China and Taiwan are locked in a spiraling controversy over conflicting concepts of citizenship, with enormous implications both for them and the United States. The timing of the dispute is especially significant, as Taiwan prepares for next months inauguration of Tsai Ing-wen of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party( and Taiwans first female chairman ). The DPP has long advocated explicitly proclaiming Taiwan independent from the two sides of the strait, rather than continuing its current ambiguous status,
Although extraditing alleged international phone scammers may not initially seem the stuff of high-stakes diplomatic statecraft, the stakes are high and figure in the much more significant ongoing conflict across the Strait of Taiwan. Beijing struck first in Kenya, where Chinese and Taiwanese swindlers allegedly extorted fund from mainland Chinese by masquerading as police calling about illegal conduct. Almost certainly because of Chinese threats to withhold substantial amounts of economic aid, Kenya deported 45 Taiwanese the general public to China, even though they had been acquitted of phone hoax. Taiwan immediately complained that its citizens rights were violated by not being sent to their home country. Just days later, Malaysia returned 20 Taiwanese( apparently part of the same scam) to Taiwan, which promptly released them because of insufficient evidence, thereby eliciting Chinese complaints.
The ostensible conflict is whether China or Taiwan should have primary jurisdiction to investigate the phone scammers. Just beneath the surface, however, is the highly sensitive issue of citizenship, and how foreign governments treat Taiwans citizens and Taiwan itself. Taipei emphatically repudiates Beijings claim that it is merely a province of China, and that its citizens are hence actually citizens of China itself. Now a free-spirited democracy, Taiwan is still formally called the Republic of China( as Chiang Kai-sheks Kuomintang government was known when it fled to Taiwan in 1949, defeated in a decades-long civil war by Mao Tse-tungs Communists ).
Beijing has seized the expulsion issue to flame a shot across Tsais bow, to alert the president-elect that Chinas patience is limited. Xi Xinpings regime did not want the DPP to defeat the ruling Kuomintang, with which it shares the one China view that Taiwan and China should ultimately be reunited( although with significant differences on how, when, under what circumstances ). Mainland Chinese intervention in Taiwans politics has backfired more often than not, but the Communist have nonetheless persisted in trying to shape Taiwanese believing to their advantage. Intimidating the incoming Tsai, known already as far more cautious than many other DPP leaders, is thus par for the course. The real issue is whether there is more arriving, perhaps in the form of the Chinese equivalent of the 3:00 A.M. wake-up call to Taiwans new government after Inauguration Day.
America also has much at stake. Chinas belligerent behaviour in the South China Sea has intensified from building man-made islands to bolster Beijings territorial claims to constructing air and naval facilities on these islands. China already has a provincial capital for the region, and is proceeding rapidly to change the South China Sea from international waters into a Chinese lake before President Obama leaves office. Xi, like Russias Vladimir Putin in Eastern Europe, is testing how far it can move Obama before it gratifies real resistance. And for Xi, squeezing Taiwan is important in advancing Chinas aim to achieve in the East China Sea what it is already doing to the south.
Beijing does not want actual resentments, but believes it can achieve its central objectives by threats and pressure alone. In answer, America should immediately engage in more extensive and assertive freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea. Furthermore, Washington should launch far more active diplomatic efforts to induce Southeast Asias other territory claimants to resolve their vying claims and thereby present a united front to Beijing. With Taiwan, the United States should consider significant steps to upgrade its diplomatic relations. Washington should make clear that it considers Taiwan to be an independent, democratic society that has the full right to reject a forced consolidation with China , no matter what the aging rhetoric about one China.
In January 2017, Americas new chairman will face Beijings ongoing efforts to run its own extortion campaign against Taiwan. If the Obama administration fails to support Taiwan in responding appropriately to Chinas assertive, virtually belligerent actions on expulsions and many other issues, the new chairman will have even graver problems to solve. This is not a case where America should simply tote up its investments in Taiwan and on the two sides of the strait and go with the bigger number. This is a matter of resisting Chinese efforts at establishing hegemony in East and Southeast Asia not only at the expense of its near neighbors, but of the United States as well.
John Bolton was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from 2005 through 2006. He is currently a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor
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