Following the 2016 presidential election, President-elect Donald Trump took a call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen and questioned whether the U.S. should continue following the policy laid out in 1979 recognizing the communist-led People’s Republic of China as the sole government of China, or “one China.”
This week, when Tsai was traveling to Central America, she had a brief stopover in Houston, Texas. There, she met with Senator Ted Cruz and Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
John Minnich, senior East Asia analyst with intelligence firm Stratfor says the significance isn’t in the meeting itself, but, “There is a significance that lays in the broader context of the visit… and it takes place against the backdrop of real flux in cross strait relations and US-Taiwan relations. I mean this is a moment of incredible uncertainty as to what’s going to happen.”
Minnich says that Tsai is essentially caught in the middle as the U.S. and China are re-thinking their relationships.
However; Harry Kazianis, the Director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest called the meeting “extremely significant… because they’re trying to reach out to beyond the Trump camp and to reach out to other mainstream Republicans to try and build these connections and these linkages.”
Not first meeting in US for Tsai
While in the “here and now,” attention is focused on the Tsai-Cruz-Abbott meeting in Texas, Minnich points out that last year, Tsai met Senator Marco Rubio in Florida, so this type of meeting isn’t a first of its kind.
Kazianis also emphasized its “low-key” nature and how Taiwan doesn’t necessarily want to upset the status quo.
But as Minnich points out “on the most fundamental level, Taiwan sovereignty is an issue of other countries… and with that in mind, Taiwan is in a very precarious situation right now because… China has been very adamant [and] steadfast in working to further isolate Taiwan diplomatically.”
Why meet with Tsai?
“I think that Senator Cruz has made it very clear that he’s interested in Asia policy, he’s very interested also trying to build ties with Taiwan for his state,” said Kazianis, noting that there’s a significant trade relationship between the US and Taiwan.
“So we’re talking about billions and billions of dollars in bilateral trade,” he added, “and I think that’s very important for individual states to try and work with Taiwan… and for Taiwan it’s very important. It’s difficult for them to increase the bilateral relationship as much as they want with the United States, but individual states can do that very reasonably and very effectively.”
China has established the adherence of the “one China” policy as the basis for continued relations with Beijing. And because it has a robust military and is the second largest world economy with global ties, Kazianis suggests “no country is going to change the “one China” policy… however, there’s a lot of room to maneuver just below that threshold.”
If a country does decide to break with that, Minnich says China would respond “through diplomatic isolation and military intimidation of Taiwan to compel Taiwan to back off… but also do what it can through economic coercion to affect that country.”