The pending Taiwan bill could be a "direct challenge" to US-China relations.

Taiwan: Observers have cautioned that there may be worse to come regarding proposed legislation that threatens to overturn Washington's decades-old policy on the self-governing island as tensions over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's trip to Taiwan reach a boiling point.

According to Bloomberg last week, the White House has attempted to postpone the bipartisan Taiwan Policy Act, which aims to improve ties with the island, in an effort to prevent escalating the crisis with Beijing.

Beijing, however, is still incensed over Pelosi's visit last week, which it views as another attempt by Washington to renege on its commitment to the one-China policy.

According to Lu Xiang, an expert on US-China relations at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the bill "would overturn Sino-US relations, and I think the consequences would be extremely serious."

The legislation's proposed designation of Taiwan as a "major non-Nato ally" is what draws the most attention because it would place Taiwan among Washington's closest allies in the world, particularly in terms of trade and security cooperation.

That "would amount to acknowledging Taiwan's sovereignty. It implies that the US would completely renounce its China policy, according to Lu. "Recognizing Taiwan's sovereignty would also mean accepting its independence, necessitating China's final solution to the Taiwan problem."

The bill may present more of a challenge than Pelosi's trip, according to Wu Xinbo, dean of the Institute of International Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.

According to him, the US-Taiwan military alliance would effectively be restored if Washington continues on its current course regarding Taiwan. "China would almost certainly react more vehemently than it has this time, as that would be seen as a direct challenge to the very foundation for the establishment of US-China relations."

The bill aims to strengthen the island's defence capabilities with security aid totaling US$4.5 billion and pledges to support its participation in international organisations. It is hailed as "the most comprehensive restructuring of US policy towards Taiwan" since Beijing and Washington established formal ties in 1979.

According to US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, who co-sponsored the legislation with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, it sends "a clear message to Beijing not to make the same mistakes with Taiwan that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has made in Ukraine."

The bill, which has been repeatedly postponed since its introduction in June, comes at a delicate time for bilateral relations after Pelosi's visit and Beijing's subsequent sabre-rattling caused them to reach a new low.

 

On Monday, US Vice President Joe Biden expressed displeasure over the People's Liberation Army's days-long training exercises near Taiwan. US officials condemned the drills, which included ballistic missile launches over the island. They charged Beijing with trying to destabilise the region and alter the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

Beijing has suspended bilateral discussions with Washington on defence and climate change in addition to the drills, and it has sanctioned Pelosi in retaliation, raising concerns about the possibility of a new Taiwan Strait crisis.

The legislation, according to Lu, would represent "a radical change" in Washington's stance on the contentious Taiwan issue, which Beijing asserts to be the most crucial bilateral issue in US-China relations.

Beijing opposes any official interactions between the island and Washington because it views Taiwan as a piece of its own territory that must be reclaimed, using force if necessary.

 

Wu asserted that Beijing could escalate its military intimidation of Taiwan in response to the legislation by flying fighter jets over the island or by recalling its ambassador to the US, which would effectively degrade bilateral relations.

Given the likelihood that Republicans will control both houses of Congress after the midterm elections, which could result in the introduction of more pro-Taiwan legislation, experts are pessimistic about the prospects for relations between Beijing, Washington, and Taipei.

The visit of Pelosi and China's unprecedented military response, according to Andrew Mertha, director of the China studies programme at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, have left the Biden administration in "a terrible bind.

Given the bipartisan hawkishness on China on [Capitol] Hill, "which Pelosi has now further cemented," he said, "it will be impossible politically for him to deny an upgrading of assistance to Taiwan." However, Beijing will view this as further undermining the one-China policy in light of recent comments made by Biden regarding Taiwan's defence.

 

Furthermore, Pelosi's visit had seriously damaged trust between Beijing and Washington, according to Mertha, making necessary bilateral engagement and cooperation much more challenging, if not impossible.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Matt Abbott, however, downplayed the importance of the bill.

Long before Speaker Pelosi's trip to Taiwan and the introduction of this legislation, the relationship between China and the US had been deteriorating, he claimed.

 

Even though the Chinese government will undoubtedly be upset by many of the legislation's provisions, it still contains language that explicitly states that the legislation should not be interpreted as reestablishing diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Additionally, it should be noted that the US government's position on Taiwan's standing internationally remains unchanged.

 

Robert Sutter, a seasoned China expert at George Washington University, said it was too soon to predict the bill's impact, which would largely depend on its final wording after Senate reviews.

According to him, the proposed legislation might include non-binding language similar to that of the Taiwan Relations Act, which was passed in 1979. Washington views the TRA as the cornerstone of its Taiwan policy, along with its one-China stance, despite the fact that it lacked any binding language, according to Sutter, largely as a result of administration and congressional interventions.

According to Sutter, if the bill contained binding language that materially altered US government actions toward Taiwan, it could have far-reaching and detrimental effects.

I anticipate that the administration and many members of Congress who do not want tensions between the US and China to increase at this time will work hard to enshrine language in the draught bill that would render its provisions non-binding, enabling the administration to carry on with US policy in accordance with the very broad and possibly ambiguous US one-China policy.

Without binding language, he claimed, a bill's passage would "angry Beijing at a sensitive time" and possibly exacerbate tensions. However, he added, "Chinese officials in charge of Taiwan affairs would understand the bill's symbolic nature does not seriously advance US government actions.

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