Don’t Sign the Bill for a Trip to Taipei, President Trump
The Taiwan Travel Act passed the U.S. Senate on February 28th and now awaits the president’s signature. The bill is highly controversial in China and will undermine U.S.-China relations. The president should not sign this bill into law.
The Taiwan Travel Act will enable direct visits and meetings of high-level U.S. and Taiwan officials in both directions. Because the Act will elevate the international status of Taiwan, China strongly opposes it. Beijing has always considered Taiwan as a province of China, ineligible for state-to-state relations. Beijing views the Act as a violation of the “One China” Policy to which the United States and China agreed in 1972 when they established diplomatic relations. The Act will damage Sino-American relations and will be seen by China as an act of open hostility.
Hostility towards China hinders the U.S. pursuit of regional stability. China and the U.S. have multiple overlapping interests in Asia. First, the top issue is North Korea’s nuclear proliferation. China accounts for 90% of North Korea’s external trade, and China’s disappointment in the regime makes it a key partner for cooperation with the U.S. to address the North Korea issues. Secondly, a hostile China provoked by this Act will damage U.S. allies and interests in the region. Asian countries will be forced to choose sides between China and the United States, leading to an enduring regional disorder.
Hostility towards China increases the cost of U.S. trade. China offers a giant manufacturing market enabling the U.S. to migrate the lower-end manufacturing operations and specialize in higher-end operations. Countries in Latin America or Southeast Asia cannot offer the same political stability or market capacity as China. Since China holds a zero-tolerance policy for disregard of the “One China” policy, signing the bill means the danger of losing mutually beneficial trade ties. China is one of the world’s top three largest markets for U.S. goods and services. Its competitive products lower prices for U.S. consumers by 1-1.5%, resulting in a large amount of savings back into the American wallets. However, poisoned trade ties will destroy all of these benefits.
Hostility towards China through the Act delegitimizes current unofficial ties with Taiwan. The United States has continued defensive military equipment sales to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act. However, signing the bill will be counterproductive to Taiwan’s security.
China has shown aggressive moves when challenged on this issue in the past and never surrendered the use of force. In 1996 when Lee Teng-hui, the then-Taiwanese president, visited the U.S., China launched missiles into waters near the island as intimidation. With China’s increasing military power in the South China Sea, signing the bill will cause inevitable chaos, even a regional war.
Taiwan is pursuing tighter relations with the United States. It has made admirable moves to cut trade and financial ties with North Korea. It is also improving market access for U.S. investors. However, the U.S. can’t afford to risk losing China as a partner. U.S. investment in Mainland China is nearly six times greater than U.S. investment in Taiwan. The U.S. is also at the risk of serious loss if China starts a trade war, since U.S. imports only consist 8.5% of the Chinese import market and the number is declining.
Weighing the facts and many risks, President Trump should refuse to sign the bill, despite its strong support in the Congress and Taiwan’s welcoming tone. Respecting the “One China” policy accords with the long-term interests of the United States. It offers a more stable global environment for all countries on the Pacific Rim to prosper.