At a time when The Economist, a British publication, has labeled Taiwan “the most dangerous place on Earth”, which underscores the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s military threats towards Taiwan, the US has made a serious misjudgment on the situation in the Taiwan Strait.
At the annual Global Threats to the US hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee on April 29th, US Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines argued that if the US stated clearly that the US would definitely come to Taiwan’s defense in response to a Chinese invasion, that would solidify China’s perception that the US was bent on containing China’s rise (through, for example, military force). That would cause the Beijing authorities to undermine the US’s global interests even more aggressively. She added that the US’s shift from strategic ambiguity could lead to Taiwan moving closer towards independence. “Taiwan is hardening to some extent towards independence as they’re watching, essentially, what happened in Hong Kong, and I think that is an increasing challenge,” she said.
Biden Administration caught in a trap of peace
There are two aspects to the US’s misjudgment. First, it is the misjudgment of China. Haines’s logic is that if the US shifts its policy from “strategic ambiguity” to “strategic clarity,” it will provoke Beijing’s aggression against the US. It seems that if the US does not provoke Beijing, the CCP will be willing to live in peace with the US. That is not the case. Over the past decades, the US has maintained its policy of ambiguity on the Taiwan Strait and has landed substantial support to China’s economic growth. That has not resulted in China’s appreciation of the US’s goodwill. Instead, China has abandoned the policy of “hiding its light under a bushel” and is saying that it has to look at the world “with a level line of sight”. It is vying for global leadership with the US. The belief that the other side will definitely act with reason if you do not provoke him or her is no doubt erroneous.
Second, it is the misjudgment on Taiwan. Haines’s belief that the example of Hong Kong will make Taiwan inevitably move towards independence is not only contrary to facts, but also too assertive and highly unfair to Taiwan. As a democratic society, Taiwan allows all voices to be heard, including discussions on issues such as drafting a constitution and the normalization of the state. From the government’s perspective, there have never been any concrete policies to promote Taiwan’s independence either legally or politically. The CCP’s lie is its misrepresentation of some propositions for independence in Taiwan’s civil society as the Taiwan government’s future policy direction, a lie that it has used to rationalize its unjustified provocation against Taiwan. It is unbelievable that the incumbent US Director of Intelligence has adopted this line of argument.
Haines’s remarks were, to some extent, a response made by the Biden administration to the growing calls from observers for a change from “strategic ambiguity” to “strategic clarity.” For this very reason, the misjudgment is even more worrying. Her misjudgment indicates that some officials and advisers in the White House still have illusions about the rationality and wisdom of China and believe that if the US side extends an olive branch, it can appease the CCP and resolve the possible crises. They do not realize that the CCP’s ambitions have grown hand in hand with its economic growth. The US’s intelligence and analysis of China are still based on their understanding of China in the era of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. They have failed to keep up with changes that are occurring in China. Without a doubt, it is possible that Haines’s view merely represents one faction of Biden’s cabinet. We can only hope that the White House can reach a clear consensus on the understanding of the CCP. But clearly, the situation does not seem promising.
Not long ago, Han Lianchao, a Chinese dissident in the US who worked in Congress for a long time and has a deep understanding of US politics, wrote this on Twitter: “Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US was not trying to contain China’s rise. While he warned that China’s state-party was acting more aggressively abroad and more repressively at home, he said a military confrontation was not in the interests of China and the US. This is similar to Neville Chamberlain begging Hitler for peace. The policy of non-containment has been implemented for decades, but it has brought the world a wolf-warrior psychopath who is bent on changing the international rules and leading the world and mankind one-sidedly. With Joe Biden caught in a trap of peace, I am not optimistic about his policies towards China”. The phrase “peace trap” encapsulates the terrible consequences of the US misjudgment of the situation perfectly.
(Wang Dan, founder of the think tank Dialogue China)
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