Editor's note: On August 18, U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the first-ever standalone trilateral summit between the leaders of the U.S., Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK). This episode of Reality Check breaks down the result of the summit, it's meaning for the security and stability in Asia, and, more importantly, how it will impact these countries' relationship with China given the summit's focus on one of the most sensitive issues in the region - the Taiwan question.
Hey guys, welcome to Reality Check. I'm Huang Jiyuan.
May 1st, 2021, the Economist published an article with the headline "The most dangerous place on Earth." The sub-headline reads: "America and China must work harder to avoid war over the future of Taiwan."
We saw how "hard" America has been working. U.S. President Joe Biden has been clear that the United States will come to Taiwan's aid should the Chinese mainland attack; His administration made an unprecedented move in July by sending $345 million worth of weapons directly from the U.S. stockpiles to the region. On August 18, he hosted the first U.S.-Japan-South Korea leadership summit at Camp David. Their joint statement regarding China states that"we share concerns about actions inconsistent with the rules-based international order, which undermine regional peace and prosperity" and that "we reaffirm the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait as an indispensable element of security and prosperity in the international community. There is no change in our basic positions on Taiwan, and we call for a peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues."
Brian Berletic, former U.S. Marine and Geopolitical Analyst, said in an previous interview that "the concept of encircling and containing China stretches all the way back to the end of World War II. We remember General Douglas MacArthur saying Taiwan was an unsinkable aircraft carrier the U.S. could use to maintain primacy over Asia. And this is a sentiment that has stayed with Washington and the interest that back it up to and including the present day."
The U.S.'s strategy has been clear: Militarize Taiwan as much as possible; Get American allies in the region to bolster Taiwan's defense; Fan the "Taiwan independence" flame; everything short of allowing it to become independent. But there's a caveat: There's a fine line between fanning the flames and not allowing it to declare independence. Case in point: Lai Ching-te's recent "stopovers" through the United States.
Over the past week, he made a "stopover" in New York and attended the inauguration of Paraguay's new president. He had another "stopover" this time in San Francisco before returning to Taiwan. No interaction with high-level U.S. officials. None. Remember, when his boss transited in the U.S. earlier this year, she had a very high-profile meeting with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and a group of lawmakers at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.
Why the cold shoulder? Before his visit, Lai told his supporters that if a Taiwan leader can enter the White House, they'd have achieved their political objective. As the deputy leader of China's Taiwan region and candidate in the upcoming leadership race, Lai's words raised alarms.
According to the Financial Times, the U.S. State Department saw his remarks as something "very different from" what has been said previously and asked if Lai would be coming out with more "surprises." Former White House China official Dennis Wilder said the Biden administration was "very anxious" about him and wanted "to avoid a Chen Shui-bian type situation."
Deputy Secretary General of the Alliance for China's Peaceful Reunification in the U.S. Fred Tzou stated that "it's confirmed that the U.S. didn't give him what he wants, because the U.S. does not want Lai's transit to be interpreted as so-called breakthrough." "Lai Ching-te's packaging of 'Taiwan independence' can only lead Taiwan to the risk of war step by step," Tzou said.
Japan and South Korea need to understand this: An "unsinkable aircraft carrier" sounds grand and important, but it's just a tool. It's dispensable. Japan and South Korea strengthen U.S.'s military control over the region. But it also makes them responsible for the mess should the U.S. choose to pull back. Politicians like Lai Ching-te are already making the U.S. wary of its position. Japan and South Korea should be looking out for themselves.
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