- Ethan Paulresearch associate and reporter at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
We look at growing tensions between China and Taiwan as China’s military said Monday it had conducted beach landing and assault drills in the province across from Taiwan. Taiwan’s president responded on Sunday saying Taiwan would not bow to pressure from China. This comes as The Wall Street Journal has revealed a small team of U.S. special operations forces and marines have been secretly operating in Taiwan for at least a year to help train Taiwanese military forces for a possible conflict with China. We speak with Ethan Paul of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, who warns U.S. interference could cause “a conflict that could engulf the entire region.” His latest article is “Biden doesn’t understand the 'new Cold War.'”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn to the growing tensions between China and Taiwan. China’s military said Monday it’s conducted beach landing and assault drills in the province across from Taiwan. On Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for Taiwan to be peacefully reunited with mainland China.
PRESIDENT XI JINPING: [translated] National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, which includes our compatriots in Taiwan. We will maintain our basic policies of peaceful reunification and “one country, two systems,” uphold the One China principle and the 1992 consensus, and we will work to promote the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.
AMY GOODMAN: Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen responded on Sunday, saying Taiwan will not bow to pressure from China.
PRESIDENT TSAI ING-WEN: [translated] We will not act rashly, but there should be absolutely no illusions that the Taiwanese people will bow to pressure. We will continue to bolster our national defense and demonstrate our determination to defend ourselves in order to ensure that nobody can force Taiwan to take the path China has laid out for us.
AMY GOODMAN: This comes as The Wall Street Journal has revealed a small team of U.S. special operations forces and marines have been secretly operating in Taiwan for at least a year to help train Taiwanese military forces for possible conflict with China.
For more, we go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Ethan Paul, research associate at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, where he focuses on U.S.-China relations. He’s a former reporter with the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, his recent piece headlined “Biden doesn’t understand the 'new Cold War.'”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ethan. What doesn’t Biden understand? And what is he doing?
ETHAN PAUL: Thank you very much for having me on today, Amy.
So, when I say that President Biden doesn’t understand the new Cold War, what I mean is that the new Cold War itself is baked into the structure of the international system that has existed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and you cannot simply speak away the new Cold War in a speech. You know, since the Soviet Union collapsed, China has looked out at a world dominated by American power, not only economically, politically, but also militarily in China’s backyard. The United States, many of its closest allies and partners and much of its military power is located in a ring along China’s periphery — Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Australia, buttressed by Guam.
And so, what we’ve seen over the last 30 years is that China has had a deliberate strategy to balance against American power, particularly in its backyard. And now what we’ve seen since the Trump administration, and continued by the Biden administration, is that the United States is responding to these changes in Chinese policy by trying to balance back against China.
And it’s important to note that these are, one, the two most powerful states history has ever known, and, two, that this game between the United States and China that we’re just starting to see play has no logical endpoint. And so, my primary concern is that as both sides set out to wire up Asia and the Asia-Pacific with the most powerful military weapons to ever exist, inevitably there will be crises, there will be accidents, that have the constant, unescapable possibility of breaking out into a conflict that could engulf the entire region.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well —
ETHAN PAUL: Over the long term — go ahead, Amy.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: No, I’m sorry. Ethan Paul, I wanted to ask you, though: What do you make of the continued amnesia, not only of some of our current political leaders in the Biden administration but also of the media, in constantly playing up this China-Taiwan conflict as if it is a conflict of China attempting to oppress and control another people, when the fact is Taiwan was historically part of China and that the Chinese government has consistently maintained it, not only maintained it, but there is only 14 countries in the world that currently recognize Taiwan as an independent country? It is an integral part of China, always has been, and yet we forget that long-term history and try to deal with the current last few, you know, 50 years or 60 years of this history.
ETHAN PAUL: Sure. So, two things I would note to start. One is, if you look at the first correspondence between Beijing and Washington back in 1971, Beijing made it very clear then that the only thing it wanted to talk about was Taiwan and that this was a foundational principle upon which the relationship has been built. Beijing has continued that line for the last 50 years. Why does Beijing care so much? Because much of China’s rise, especially now, is framed by Beijing around this concept of national rejuvenation. And so, redeeming China’s past of being colonized is a major part of its political identity, and what it wants to do on the world stage, it sees Taiwan as a part of that.
I would say, however, that there is a disconnect which drives Washington’s strong support for Taiwan, including among the media. And that is that, on the mainland, you’ve seen an increasing trend towards authoritarianism under Xi Jinping; on Taiwan, you’ve seen a flourishing democracy, one of the most progressive in Asia. And so, I think that there is a genuine concern, in fact, among people in Washington about what unification would do to Taiwan. Would its democracy be trampled, as it has been in Hong Kong?
But at the end of the day, Washington needs to understand that Beijing will not back down on Taiwan. It has made this very clear for 50 years. And if the United States wants to avoid a conflict that could be the most devastating in history, it ultimately needs to stick to what it has told Beijing it would abide by, which is the One China policy. We are starting to see, and we have seen over the last couple months — we’re starting to see that One China policy be eroded by various steps by the Biden administration, but also, in particular, by Congress. Yesterday in The Washington Post, Congresswoman Elaine Luria of Virginia released an op-ed saying that the Congress should pass a war powers declaration to come to defend Taiwan. These are exactly the type of changes to the status quo that are contributing to the destabilizing dynamics and, in fact, are the quickest way that the U.S. and China could go to war over the next coming years.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And we just have less than a minute, but I wanted to ask you about: How does the Biden administration reconcile its increasing tendency toward conflict with China at the same time that American corporations seek to gain greater access to the Chinese market and to produce more goods — these American corporations — in China?
ETHAN PAUL: Sure. So, I would note that, in fact, the business community has been one of the few constituencies in Washington that has been pushing for a more managed and controlled relationship. But the reason that the Biden administration has embraced the Trump administration’s line on China is because if you look at every other constituency in Washington — the defense community, the media, various parts of the federal government have been transformed recently — all of them are buying into the line. And so there’s this overwhelming wave of support for —
AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds, Ethan.
ETHAN PAUL: — escalating tensions with China. And so, this is why we’ve seen the Biden administration do what it does, and why I suspect it will continue, going forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to do Part 2 and post it online at democracynow.org. Ethan Paul, with the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, we’ll link to his piece, “Biden doesn’t understand the 'new Cold War.'” That’s it for our show. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Stay safe. Wear a mask.