11:16 GMT17 May 2021
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    US lawmakers have introduced a bill aimed at boosting Washington’s relations with Taiwan in a move that is likely to anger China. Republican Senators Tom Cotton and Ted Cruz, as well as Democratic Senators Bob Menendez, Catherina Cortez Masto, and Chris Coons, have created a bill known as the "Taiwan Assurance Act".

    The document would allow US President Donald Trump to review State Department guidelines on relations with Taiwan, to direct the Defence Department to include Taiwan in joint military training exercises and express support for US arms sales to the region.

    In a statement, Cotton said that the bill “would deepen bilateral security, economic and cultural relations, while also sending a message that China’s aggressive cross-Strait behaviour will not be tolerated”.

    According to the current legislation, Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is obliged by law to help defend the island and provide it with weapons. Since 2010, the United States has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion worth of weaponry.

    The news comes as US and Chinese officials resume high-level talks on a possible trade deal. US top trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are expected to visit Beijing on Thursday and Friday. China’s Vice Premier Liu He plans to travel to the US next week.

    Sputnik has discussed the issue with Dr Joseph Cheng, professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong.

    Sputnik: What do you think is the likely reaction that we’ll see from Beijing to this new legislation aimed at boosting US ties with Taiwan?

    Joseph Cheng: Beijing probably looks upon these strengthening ties as part of the broad environment of sharper Sino-American competition for supremacy, leadership, and influence, especially in view of the coming competition in the future two-three decades.

    Beijing believes that the United States and the Donald Trump administration are trying to exert pressure on China from all angles, and Taiwan relations has become one aspect of this competition; [it] has become one aspect through which the United States would like to exert pressure on China.

    At the same time, Beijing is aware that the Western world, including the United States, is paying more attention to human rights issues in China; and therefore, the strengthening of ties with Taiwan, and to some extent with Hong Kong, is also part of an attempt to exert pressure on China on the human rights front.

    At the moment, at this stage, China realises, probably it assesses, that the Trump administration will not cross the red line, so to speak, that it understands the limits set by Beijing; and all these gestures of raising the level of contacts, increasing arms sales and so on, so far are still within the red line in Beijing’s parameter.

    Sputnik: How high do you think the odds are that this bill will actually be approved and signed by President Trump? I’m just wondering if you think that this might be some kind of a bargaining chip or a threat that could then be taken back to try to get some leverage in trade talks or other discussions that the US is having with China.

    Joseph Cheng: The trade talks are in the focus at the moment, and if the trade talks succeed in the form of a broad trade agreement, then various Sino-American contradictions may well be moderated.

    If both countries fail to sign a broad trade agreement, then various contradictions will sharpen. But at the same time, there is an understanding on the part of Beijing that the competition is going to be long-term, that the competition is going to be structural, while the trade agreement, even when it can be reached, is going to be a kind of intermediary, temporary measure.

    So, Beijing certainly expects that the United States will try to exert pressure on China from various fronts, including Taiwan, though, probably, the United States understands Beijing’s basic red line.

    Sputnik: Knowing that the United States does know Beijing’s red line, how is this going to affect the tone of the further discussions? Was this a wise move on Donald Trump’s part, to put pressure using this particular very sensitive issue?

    Joseph Cheng: Yes, this is a very sensitive issue, especially in view of the fact that the Tsai Ing-wen administration comes from the Democratic Progressive Party, which rejects the One China principle, which rejects the 1992 consensus.

    And at the same time, the presidential election, which is going to be held in January next year, means that the election campaign has already started; has already been warming up.

    So, the exploitation of the issue will become more significant on the part of the United States. And at the same time Beijing also realises that strong criticism of Taiwan, that exerting heavy pressure on Taiwan, may well adversely affect the election outcome to the disadvantage of Beijing.

    Sputnik: How successful is the new round of negotiations? How successful do you think the new round of negotiations will be? Do you think that there is a chance that we will see a new trade deal?

    Joseph Cheng: It is difficult to say at the moment. It seems that both sides obviously see the distinct advantages of having a trade deal at this stage. After all, without an agreement there will be an all-out trade war, which will be very damaging to both countries. So, it is in the interests of both administrations to have an agreement at the moment.

    The disagreements, or the controversies, centre not so much on the contents of the agreement, but on the American side the real issue is how you can assure that various concessions made by China will be implemented, what kinds of guarantees [can be made] that the Donald Trump administration wants; and on the part of Beijing, the real difficulty is how the Xi Jinping administration can sell the package to the domestic audience with the understanding that, obviously, China has to make or has made serious concessions.

    Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of Joseph Cheng and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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