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Last week, US President Donald Trump signed the Taiwan Travel Act into a law, which allows high-level visits between leaders of Taiwan and the United States. The law allows the US officials at all levels to make official visits to the island, the Taiwanese colleagues to officially visit the US and meet with staff from various departments, ministries, including the Pentagon, and to promote Taiwan's business development in America. Earlier, the corresponding bill H.R. 535 was passed by a majority vote in both chambers of the US Congress. Taiwan is located near the coast of mainland China. Since 1949, the island has developed as a successor to the Republic of China, which existed on the territory of mainland China until the Communists came to power. For several decades, Beijing has been trying to ret the island under its control and pursuing the "one China" policy, requiring foreign countries to sever relations with Taiwan. Currently, 20 countries of the world support diplomatic relations with Taiwan. US-Taiwan relations are a painful topic for the Chinese leadership. The US broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979 for the sake of rapprochement with the People's Republic of China (PRC). Now the US has decided to change the rules of the game and to reinforce the informal dialogue with Taiwan with the legal framework, maintaining diplomatic relations with China. However, this approach causes Beijing’s irritation.
The struggle for domination in the Asia-Pacific region
According to the former US representative in Taiwan, Douglas H. Paal, the new law does not provide for any new commitments in US-Taiwan relations. In fact, this is an attempt to create a legal basis for the format of relations that both countries have been holding since 1979. The United States and Taiwan have maintained informal contacts. The American leadership made decisions on the admission of Taiwan's top leadership in the United States, about the visits of US officials and military to the island, dispensing with individual laws. Trump could not sign the law on travel to Taiwan since the bill on Taiwan was adopted by an absolute majority of the US lawmakers and had to automatically obtain the highest legal force in 16 days. Nothing prevented Trump from signing the document and instilling in the Chinese Communists the hope that his plans do not include pursuing rapprochement with Taiwan. The Chinese leadership painfully takes the contacts between the United States and Taiwan, just like Ukraine does not accept the visits of foreign politicians to annexed Crimea.
This time, the American president demonstrates complete solidarity with the US Congress and demonstratively signed the law to create a little nerves-itcher for the Chinese politicians and express dissatisfaction with the political course of the Celestial Empire. In the new version of the National Security Strategy, which is considered the basic document of US foreign policy, China along with Russia are designated as competing with America, which seeks to change the status quo in the world. According to the National Security Strategy of 2017, China is trying to force the US out of the Asia-Pacific region and subordinate it to itself, expand economic expansion and assign US intellectual property to hundreds of billions of dollars. Trump administration sees China as one of the main geopolitical competitors in the world.
In recent years, China's behavior is a matter of concern to the United States. Washington cannot share the responsibility for the observance of the international order with Beijing, as the former president Barack Obama wanted to do. The US has to press on China, using Taiwan as a pain point in order to maintain the trust of the Pacific Rim, which has territorial disputes with Beijing. The US is interested in strengthening its influence in Pacific Rim, positioning itself as a counterweight to China. China claims a number of disputed islands in the region: the Senkaku Archipelago, which is under the jurisdiction of Japan, a key regional partner of the United States, to the Spratly and Paracel Islands, also claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and several other countries in South-East Asia.
China is trying to establish control over the South China Sea, creating artificial islands on the reefs of Firey Cross, Subi, and Mischief. The South China Sea is an important transport artery. Annually commercial vessels transport goods worth $ 5 trillion through the South China waters. The Chinese build on these islands dual-purpose infrastructure facilities that can be used for military and civil purposes: airfields, radars, hangars, communication centers. The hangars, located artificial islands, could contain 72 combat aircraft, 4 military transport aircraft or heavy bombers. For comparison: one aircraft carrier of the "Nimitz" type allows placing 64 combat aircraft and helicopters on its deck.
China is developing new ballistic missiles and developing its navy. China has adopted 9 types of the intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and medium- and short-range missiles. The last Chinese ICBM DF-41 with multiple warheads was adopted last year. Since 2015, Chinese submarines have been using JL-2 SLBMs, which could be targeted at some US states. The US military believes that with their help, China is trying to restrain the US in Pacific Rim. China is planning to adopt a new generation of Type 096 submarines, which will use the JL-3 SLBM with multiple warheads.
Donald Trump and Tsai Ing-wen
Trump made it clear to the Chinese leadership that if China continued to rewrite the Pacific Rim map and squeeze the US out of the region at its discretion, Washington would continue rapprochement with Taipei in the diplomatic and military-political sphere to the detriment of China's interests. The law on trips to Taiwan is not Trump’s first friendly gesture to the leadership of the island. After winning the presidential election in 2016, Trump called Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, representative of the Democratic Progressive Party, that opposes joining the PRC and supports the independence of the island. Since the Cold War, Taiwan has been an American military-political ally in the Pacific Rim, along with Japan and South Korea to contain China. The island has a convenient geographical location for the deployment of anti-ballistic missile defense (ABM) systems on its territory in order to intercept Chinese ballistic missiles and might serve a good parking lot for US warships. The Taiwan military plans to install 12 batteries of Tien Kung 3 anti-missile systems of their own design until 2024 (for a total of $ 2.47 billion).
The tangle of economic contradictions
Trump flirts with the leadership of Taiwan to provoke retaliatory measures from China in the form of a reduction in the supply of its products to the United States. China's foreign economic expansion runs counter to its protectionism policy and is contrary to "Make America great again" program. The trade and economic relations between the US and China have faced a problem of a large trade deficit. In 2017, the trade deficit amounted to 375.2 billion dollars; exports to China are less than the goods imported. Last year, the US sold to China products for $ 130 billion and bought for $ 506 billion. China flooded the US market with its electronics, clothing, equipment, raw materials which are cheaper than those of local producers. Trump found himself in an awkward position. During the election campaign, he promised to review trade relations with the whole world and protect the interests of American producers. In fact, last year China's exports to the United States increased by 15%, and the trade deficit grew by 12.1% in February 2018. US manufacturers do not maintain competition in price with the Chinese. They are forced to artificially reduce prices for their goods and receive less profit.
The Taiwanese demarche reinforces the protectionist measures that the US applies to Chinese producers. Recently, Trump signed a bill to impose high import duties on steel and aluminum from various countries, including China. Import duty was introduced at a rate of 25%, on aluminum - 15% of the cost of metal imported into the United States. China is one of the largest suppliers of metallurgical products in the United States. Currently, duties are imposed on 94% of Chinese steel exports and 96% of aluminum exports to the US, and losses for the metallurgical industry of the country would amount to $ 700 million. Also, the US imposed duties on the import of washing machines and solar panels. China is the leader in the production of solar cells. The Republicans plan to impose duties on Chinese imports amounting to $ 30 billion to force China not to require American firms to transfer technology for access to its market.
Establishing relations with Taiwan is interesting for Republicans from the economic point of view. The law on trips to Taiwan has a provision about the intention to promote Taiwan in the development of business in the United States. Trump expects to attract Taiwan's investments to the US economy. Taiwanese electronics manufacturers benefit from the new investment opportunities in the US market. Taiwan is interested in reducing dependence on China, which is considered one of the most investment-attractive production sites in the world. As early as 2016, the leadership of the Taiwanese company Hon Hai Precision Industry (Foxconn), which produces American computers Apple and iPhone smartphones, expressed an interest in transferring its production to American territory, since the US is their main market. Quanta Computer, which produces servers for Google, Facebook, and Amazon, expressed an interest in expanding its presence in the US market. Now they have two enterprises in Tennessee and California. Taiwan's high-tech companies Pegatron, Compal Electronics, Inventec, Advantech, ExclatTextile are interested in reducing dependence on China and transferring production in the US.
Taipei, the capital of Taiwan
The deterioration of relations with China and the rapprochement with Taiwan meet the interests of the American enterprises of the military-industrial complex. Taiwan is a good market for the American arms. Currently, the Taiwanese army uses the US Patriot PAC-3 and PAC-2 anti-aircraft missile systems, and the island's leadership is considering the possibility of acquiring the US THAAD missile defense system. In June 2017, the leadership of the United States and Taiwan agreed to supply missiles and torpedoes to the island for $ 1.4 billion.
Beijing is not going to give it up
The law on trips to Taiwan caused severe criticism from the Chinese Communists. Press Secretary of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China Liu Kang urged the US to adhere to the "one China" policy, according to which Taiwan is perceived as a Chinese territory. The PRC Embassy in the United States issued a statement in which it expressed dissatisfaction and protest about the law signed by Trump and urged the States not to conduct a significant rapprochement with Taiwan.
It is doubtful that Beijing will make concessions to Washington out of fears of deepening military-political cooperation between the United States and Taiwan. The Communist Party of China is not going to change the current foreign policy course and intends to continue to strengthen its influence in the Asia-Pacific region in spite of the US discontent. This is indicated by the recent re-election of Chinese President Xi Jinping for a second term. Xi Jinping, like Russian President Vladimir Putin, is a supporter of the formation of a multipolar world in which the US will not dominate. China also has a lever of pressure on the US, since Beijing is the largest creditor of the United States. The US debt amounts up to $ 1.2 trillion.
Coming closer to the Taiwan leadership, Trump risks provoking the rapprochement between the Pacific Rim and Russia. Since the Cold War, Beijing has been taking benefits from the contradictions between Moscow and Washington. When relations with Moscow deteriorate, Beijing gravitates toward Washington, and vise versa. Now Trump creates the grounds for the Chinese move towards Russia. This could lead to undesirable consequences, including the intensification of the implementation of "Power of Siberia" project, which will allow the supply of natural gas from Russia to China, in spite of the latest package of anti-Russian sanctions by the United States.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or 112.International and its owners.