The issue at hand is that the United States has abided by the One China Policy, while China carries out land reclamation campaigns and militarizes the South China Sea in flagrant disregard of core interests the United States defends, namely, Freedom of Navigation and the Taiwan Relations Act.
So why shouldn’t the United States leverage its continued support for One China in exchange for China’s commitment to its adherence to global Freedom of Navigation and the demilitarization of the South China Sea?
My point is to defend the viability of coercive diplomacy, that is, proposing diplomatic solutions that are coupled with strategic assurances and credible threats, over the alternative status quo: China’s inevitable, de facto control over the archipelagos through the inaction of the United States. While some may denigrate this claim as “using Taiwan as a pawn” in a larger geopolitical game, (such as here and here), I disagree, Taiwan is not a pawn, it is our king.
The combination of commitments that the United States must uphold between the Taiwan Relations Act and the One China Policy essentially boils down to assurances that neither China nor Taiwan will unilaterally attempt forceful reunification or declaration of independence. In the meantime, the United States will defend a weaker Taiwan from coercion and disavow independence movements. Thus, the United States is not using Taiwan as a pawn, if anything we are leveraging the One China Policy to challenge China’s core-interests in the same way they have challenged ours.
Let’s face it, Xi Jinping did not fool anybody when he said China would not militarize the islands, so it comes as no surprise they are today. Let us be clear as to what Xi Jinping’s ultimate goals are for the South China Sea:
- Secure China’s Maritime Silk Road’s sea lines of communication for future trade routes.
- Exercise a nationalist display of “defending” Chinese territorial sovereignty.
- Establish martial resources for the future reunification with Taiwan, while preparing for all military contingencies that process could entail.
China’s strategy is to play the “long game” — slowing chipping away at other claimants’ strategic advantages and alliances in the South China Sea, until China can legally back up its claims of sovereignty over the archipelagoes through the “principal of effectiveness” under maritime law. If the United States can halt China’s land reclamation campaigns and concurrent militarization through proper coercive diplomacy, then it would secure Taiwanese security and enable the negotiation of a new status quo that prevents future Chinese regional bullying.
As it stands now, Taiwan has everything to lose from the United States’ inaction.
The solution is coercive diplomacy. The United States can propose strategic assurances to China: no more phone calls to Taiwan, our disavowal of unilateral Taiwanese calls for independence (as it is also in Taiwan’s best interest not to provoke China), and even assistance in securing Chinese trade routes in the Pacific straits. However, if China refuses to cooperate, then the United States must put forward credible threats in the form of the Navy’s Seventh Fleet and strategic economic sanctions.
So what message is the United States sending? We are telling Taiwan and China that the United States is sticking to its commitments to uphold both the Taiwan Relations Act and Three Communiqués so long as both Taiwan and China are doing what they have promised, as outlined in those same documents. It is that straight forward. China has deviated from its promises, and now the United States must push back.