Editorial : The Taiwan Strait

【明報專訊】After Keith Krach, a US Under Secretary of State, visited Taiwan in mid-September, warplanes from the People's Liberation Army crossed the median line of the Taiwan Strait repeatedly for two weeks. The tones of US and Taiwanese high-ranking government officials have also changed. It can be seen that Beijing's declaration of its position has unveiled Washington's bottom line, i.e. its unwillingness to be mired in Taiwan Strait warfare.

Since the beginning of this year, the US has played the Taiwan Card increasingly vigorously. Taiwan-US relations are now unprecedentedly close. The US Congress has adopted a succession of pro-Taiwan bills, and its Health Secretary and Under Secretary of State have visited Taiwan one after another. The US's ambassador to the United Nations has met with Taiwan's representative to New York, claiming that the US will help Taiwan participate in the UN. Hsiao Bi-khim, Taiwan's representative to the US, even changed her official title in her social media account to "Taiwan Ambassador to the US". Rumours of the resumption of Taiwan-US diplomatic relations, the US's change of its ambiguous policy towards Taiwan, and its deployment of armies to help defend Taiwan flew around all of a sudden. A survey conducted by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation found that 60% of Taiwanese people believed that the US would send its troops to defend Taiwan in case of an invasion by mainland China.

The so-called Taiwan Strait median line is also called Davis Line. It was named after the commander of the 13th Air Force in December 1954. The requirement was that Taiwanese warplanes and warships must not cross over to the West of the line, otherwise they would not be protected by the US military forces. The aim was in fact to lay down the ground rules for combat for the US forces stationed in Taiwan.

Adhering to the so-called median line of the Taiwan Strait was an unspoken agreement when the two sides of the Strait were in good relations. That Beijing has openly denied the existence of the median line shows that the original military set-up of the Taiwan Strait has been shattered.

The sudden change in the tones of US and Taiwanese politicians is a revelation for Taiwan. When the Trump administration locks horns with Beijing, any kind of "advances in friendship" not in black and white can only be seen as political manoeuvres rather than diplomatic breakthroughs even if they are stated verbally by politicians. The Trump administration is playing the Taiwan card vigorously to contain the mainland's development so as to maximise the US's interests. But Washington knows very well that a hot war and the touching of the red lines are not in the US's interests. Hence a sudden halt of the gestures.

Beijing is not in any haste to seek a military unification with Taiwan. However, if Taiwan declares independence, builds diplomatic relations with the US or lets US forces be stationed in Taiwan, the CPC will have no choice but to use military force. The question is whether the US wants to turn Taiwan into a battleground and abandons this "chessman". Apparently, the US does not want to give up on Taiwan now, but it does not want to be embroiled in Taiwan Strait warfare either.

The latest survey shows that if war breaks out between mainland China and Taiwan, 54.2% of Taiwanese people want to open peace talks with the mainland. As for the outcome of the war, 44.8% of respondents believed that it will end in peace talks. This shows the Taiwanese people yearn for peace and do not want war.

明報社評2020.10.05:口風突變揭美底牌 台海紅線取代中線








■Glossary 生字

ground rules : the basic rules or principles on which future actions or behaviour should be based

lock horns : to begin to argue or fight

yearn : to want sth very much, especially when it is very difficult to get

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