Without question, the Bill’s symbolic measures make for good domestic politics in the US. After all, China is one of the rare topics of bipartisan agreement in Washington these days.
Yet, the Bill’s playing with symbols risks crossing Beijing’s red lines. Given that Xi has so publicly staked an important part of his legacy on reunifying Taiwan and bringing it under the Chinese Communist Party’s control, Washington should not underestimate the lengths he will go to for taking back the island state.
Due to the considerable discrepancy between the People’s Liberation Army’s annual budget of 1.45 trillion yuan (US$212 billion) and that of Taiwan (US$19.4 billion), additional measures that bolster Taiwan’s ability to protect itself and build an asymmetric porcupine defence strategy need to be further emphasised in the proposed law.
As the Bill goes through committee and the amendment process, Members of Congress should weed out those aspects focused on political symbolism and instead strengthen those provisions that enhance the security of the Taiwanese people, deter a Chinese invasion, support the island’s thriving democracy and economy, as well as promote and contribute to the stability of the overall US-China relationship.
Part of this ought to include a robust US-Taiwan trade deal. Other friendly countries should also enhance their commercial and trade ties to Taiwan to fight against Beijing’s ongoing attempts to isolate Taipei.
These moves ought to be accompanied by renewed diplomatic efforts by the Biden administration to convey that Washington does not seek to dismantle its One China policy, nor does it support formal independence for Taiwan. An opportune time for this will be during Biden’s and Xi’s scheduled in-person meeting this November in Southeast Asia, Xi’s first international trip in nearly three years.
Perhaps the most important thing that Biden must communicate is that, despite the many tensions in the complicated US-China relationship, war is not inevitable. Both sides need to recommit to risk management in the Pacific and work together on navigating peacefully the region’s troubled waters.
Ted Gover, PhD, is Associate Clinical Professor at Claremont Graduate University.