Speaker Pelosi’s Asia trip – Herald Democrat

By Arthur I Cyr Special to the Herald Democrat

The tense relationship between China and Taiwan is in the news again. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is leading a United States Congressional delegation to Asia. Initially, Taiwan was on the itinerary along with Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

However, when the delegation departed she was mum about Taiwan. On July 28, US President Joe Biden and China President Xi Jinping talked for two and one-half hours by telephone.

The unusually long direct conversation reflects the complexity of relations between the two great powers. Earlier, Biden had mentioned publicly that military officials had been advised that a stop in Taiwan by the congressional delegation would be unwise.

The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which has controlled Taiwan government for the past six years, is formally committed to independence from China. President Tsai Ing-wen is also notable as the first woman elected to lead the island. The conservative opposition Kuomintang (KMT) is carefully ambiguous on Beijing relations.

China has become increasing assertive in the region, including reconfirming commitment to absorbing Taiwan. Aggressiveness of China in maritime and military terms adds teeth to the continuing expansionist rhetoric.

In February 2014, Taiwan and the mainland agreed to exchange representative offices. Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun of China, and Taiwan Mainland Affairs Minister Wang Yu-chi led face-to-face negotiations. In hindsight, that was a high point of possible reconciliation. Since then, however, relations have deteriorated.

The two sides share a bitter legacy of battle and blood. Following the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, Japan occupied Taiwan for five decades, until the end of World War II. In 1949, the Nationalist forces of General Chiang Kai-shek evacuated to Taiwan. Mao Zedong’s armies consolidated control of the mainland. Except for the island territory, the communist revolution was complete.

The outbreak of the Korean War in late June 1950, in the US Seventh Fleet moving to patrol the Taiwan Strait. China and the United States became direct combatants in that war; the Cold War became global.

US commitment to Taiwan security became explicit. The island became a controversial flash point in American domestic politics. Before North Korea invaded South Korea, bringing strategic shift, the Truman administration was resigned to victorious communist forces taking Taiwan along with the rest of China.

Nonetheless, de facto economic cooperation between mainland China and Taiwan, built steadily if slowly over time, continues. Pragmatism characterizes Taiwan’s approach to mainland China. Following formal US diplomatic recognition of Beijing in 1978, a consequence of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 visit, Taipei immediately launched a comprehensive non-confrontational strategic response.

In November 2008, the agreement was achieved on far-reaching trade accords, including direct shipping, expansion of weekly passenger flights from 36 to 108, and introduction of up to 60 cargo flights per month.

In 2010, the bilateral Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) was concluded. This has remained a major triumph for then-President Ma Yingjeou. His election as Taiwan chief executive in 2008 and 2012 greatly furthered cooperation with Beijing.

Taiwan is essential investor for the economic revolution on the mainland. Successful overseas Chinese provide vital capital for the mainland. Expatriate Chinese vote in Taiwan elections.

Japan and the United States recently reconfirmed commitment to Taiwan. In 1969, President Nixon and Prime Minister Eisaku Sato made a very similar public declaration.

In March 1960, President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited Taiwan, the first and so far only sitting US chief executive to do so. Earlier, he skillfully managed two serious Taiwan crises, in 1954-55 and 1958.

Ike was always fully in charge.

Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War” (NYU Press and Palgrave/Macmillan). Contact acyr@carthage.edu

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