US-China at a weaponized breaking point over Taiwan

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China’s government has reiterated its determination to realize national reunification with Taiwan after media reports said the United States was considering unveiling a sanctions package against China over its treatment of the self-governing island.

According to a Reuters report citing sources familiar with the discussions, the Biden administration is now mulling a series of sanctions against China to deter it from invading Taiwan while the European Union is also being asked by Taipei to implement similarly punitive measures.

On Wednesday (September 14), Chinese Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson Mao Ning said that the Taiwan question is purely China’s internal affair and no foreign country had the right to interfere in it.

The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, which aims to bolster Taiwan’s defense capabilities with almost US$6.5 billion in new security assistance over the next four years. The legislation, if enacted, would effectively signal that Taipei is considered a non-NATO ally by Washington.

The bill needs approval from the full Senate, the House of Representatives and President Joe Biden before it can take effect.

Chinese Ambassador to the US Qin Gang reportedly told US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in a meeting on August 23 that China-US ties would disintegrate if the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 became law.

Washington is already ramping up punitive measures against Beijing as bilateral relations plumb new lows. The US Department of Commerce recently unveiled a series of export bans to prevent China from obtaining high-end semiconductors and chip-making software and equipment.

On Monday, Biden signed an executive order that urges drug makers to reduce their reliance on foreign labs, namely in China. More specifically, White House officials told the media that the US hoped to reduce its dependence on China for biomedical research.

As many of these sanctions are longer term in nature, the Taiwanese government is calling on the US and EU to implement other measures that will have quicker effects.

Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan’s Representative to the US, this week hosted about 60 legislators from Europe, Asia and Africa in Washington and urged them to take action to deter China from attacking Taiwan.

On Tuesday, Hsiao hosted dozens of members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) at the Taiwan-owned Twin Oaks in Washington. She proposed they sign a pledge to push their governments to adopt “greater deterrence against military or other coercive” actions by China against Taiwan, Reuters reported.

Nazak Nikakhtar, a former official of the US Commerce Department, was quoted as saying that the possible new sanctions on China would be far more complicated than those imposed on Russia as the US and its allies are deeply integrated with China’s economy.

Mao Ning of China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday: “The root cause of the current tensions across the Taiwan Strait is that the One China principle has been challenged and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities keep pursuing the ‘Taiwan-independence’ separatist agenda.

“No country or individual should underestimate the Chinese government and people’s strong resolve and firm will to safeguard our sovereignty and territorial integrity and to realize national reunification.”

Mao said she had no knowledge of what Ambassador Qin specifically said to the State Department’s Sherman about the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022 but she believed he was stressing the importance of upholding the One China principle to maintaining bilateral relations.

Commenting on the meeting between Hsiao and foreign lawmakers, Mao said the DPP’s attempt to collude with external forces in pursuit of the “Taiwan-independence” separatist agenda would only lead to a dead end.

Chinese state media commentators are weighing in with similar warnings. Zhang Yi, a lecturer at Qingdao University, said DPP authorities tried to get support from the EU but Brussells would definitely not offer help at this time while facing serious internal and external problems related to the Russia-Ukraine war.

Zhang wrote: “Due to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, European countries followed the US to sanction Russia but they then faced a serious energy crisis. They could not even guarantee the energy supply for this winter. The energy crisis has also led to a serious inflation crisis within the EU. Externally, the EU’s international status is declining as the euro has fallen sharply compared with the US dollar.”

Zhang noted the EU last year imported 472 billion euros (US$472 billion) of Chinese goods, including machinery, autos and consumer products, and exported 223 billion euros worth of goods to China.

He boldly predicted that, as China is now the EU’s third-largest export destination and biggest product supplier, the EU will not sacrifice its relations with China over Taiwan.
 
Chen Fei, an associate professor at the Central China Normal University, said: “As the world’s second-largest economy, China surpasses Russia in terms of its position and importance in the global economy.
 
“Even if the US government can reach an agreement on this issue, it is almost impossible for the 27 EU member states to compromise on any sanction package against China. This has already been vividly shown in the sanctions against Russia.”

A commentary published by the state-owned Defense Times said that although European countries are troubled by the energy crisis, it is still possible that the EU will choose to follow the US to sanction China.

The article said if the EU really does this, it should make sure its member states can pay the prices.

Read: Chinese biomed firms take ill on Biden’s decoupling order

Follow Jeff Pao on Twitter at @jeffpao3

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