A new piece of legislation that promotes US ties with Taiwan has angered the Chinese government.
Trump signs pro-Taiwan bill, angering Beijing
The Taiwan Travel Act, signed into law by President Donald Trump on Friday, encourages official exchanges between US and Taiwan.
Over the weekend, China strongly objected to the law, which it says is a severe violation of the “One-China” principle – the idea that China and Taiwan are part of a single state, and that a dispute merely exists as to which government is legitimate.
The US has long agreed to this principle.
On Saturday, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, Lu Kang, said the law sent “very wrong signals to the ‘pro-independence’ separatist forces in Taiwan."
He also stressed that the act is non-binding – meaning that there is no actual obligation for officials from the two governments to actually meet.
But the act is indeed a show of support to the self-ruled island, which Beijing claims as part of its territory.
It says that it should be US policy to allow officials “at all levels” to meet their counterparts in Taiwan and to permit high-level Taiwanese officials to enter the US.
It also describes Taiwan “a beacon of democracy in Asia,” adding that its democratic achievements inspire many countries and people in the region.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has welcomed the legislation.
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) March 17, 2018
Eric Hundman, an international relations expert at New York University Shanghai, said the legislation passed through Congress unanimously, reflecting growing concerns towards China’s expanding global ambitions.
“Many politicians in Washington are viewing China less favorably in the past year,” Hundman said. “And one obvious way to signal that is to have tighter ties with Taiwan.”
Taiwan broke away from the mainland when the government of the Republic of China fled to the island, after losing a civil war to the Mao Zedong-led Communists in 1949.
Washington cut its diplomatic ties with Taipei in 1979 in order to establish formal relations with Beijing.
But the same year, the US also enacted the Taiwan Relations Act, which required future administrations to help Taiwan defend itself against possible military threats from China.
The Chinese government regards Taiwan as a wayward province, and has never ruled out taking it back by force.
Beijing opposes any official contact between Taiwan and the US. America remains the island’s most important ally and its main source of armament.
Although missiles have been deployed on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, the area has so far avoided any armed conflict.
“It is such a dangerous flash point,” says Hundman. “Everybody wants changes but no one wants outright conflicts. So there is a lot of shadow-boxing going on.”
Tensions between China and Taiwan have grown since Tsai, who heads an independence-leaning party, was elected president in 2016.
Beijing has since discouraged tourism to Taiwan and limited imports from the island.
It lodged strong complaints after Trump took a congratulatory call from Tsai following his election victory in November 2016 – the first such contact in nearly four decades.