the United States is also selling more advanced mobile weapons to Taiwan and training Taiwan’s military in tactical maneuvers.

Wang said the actions were part of Washington’s efforts to demonstrate to Beijing that it would use force if conflict broke out in the Taiwan Strait. At the same time, Washington needs “convincing assurances” to maintain an effective deterrence strategy, he said.

The US refusal to support Taiwan independence is an example. If Washington recognized Taiwan as a sovereign state, “Beijing leaders will react very violently,” Wang said.

China will no longer have an incentive to comply with US demands. Therefore, he believes that strategic ambiguity is still the best policy for now.

When talking about the state of cross-strait relations, Wang Yi said that for decades, cross-strait relations have been in a state of “oscillation,” referring to the ups and downs in the situation across the Taiwan Strait. Relations between Taiwan and mainland China were extremely tense during the height of the Cold War, but things improved slightly in the 1970s as China’s goal shifted from liberating Taiwan to peaceful reunification, he explained.

Cross-strait relations are closely linked

Wang explained that the relationship between Taiwan and China depends entirely on “how the leaders in Beijing view the government in Taipei.” “When they see Taipei taking a more independent approach, they tend to become more confrontational and tense and apply more pressure.”

“Many of the tensions were initiated by the Beijing government as a reaction to policies in Taipei,” he said. Beijing is essentially trying to create a new normal, but frequent provocations have followed, he added. “These can lead to accidents and they can escalate.”

The professor said China was “very inflexible” when it came to dialogue with Taiwan because of its adherence to the “one China policy”. “They can’t escape that principle.”

He added that the ball is now on Chinese courts, “depending on how Beijing wants to play in the future”.

Lessons from Ukraine

In expanding authoritarianism in China, Wang said Beijing wants to portray its style of governance as an alternative to Western democracy. He said it used examples such as the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to paint democracy as a chaotic system.

China intends to restructure the international order, but so far, there have been no takers, he said. Nevertheless, it is gradually expanding its sphere of influence, for example in Latin America.

Wang said that if a cross-strait conflict breaks out, he doesn’t think it will turn into World War III because it is in the best interests of all parties involved to keep the local conflicts.

He said the United States was trying to limit Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine to a regional war. It is providing critical security support but is not planning to send personnel on the ground to prevent a conflict between the two powers.

In the Taiwan Strait, both the United States and China are trying to avoid war in the first place, Wang said.

The Ukrainian war also showed that “Taiwan needs self-determination to defend itself,” he said. “The United States has no interest in being directly involved in cross-strait conflicts.”

Wang said Taiwan must find a way to maintain a sustainable defense to protect its democracy, its democratic way of life and its economic prosperity. He said the Ukrainians had shown that with a strong and determined defense, support from abroad would come.

Taiwan must save itself

In addition to strengthening its defense capabilities, Taiwan should continue to carry out pragmatic diplomacy and expand its visibility on the international stage, Wang said, noting that Taiwan is hampered by Beijing’s diplomatic isolation tactics.

The professor also suggested that Taiwan maintain a democratic system, which is the most important weapon against authoritarianism. “If Taiwan is no longer a democracy, the US has no reason to help Taiwan,” he said.

Taiwan’s strategic importance also plays a big role in efforts by the United States and Western allies to limit China’s expansion, because it sits in the middle of the first island chain, he said. US President Joe Biden has been able to internationalize the cross-strait conflict despite China’s claim that Taiwan affairs are an internal matter.

Wang said he believed the situation in Taiwan was “definitely better than before,” but whether that would last “remains to be seen.” Wang Yi said that in the joint statement issued by the United States, Japan, South Korea and other allies, they all expressed concerns about the tension between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait in recent years, which shows that regional peace and stability is an issue of global concern.

Ultimately, Taiwanese “have to help themselves first,” Wang said.

Wang is chair of the Department of Politics and Government at Illinois State University.

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