CvT: Nov. 18, 2020

Arm yourself with the Coffee. vs. Tea US-China relations newsletter as the world’s two largest economies square off for global influence
Arm yourself as the world’s two largest economies square off for global influence

Taiwan’s Dilemma: An Island Caught in the Middle

Written by: Zoe Roth

Since Donald Trump took office, the US-Taiwan relationship has had its status quo challenged on multiple occasions. Early in his Presidency, Trump phoned in the ‘Trump Tsai’ call, marking the first instance since 1979 that a US President had directly spoken to the President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). Another record-breaking moment followed a visit to the Island earlier this year by a US diplomat, also for the first time since 1979. These are just a couple of highlights in an otherwise unforeseeable series of events that suggest a US-Taiwan relationship in transformation. China has watched on as the two democratic parties began to revisit their relationship, and has begun making preparations for a swift militarized response to curb the budding signs of this newfound friendship.

Trading ambiguity for the military

Taiwan is just one of the self-imposed autonomous zones that Beijing has vowed to bring back into the fold of the motherland. As US-Taiwan relations warm up, China has made it abundantly clear that it does not condone the US’ recognition of an independent Taiwan outside of the unspoken ‘One China’ policy. As a result, the world’s two largest economies have entered into a high-stakes bout of tug of war, with the Island caught in the middle as a beefed up US Naval presence in the 180-kilometer Taiwan strait is met in lockstep by Chinese military fortifications and invasion exercises.

Though much of the Taiwan Strait is identified by maritime law as public waters, China’s historically strict control over the expanse has largely been part of its efforts to keep a watchful eye over Taiwan. The second half of 2020 has seen numerous examples of Chinese militaristic projections in the Strait, including live-fire exercises by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). These exercises have included multi-unit and multi-dimensional actual combat drills, while live-fire drills from July through September have been speculated to include mid-to-long range air defense missiles as a means to consolidate shoreline air defense. In retaliation, the US Navy has taken their stance by sailing through the Strait in both May and June, and most recently in early October. Though these displays of power have been a clear back-and-forth show of commitment to the region, the implications of potential clashes could have very real consequences for Taiwan.

A strong offense is the best defense

Accompanying the escalating demonstrations, Washington has been selling arms to Taiwan. On October 22nd, President Trump approved US$1.8 billion in proposed weapons sales to Taiwan. While the US has historically always sold military equipment to Taiwan – eliciting China’s discontent – the most recent bipartisan sale reflects Washington’s perception as to the severity of the threat that Beijing now poses to Taiwan. Included in the package were weapons systems able to reach coastal regions of China, such as missiles and artillery, that point to a more offensive approach to sovereign defense than in the past. Robert O’Brien, a US national security advisor, posited that even though China may not be using military force against Taiwan now, Taiwan must still “fortify itself” in preparation for potential future military activity. Evidently, Washington is aware that a military attack is not off the table and is rallying around China’s strongman offensive over Taiwan.

A new “X” factor in the Strait: the incoming Biden administration 

While Taiwan has long been a contentious subject interwoven in international politics, the Trump administration seems to have opened the door to toeing Beijing’s “red-line” when it comes to relations with the Island. Though some speculate that Biden will continue in the past Administration’s footsteps and address the growing threat of China in the Taiwan Strait through arms sales, it remains to be seen if the incoming Biden administration will continue to openly transition away from the historical US stance to Taiwanese relations or if it will quietly return ambiguous equilibrium to the Strait.

The Global Threat of US Disempowerment of the UN Human Rights Council

Written by: Grace Spoerner

In the footsteps of its recent condemnation of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) decision to appoint China to its governing body, the US further critiqued China’s controversial human rights record and reiterated its 2018 decision to withdraw from the HRC.

The central mission of the HRC and its 47 member-states is to promote and protect human rights across the globe. However, following the announcement that China was elected to the panel, many spoke out against the decision. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, declared the appointment “validates the US decision to withdraw and use other venues and opportunities to protect and promote universal human rights.” Additionally, the United Nations Watch, a Geneva-based United Nations NGO watchdog, downgraded the validity of the council. According to the UN Watch, the inclusion of China and Russia as member-states indicates that 60% of the HRC’s members fail to meet the basic qualifications of a free democracy – an unsettling statistic to the onlooking international community. 

A historically spotty relationship with the council

When the HRC was established, George W. Bush was hesitant to become involved, and, after former-President Obama sought a seat, little came of the US’ involvement. Under Trump, the US withdrew in 2018 due to ongoing human rights abuses from member-states and what the US Ambassador, Nikki Haley, claimed was a “chronic bias against Israel.” However, many voices from within the UN and Washington argued that withdrawing from the council would only magnify the problem, as the action would allow for bad actors to continue abusing human rights with unchecked freedom. Critics advised that, while the council had its shortcomings, should the US remain involved it could still partner with other countries to introduce targeted proposals and hold countries like China and Russia accountable for gross infringements on human rights. With the US gone, however, remaining member countries would have to significantly increase their efforts to wield the same impact.

Regardless of the reasoning, there is an argument to be made for the US to rejoin the council. In 2018, China introduced a proposal, the “win-win cooperation,” which intended to weaken state accountability for serious human rights violations. At the time, it garnered a minority 28 states in favor and culminated in China quietly dropping the proposal in 2020. However, its brief existence points to China’s opportunistic intent with the US out of the picture to create more elasticity in human rights violations.

A perfectly flawed council turns dangerous

It is commonly accepted that the United Nations has not always proven to be the most efficient body through which to pass regulation or reform. However, rarely is a single country able to implement policies on an international level without the support and allyship of the HRC. Although the council includes member-states like China, Cuba, Russia, and others with complicated human rights records, US participation would add a powerful voice at the table in support of more stringent human rights practices. While the Human Rights Council is not a perfect governing body, it is still a means to promote human rights around the world and its integrity must be safeguarded to prevent ill-intended member-states from capitalizing on its disempowerment.

Further Reading

US-China Relations Newsletter

CvT: Dec. 16, 2020

US-China Relations Newsletter

CvT: Dec. 9, 2020

US-China Relations Newsletter

CvT: Dec. 2, 2020

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