The Xi-Biden Summit and Its Implications for Taiwan’s Political Future
Considering the remarks made by Chinese President Xi Jinping in the Xi-Biden Summit in San Francisco on November 15, and given the Sino-US consensus on the resumption military-to-military communication, the Summit has immediate implications for Taiwan’s political future in the coming years.
First, Chinese President Xi Jinping went into details about China’s principles and position on the question of Taiwan. He says that the Taiwan question is ultimately the most important and the most sensitive one in Sino-US relations.
China attaches great importance to the US active expression of its position on Taiwan during the Bali meeting between President Xi and President Biden in November 2022, during which the US side reiterated that its one-China policy did not change, and that the world has an interest in maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Most significantly, President Xi on November 15 said that “the US should in concrete action demonstrate its expression of not supporting Taiwan independence.” Moreover, the US “should stop arming Taiwan and should support China’s peaceful reunification.” President Xi added that “China will be reunified, and such reunification will be inevitable.”
It was the first time that a top Chinese President made such remarks in an unprecedented way in front of his US counterpart.
The implications are obvious: China is very eager to settle the question of Taiwan peacefully and Beijing sees the US armament of Taiwan is an obstacle to the peaceful resolution of Taiwan’s political future – a position held by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) consistently.
Xi’s remarks implied that China would perhaps like to settle the question of Taiwan in his lifetime.
In response to Xi’s Taiwan position, President Joe Biden reiterated the American five-point stance in Bali: (1) the US does not seek a new Cold War; (2) the US does not seek to change the Chinese system; (3) the US does not seek to oppose China through the consolidation of its allies; (4) the US does not support Taiwan independence; and (5) the US has no intention of having conflicts with China.
Furthermore, the US supports the one-China policy and welcome departments at all levels to start dialogue sincerely and openly to enhance understanding,avoid misunderstanding, and control diverging views.
The media reported that President Xi in the meeting with Biden denied that China had a plan to “take back” Taiwan in the year 2027 or 2035, although some US military officers had made such claims.
An important consensus reached by both sides on November 15 was the agreement to resume military-to-military communications. Clearly, both sides are keen to avoid sudden military accidents, conflicts and confrontations over the issue of Taiwan, especially as the US military airplanes often flied near the Chinese counterpart, or vice versa. The navies of both sides must also avoid unnecessary accidents or conflicts in the Taiwan Strait.
Still, it remains to be seen how both China and the US manage their military-to-military communication at all levels, ranging from the commanding to the operational levels. If crisis takes place at the operational level, it must go up to the commanding level for crisis resolution immediately – a hierarchical process that will demand prompt decision and immediate response to defuse any military accident or conflict.
As such, the control over any crisis will depend on the hierarchical communications from the operational to the commanding level of both the Chinese and American sides, and then on the horizontal communications between the commanding echelon of both sides.
The US strategy in this San Francisco Summit was effective: focusing on matters that could reach easier consensus first, notably the control over narcotics – an issue to which the Chinese side must agree. Other easier issues include educational exchange of more US students to visit China, which also attaches importance to people-to-people exchange.
Yet, the Summit stopped short of how both sides will make use of people-to-people exchange to explore the solutions to Taiwan’s political future.
The PRC’s White Paper on Taiwan, a document released in August 2022, harped on the theme of utilizing the Taiwan model of “one country, two systems” to deal with the island’s political future. The document mentioned the possibility of adopting a stage-by-stage process of resolving the Taiwan issue. So far, none of the American think tanks has appeared to notice this proposal of adopting a stage-by-stage process of negotiations.
As such, the ball is arguably on the US court to make use of its rich political think tanks to discuss how a stage-by-stage process will help defuse the Taiwan crisis and how such process will facilitate a give-and-take bargaining in which one issue will be exchanged for a concession from the other side.
President Xi’s remark on the need for the US side to stop rearming Taiwan was a strong one, implying that the US military support of Taiwan is and will be an ultimate obstacle to the peaceful resolution of the island’s political future. Therefore, the US side must ponder deeply how to facilitate the mainland side and the Taiwan counterpart to explore a variety of political solutions.
Objectively speaking, many Taiwan people have rejected the “one country, two systems” model, even though the PRC side has reiterated that it is the Taiwan model of “one country, two systems,” meaning that Taiwan will have international space of participating in international organizations by using the name “Chinese Taipei.” Moreover, the White Paper in August 2022 explicitly said that foreign countries will be allowed to set up their consulates or official or quasi-official institutions in Taiwan – a kind of status quo that will persist in the future.
The crux of the problem in Sino-US relations over Taiwan is that there is a lack of options attractive to most Taiwan people. The blue camp in Taiwan led by the Kuomintang (KMT) does favor and support reunification with mainland China – a position that has been criticized and rejected by the more localist and radical Democratic Progressive Party.
Even worse, there is a lack of consensus between the blue camp and the white camp. At the time of writing, the KMT led by Eric Chu and Ma Ying-jeou is keen to form an alliance with the Taiwan People’s Party (TPP) led by Ko Wen-je. The most recent reports in Taiwan have pointed to the reluctance of the People’s Party leaders to accept how the KMT proposes to statistically calculate the results of the polls conducted on the Hou You-yi ticket with Ko Wen-je.
The TPP leaders have argued that if a standard deviation of 3 percent rather than 6 percent is calculated, the Ko-Hou ticket is as strong as with the Hou-Ko ticket. Who is the presidential candidate coming first becomes a bone of contention, showing that Taiwan politics is basically egoistic, interest-based and partisan-struggling.
There are two scenarios in Taiwan’s presidential elections in January 2024: (1) the DPP led by William Lai would win because of the failure of the KMT and the TPP to form a coalition, or (2) the KMT-TPP coalition would capture the presidential seat for the first time in Taiwan’s presidential election.
A third scenario may be emerging if the KMT-TPP coalition cannot be formed at the presidential election level: namely the presidency would be captured by the DPP, but the Legislative Assembly would see an alliance between the KMT and TPP to block the bills and policies initiated by the DPP.
This scenario would bring about deadlock in the Legislative Assembly, leading to immobilism that would not be conducive to any proposed solution for Taiwan’s political future.
Hence, Taiwan’s domestic political development will shape the outcome of any proposed solution for the island’s political future, even though China and the US may produce an agreed resolution.
At present, the US government is adopting a hardline attitude toward the defense of Taiwan, unlike General George Marshall who in 1946 and 1947 failed to reach a solution between the KMT and the Communist Party of China (CPC), and who were later criticized by General Douglas MacArthur for abandoning the armament of the KMT forces in favor of the CPC military. George Marshall did try to mediate between the KMT and CPC, but he failed. The withdrawal of the US military support of Chiang Kai-shek doomed the KMT failure in defending the entire mainland from 1947 to 1949.
Today, we witness a rising China where its internal politics are paternalistic and whose foreign policy is ironically more liberal with the socialist vision of achieving “a common destiny for the mankind.” Yet, the US ideology of internal pluralism and external self-protectionism/hegemonism with the old doctrine of “manifest destiny” in promoting the universal values of Western “democracy” is in direct conflicts with the PRC ideology of harping on the “Chinese-style modernization and democracy.”As such, arming Taiwan is inevitable and demanding the US to stop rearming the island seems to be a bridge too far.
Therefore, an intermediary solution conducive to peace in the Taiwan Strait is a matter for the US think tanks to consider, including the likelihood of how to make the Taiwan model of “one country, two systems” far more attractive to most people of Taiwan.
The stage-by-stage process proposed for the first time in China’s White Paper on Taiwan can be delineated further. In the first stage, for instance, the Taiwan side will have to accept the 1992 consensus in exchange for the mainland action of, say, allowing far more mainland Chinese to visit the island as tourists than ever before. Other items can be exchanged further, like the formal recognition of the mainland’s possession of Taiwan territory in exchange for the mainland side’s abandonment of the use of force to resolve the Taiwan issue.
Whatever the items of exchange in the process of negotiations, the US would likely be an actor that would be consulted by the Taiwan regime, especially if the DPP government is in power.
Another problem is that whatever solution proposed by the mainland Chinese side would be put in the Legislative Assembly for a vote. If the legislature is dominated by the DPP, such a solution will be rejected. If it is dominated by the KMT-PP coalition, the passage of a peaceful solution would be rejected by the DPP.
In all these scenarios, what would be the proper role of the US? Maintaining neutrality? How would China react to the US position in the process of negotiating Taiwan’s political future. Should a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) be used between the mainland and Taiwan instead of putting any proposed solution to the Taiwan Legislative Assembly for a vote? Yet, such a MoU would likely be criticized as lacking the people’s mandate.
Despite the difficult paths ahead, the short-term solution is to enhance the people-to-people exchange between mainland China and Taiwan, and between China and the US. Such exchanges, especially at the level of think tanks that would involve more academics, would hopefully bring about the necessary collective wisdom to resolve Taiwan’s political future.
In conclusion, it is time for the US side to ponder how its rich think tanks can and will consider various modified versions of the PRC’s Taiwan model of “one country, two systems.” Asking the US to stop rearming Taiwan seems to be a bridge too far, butit does imply that the American academics and officials will have to ponder solutions conducive to the peaceful resolutions of Taiwan’s political future.
Gone were the years of George Marshall whose failure to broker a deal between the KMT and CPC in 1946 and early 1947 had far-reaching repercussions until today. The current complete reversal of George Marshall’s policy toward the KMT, which is no longer a ruling party in Taiwan, means the continuous rearmament of the DPP regime – a position that must incur the anger of the PRC.
As such, exploring intermediary solutions along the line of the Taiwan model of “one country, two systems” and, most importantly, the stage-by-stage process of negotiation, if such negotiation comes, will be the feasible steps forward in the coming years – a task that arguably should provoke US think tanks to ponder seriously.