Why Taiwan’s Tsai “Transit-Diplomacy” & Speaker McCarthy Meeting Threaten World Peace

By Allawi Ssemanda


On Wednesday the 5th this month, U.S.A House Speaker Kevin McCarthy hosted Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen in California, U.S.A where he pledged what he described as U.S. A’s “unwavering” support for Taiwan. This prompted condemnation from Beijing which maintains that the self-ruled Island is a breakaway of mainland China and therefore an inalienable part of China’s territory. The choice of words in a statement released by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs promising to take “resolute and forceful measures to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” as Beijing urged the U.S “not to walk further down a wrong and dangerous road,” underscores seriousness China puts on Taiwan question.

Beijing supports its claim over Taiwan among others citing the 26th session of the United Nations General Assembly which adopted Resolution 2758 that undertook; “to restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it“. China also accuses the U.S of hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to Taiwan question arguing that in keeping closer ties with Taiwan, Washington goes against U.S’ commitment of abiding by “One-China Policy.” In 1979, China and the US signed communiques which resulted into normalisation of relations between the two countries. In these communiques, Washington committed to recognize “One-China policy” and de-recognised Taiwan.

Today, Beijing sees U.S’ senior politicians’ continuous courtship with Taiwan and their assurances of the so-called “unwavering support” as supporting separatists which violates “One-China policy” principle the U.S committed to uphold. China also considers U.S’ deep engagements with Taiwan interfering in her internal affairs, an act Beijing has consistently explained is not only against international law but is also China’s redline.

Before Wednesday, McCarthy-Tsai meeting, while in New York, Tsai received a leadership award from a U.S think tank, the Hudson Institute, for what they described her strategic leadership.

While McCarthy attempted to downplay his meeting with Tsai, calling it a bipartisan engagement, as rightly observed by Bonnie Glaser, head of the Asia programme at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, it is important to note that the meeting came at a time when relations between Washington and Beijing are at its lowest. Also, looking at the formal trappings of this meeting with some of U.S’ most senior ranking elected officials that formed part of congressional delegation, in no way we can simply call it just a coincidence. From historical perspective, no U.S Speaker is known to have met with a Taiwan president on U.S soil since the U.S broke off formal diplomatic relations that culminated into the 1979 communiques. With Tsai hailing what she described as “strong and unique partnership”, and Speaker McCarthy whose Congress recently declared “China an existential threat,” telling Tsai that arms sales to Taiwan must continue, it is not far-fetched to conclude that Washington is weaponizing Taiwan and escalating the situation.

Even with President Biden’s White House saying there was no need for Beijing to “overreact” to McCarthy-Tsai meeting, if critically analysed, one can argue that as a result of intentional ambiguity and or lack of clear leadership when it comes to Taiwan question, the U.S is confused leaving political actors especially hawkish politicians to approach the question without looking at the consequences including ignoring international law.

Sadly, this has left politicians in the U.S approaching Taiwan question in uncoordinated ways as some seem to use Taiwan question to score political points at home and hence, the current vague U.S – Taiwan policy we see which is characterised by both the Democrats and Republicans competing to out-do each other. This may explain why last year President Biden appeared to have been against then Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit as Biden told press that: “The military thinks it’s not a good idea right now.” Less than a year after what many analysts saw as reckless decision by speaker Pelosi to visit Taiwan, we see her successor, McCarthy trying his best to pull a Pelosi only that this time the speaker hosted Tsai on U.S soil.

While the Biden administration claims that “Congress is an independent branch of government and that Speaker makes own decisions, as other members of Congress do, about their overseas travels and engagements,” one can argue that McCarthy’s decision to go on and host Tsai despite China’s protest is irresponsible and exposes U.S’ hypocrisy and double standards that despite Washington’s of remaining committed to “One-China policy,” top ranking officials in Washington continue  to court Taiwan violates the 1979 communique signed between the U.S and China and also goes against UN Resolution 2758.

This is not to say that I don’t understand that protestations of U.S constitutional niceties – that Congress is separate to the executive, but logically, despite speaker McCarthy belonging to different political party of Republicans which is opposed to President Biden’s Democratic Party, McCarthy is not a just a Speaker of Republicans but the U.S.  Therefore, one would assume that McCarthy’s main goal is to serve interests of the U.S as a country and observe all commitments the country made or undertakes like the 1979 communique between U.S and China. This would at least in theory present the U.S as an honest and a country with Statesmen they claim to be.  But with this kind of double standards, Speaker McCarthy may think that he is acting on principle. But if critically analysed, he is simply exhibiting the exorbitant irresponsibility of the U.S legislator – power without responsibility; the self-indulgence of a figure whose job it has never been to pick up the geopolitical pieces that risks world peace.

However, to scholars and observes of international politics, one can argue that McCarthy’s decision to host Taiwan Separatists offers scholars of International Relations and Geopolitics an interesting realpolitik case. It shows us what happens when party politics trumps national security interests. It shows us what happens when tactical goals overshadow strategic objectives of a country. One can add that it gives us a glimpse of what happens when selfish politicians seek a final validation for their own ego rather than for the sake of the collective wisdom.

With China being categorical that Taiwan question is a red-line and an internal affair which must be handled by Beijing, McCarthy and Pelosi’s moves present a fertile ground for a black swan moment with potential to destabilise not just Indo-Pacific but entire world in an event of any simple mistake. Therefore, it is high time politicians in the U.S sobered and desist from poking China and using Taiwan as weapon. Washington should stop encouraging Tsai’s so-called transit diplomacy and American politicians must follow suit.  As Tsai’s predecessor, Ma Ying-jeou rightly observed, “the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese. And both are descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors,” efforts by foreign forces trying to separate them must be discouraged by all peace lovers globally. Such forces must be reminded that in modern world, international norms such as respecting UN resolutions and international law must be respected.

Allawi Ssemanda, PhD is a Senior Research Fellow, Development Watch Centre.



The Officially Unofficial Meeting Between Taiwan President and U.S Speaker McCarthy is A Cobweb of Politics

By Moshi Israel


The President of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-Wen recently embarked on a 10-day visit to central and northern America. This “transit diplomacy” included a stop in the United States amid protests from China. The latter sees the visit as a violation of its sovereignty and territorial integrity. This is because China views Taiwan as an inalienable part of the mainland and expects both Washington and Taipei to adhere to the one-China policy. This policy has kept tensions at bay within the Taiwan Strait. However, recent actions from Washington through the Pelosi Taiwan visit and now Tsai-Ing Wen’s visit to the U.S. constantly create a trilateral nightmare.

On Wednesday last week, the president of Taiwan met with the Speaker of the U.S. House, Kevin McCarthy at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley-Los Angeles where the two reaffirmed the close ties between their countries. China on the other hand vowed to respond to this meeting which Beijing views as a provocation. Wary of China’s harsh response similar to that after the former Speaker Pelosi visit which some analysts described as poking China, Washington and Taipei took deliberate measures to present the meeting as unofficial and not a threat to the long-standing U.S. stance on the one-China policy. The president’s stops to the U.S. are not being called visits. Tsai’s office has called her stops unofficial and Washington refers to them as transits. This is all deliberately sending signals to Beijing that there should be no cause for alarm. Washington is carefully walking a tightrope. However, this “transit diplomacy” between top politicians from the two sides meeting on the U.S. soil is the first of its kind since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing in 1979.

It is in the interest of the world that the Taiwan situation does not escalate into another hot war. But this might be too much to expect from the China Hawks in Washington. This category is increasingly bipartisan with both Republicans and Democrats itching to prove who is tougher on China. The fact that anti-China sentiments are increasingly rampant in both parties, proves that the majority of the American public has bought into the ‘Stop China before it overtakes us’ sales speech. The anti-China coalition in Washington is a worrying development because it means American foreign policy will only get even more aggressive toward China. Therefore, the provocative relations with Taiwan in recent years only confirm the growing uneasiness with China in Washington.

China on the other hand has been largely reacting to U.S. provocation and double-speak. The meeting between Speaker McCarthy and President Tsai Ing-Wen is just the latest provocation. The president of Taiwan is in a tough situation where her DPP party faces an election early next year after being crushed in the local elections by the main opposition party KMT in November last year. Her party strongly opposes the 1992 consensus between officials of the PRC and Taiwan on the nature of their relations.

Coincidentally, as the current president of Taiwan ‘unofficially’ passes through the United States, the former president, Ma Ying-Jeoh, of the opposition party KMT visited Beijing on a cultural and academic exchange trip. The trip is also historical in that it’s the first of its kind by either a former or current leader of Taiwan since the revolution in 1949. The Former president struck a conciliatory tone and reiterated the fact that the people across the Taiwan Strait were all of one race. He encouraged closer ties with Beijing and asked for a reduction in tensions stressing that; “the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese. And both are descendants of the Yan and Yellow Emperors.”

The only viable solution to tensions in the Taiwan Strait lies with mainland China and Taiwan and the U.S stopping misleading separatists in Taipei with their so-called “unwavering support.”  Polls conducted in Taiwan show that the majority of the 23 million people of Taiwan, prefer to maintain the status quo. Moreover, it is much more realistic for Taiwan to maintain good relations with China because of the proximity of the latter. There is no scenario in which hostility to the mainland favors the island. In case of military confrontation, it is not a guarantee that the United States will be in a position to defend Taiwan. Even under such a scenario, it is Taiwan that would suffer the biggest destruction. On this note, former president Ma Ying-Jeoh is spot on in encouraging closer ties with Beijing.

Current president Tsai is walking a dangerous path. Since her election in 2016, Taiwan has lost nine diplomatic allies to Beijing with Honduras being the latest to cut ties with the island this year on March 26. Now, Taiwan has only 13 diplomatic allies mostly island nations from the Caribbean and south pacific, Paraguay, Vatican City, and Estwani in southern Africa. This trajectory is an indication that Taiwan should conduct relations with China without being influenced by third parties. The people of China and Taiwan are one and despite their disagreements, they should always amicably address their differences.

The Writer is a Senior Research Fellow at DWC.


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