Hussein Askary, Belt and Road Institute in Sweden
The world held its breath on August 2nd and 3rd in anticipation of the reaction by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the visit to Taiwan by U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi. This trip was conducted despite strong warnings not only from China that considered this trip to be a serious infringement on the PRC’s national sovereignty, but also despite strong recommendations by both the White House and the Pentagon. Pelosi is not a simple member of the U.S. Congress, but a member of the U.S. government as she is in second line to assume the post of U.S. President after Vice President Kamala Harris. Washington experts also warned against this trip and its unforeseeable consequences be it to Taiwan itself, for U.S.-Chinese relations, or for peace in the so-called Indo-Pacific region. Ambassador Chas Freeman, the retired diplomat, and Defense Department official, who is considered the U.S.’ leading expert on China, voiced in an interview with American news service Executive Intelligence Review the day before the trip a strong denunciation of Pelosi’s possible visit to Taiwan as “an act of extreme irresponsibility on the Speaker’s part.” He emphasized that the visit will not help Taiwan, but greatly endanger it. Freeman was the lead interpreter for President Richard Nixon during his visit to China in 1972. “Exactly what the Chinese will do, no one knows. They have many, many options, political, economic and military”, he said. Freeman further stressed that “the sad reality is that the White House and the military in Washington both see this trip as damaging rather than helpful. But the White House has not had the courage to block Mrs. Pelosi’s travel.”
The response from China, both militarily and diplomatically was swift, harsh, but well-calculated not to cause a direct conflict neither with Taiwan nor the U.S. The message was the assertion of the PRC’s sovereignty over the area including Taiwan itself.
Militarily, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) launched unprecedented exercises, including with live ammunition, around Taiwan immediately. Joint military exercises around the island of Taiwan by the continued for several days with a joint blockade, sea assault, and land and air combat trainings, involving the use of advanced weapons, including J-20 stealth fighter jets and DF-17 hypersonic missiles, according to Chinese media. “The multi-subject targeted drills including sea target assaults, strikes on ground targets and airspace control operations and the precision-guided munitions live-fire practice conducted by troops of multiple arms and services under the Eastern Theater Command of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in the waters and airspace around the Taiwan Island are actually solemn deterrence against the collusion between the US and Taiwan,” said Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Senior Col. Tan Kefei in a statement issued on August 4. “We sternly warn the US side and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities that the scheme to use Taiwan to contain China is doomed to fail, and seeking foreign support to gain ”Taiwan independence” is a dead end. The collusion and provocations made by the US and the DPP authorities will only push Taiwan into the abyss of disaster, and bring great suffering to Taiwan compatriots.”
Chinese media reported that “the unprecedented drills featured advanced weapons, including long-range rocket artillery, anti-ship ballistic missiles, stealth fighter jets and an aircraft carrier group with a nuclear-powered submarine, as well as realistic tactics that simulated a real reunification-by-force operation, demonstrating and honing the PLA’s capabilities to not only take over the island, but also prevent any external interference including from the US.”
What these massive maneuvers indicate is that the PRC was well-prepared for such an eventuality, showing the capability to isolate and overtake Taiwan if necessary. But using military force to “reunify” Taiwan with mainland China is not the expressed objective of the Chinese leadership. It remains committed to the peaceful means.
The diplomatic response by Chinese officials was as strong, but assertive and left room for a solution if certain principles are adhered to by the U.S. In a statement issued by Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, he said: “In disregard of China’s solemn representations, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi brazenly went ahead with her visit to China’s Taiwan region. This move seriously violates the one-China principle, maliciously infringes on China’s sovereignty and blatantly engages in political provocations, which has aroused strong indignation among the Chinese people and widespread opposition from the international community.”
He further stated: “The United States should not dream of obstructing China’s reunification. Taiwan is a part of China. The complete reunification of China is the trend of the times and an inevitability of history. We will leave no room for the ‘Taiwan independence’ forces and external interference.”
Making the connection between China’s foreign policy and the aspirations of the Chinese people in economic development, Wang Yi further said: “The United States should not fantasize about undermining China’s development and revitalization. China has found a correct development path in line with its own national conditions. Under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, 1.4 billion Chinese people are striding towards the Chinese-style modernization. We put the development of our country and nation on the basis of our own strength, and are willing to coexist peacefully and develop together with other countries. But we will never allow any country to undermine China’s stability and development.”
Pointing to the exit door out of this debacle, Wang Yi emphasized: “The United States should not fantasize about manipulating geopolitical games. Seeking peace, stability, development and win-win cooperation are the common aspirations of regional countries.. The one-China principle has become a basic norm governing international relations and an integral part of the post-Second World War international order. What the United States should do is to immediately stop violating the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and stop playing the “Taiwan card” to disrupt the Asia-Pacific region.”
Besides the “one-China Principle” Wang Yi pointed to another important aspect of the historical U.S-China communications regarding the issue of Taiwan. “I want to stress that the one-China principle is the key stabilizing force for peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and the three China-U.S. joint communiques are the real “guardrails” for peaceful coexistence between China and the United States,” Wang Yi said [Emphasis added].
What are the One-China Principle and the Three China-U.S. Joint Communiqués?
The One China principle is the position held by the PRC, and recognized by the international community, that there is only one sovereign state under the name China, with the PRC serving as the sole legitimate government of that China, and Taiwan is a part of China. This principle is enshrined in the 1971 United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 that replaced the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) seat in the United Nations with the PRC. The United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758 was passed with the support of a great majority of nations, including most European nations (and Sweden). Resolution 2758 was instituted in response to the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 1668 that required any change in China’s representation in the UN be determined by a two-thirds vote referring to Article 18 of the UN Charter. The resolution, passed on 25 October 1971, recognized the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as “the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations” and “restore all its rights to the People’s Republic of China and to recognize the representatives of its Government as the only legitimate representatives of China to the United Nations, and to expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek from the place which they unlawfully occupy at the United Nations and in all the organizations related to it.” The representatives of Chiang Kai-Shek referred to the representatives of Republic of China (ROC) in Taiwan which had occupied China’s seat the UN since its founding. The United States voted against the resolution.
The Three Joint China-U.S. Communiqués signed by U.S. and Chinese leaders after 1971 were a clear indication of the recognition by the U.S. of the facts stated in Resolution 2758.
The First Communiqué, also known as “Shanghai Communiqué,” was issued on February 28, 1972 during the historic visit by President Richard Nixon to China and meeting with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai. Point 8 of the first Joint Communiqué stated: “There are essential differences between China and the United States in their social systems and foreign policies. However, the two sides agreed that countries, regardless of their social systems, should conduct their relations on the principles of respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states.” Point 12 states: “The U.S. side declared: The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position.”
The Second Communiqué also known as “Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations” is dated January 1, 1979 (but was released on December 15, 1978, in Washington and Beijing simultaneously.) The signing ceremony of the second communiqué was held in Washington DC during Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping’s meeting with President Jimmy Carter. The second communiqué states: “The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China have agreed to recognize each other and to establish diplomatic relations as of January 1, 1979.” It also reiterated the point made in the first communiqué. “The United States of America recognizes the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China.. The United States of America and the People’s Republic of China reaffirm the principles agreed on by the two sides in the Shanghai Communiqué and emphasize once again that The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.”
The communiqué importantly declared that “both believe that normalization of Sino-American relations is not only in the interest of the Chinese and American peoples but also contributes to the cause of peace in Asia and the world.”
The Third Communiqué also known as “Joint Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan” was signed on 17 August 1982 during President Ronald Reagan’s first administration. The text of the communique says:
“1. In the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations on January 1, 1979, issued by the Government of the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China, the United States of America recognized the Government of the People’s Republic of China as the sole legal Government of China, and it acknowledged the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China. Within that context, the two sides agreed that the people of the United States would continue to maintain cultural, commercial, and other unofficial relations with the people of Taiwan. On this basis, relations between the United States and China were normalized.”
Point 3 states: “Respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs constitute the fundamental principles guiding United States-China relations. These principles were confirmed in the Shanghai Communiqué of February 28, 1972 and reaffirmed in the Joint Communique on the Establishment Of Diplomatic Relations which came into effect on January 1, 1979. Both sides emphatically state that these principles continue to govern all aspects of their relations.”
The reason that Chinese officials, scholars, and mass-media have emphatically referred to the one-China principle and the three joint communiqués before and after Pelosi’s visit is that these important principles are the true governing principles of both the status of Taiwan as an inalienable part of the PRC and the sound basis upon which the relationship between China and the U.S. must be built to secure peace not only in the Taiwan strait, but in the whole region and the world too. The advocates of a new international governance system called rules-based system based on their temporary and arbitrary whims and wishes are dangerously abrogating international law and the solemn agreements made among sovereign nations. This is why this visit by Pelosi was considered so dangerous by wise heads in Washington itself.
The gravity of the situation was reflected in the reaction by nations and officials in the global south to Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan. Some statements were relatively harsh, and others were diplomatic, but they all reasserted the importance of the one-China principle.
The Foreign Ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), who were meeting in Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, on August 3rd, issues a joint statement expressing concern over the situation created by Pelosi’s visits: “ASEAN is concerned with the international and regional volatility, especially in the recent development in the area adjacent with the ASEAN region, which could destabilize the region and eventually could lead to miscalculation, serious confrontation, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences among major powers”, the statement warned. It called for maximum restraint, refraining from provocative action, and for upholding the principles enshrined in United Nations Charter. The ASEAN foreign ministers’ conclusion was: “We reiterate ASEAN Member States’ support for their respective One-China Policy.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi declared his country’s position on the One China policy in a speech at the Military Academy of Egypt on August 6th. “In our foreign policy… we have constants in our policy that do not change, and we are always keen to be supportive to regional and international stability. We have a consistent policy towards the situation in Taiwan, and Egypt always with China being one country, because this is in the interest of stability and security in the world,” El-Sisi said.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also reiterated its position on the Taiwan question after Pelosi’s visit. “The UAE affirmed its support for China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the importance of respecting the ‘one China’ principle while calling for adherence to relevant United Nations resolutions,” said a statement issued by the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs on August 4th.
South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told reporters on August 8th, during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, that she objected to “patronizing bullying” coming from the West. Responding to demands by Blinken on African nations to abandon their cooperation with China and Russia, she said: “One thing I definitely dislike is being told ‘either you choose this or else.’ When a minister speaks to me like that … I definitely will not be bullied in that way, nor would I expect any other African country worth its salt to agree to be [so] treated.”
Pandor further stated: “Countries are free to establish relationships with different countries. African countries that wish to relate to China, let them do so, whatever the particular form of relationships would be. We can’t be made party to conflict between China and the United States of America, and I may say, it does cause instability for all of us, because it affects the global economic system.”
Lebanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdallah Bou Habib said during his meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Lebanon Qian Minjian that “Lebanon supports China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and the importance of respecting the one-China principle”.
Sudan’s Foreign Minister Ali Al-Sadiq said in a statement after meeting with Chinese Ambassador to Khartoum Ma Xinmin said that Sudan supports the one-China principle as Taiwan is an inseparable part of China. “Sudan also supports the efforts of the People’s Republic of China to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said.
Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic reaffirmed that Serbia supports the one-China principle and considers Taiwan an integral part of the People’s Republic of China. Brnabic said these positions would not change.
Arab League (AL) Assistant Secretary-General Hossam Zaki reiterated the regional body’s adherence to the one-China principle. The AL also supports China in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity, Zaki said in a statement.
In statements sent to Chinese media, former officials, diplomats, and party leaders from African nations expressed their support for the one-China policy and denounced Pelosi’s provocative visit to Taiwan. “The visit ignores the fact that Taiwan is an integral part of the People’s Republic of China. I see that such a visit is provocative, implying evasion of the one-China principle and implying support for the separatist tendency of some Taiwanese,” Egypt’s former ambassador to China Ali El-Hefny said. “The main purpose of such practices is to affect China’s rise that we have been witnessing over the past four decades and the progress made by China in certain fields, particularly high tech, artificial intelligence, space technology and other fields,” he said.
Cedric Thomas Frolick, National Assembly House Chairperson for South Africa stressed that South Africa will continue, as it has stated in the past, to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China. “In that respect, the government of China is in Beijing, and it is led by the Communist Party of China,” he added. “The United States has a responsibility as one of the superpowers in the world to ensure that world peace is being maintained. And it is the responsibility of politicians to exercise the necessary restraint so that we do not have further flares ups of tension that can result in conflict,” Frolick said.
Raphael Tuju, executive director of One Kenya Coalition Party, said Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is a despicable act of provocation against the friendly Chinese people, and the move is irresponsible, outrageous and reprehensible.
“Pelosi’s move is a provocation by the U.S. side against China, and all progressive countries in the world should condemn it”, said Tandai Chirau, a member of Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), noting ZANU-PF supports the one-China principle and the Chinese side’s actions to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The economic implications
The crisis created by the Pelosi visit to Taiwan is threatening to deepen an already severe global economic and financial crisis. The near total breakdown of global supply chains during the early stages of the outbreak of COVID-19 was an early warning signal that the interdependence and global division of labor are quite vulnerable. However, this warning signal was not heeded. As the world was recovering from the effects of the pandemic, the Ukraine crisis jolted the global economy once again. An already hyperinflated global financial system put many nations on the brink of bankruptcy and starvation. Dependance on grains and fertilizers from Russia and Ukraine created a global food crisis. Sanctions imposed on Russia have backfired and resulted in a severe energy shock globally.
A crisis in the Taiwan Strait and a new breakdown of supply chains on a global scale is practically not affordable by the world economy, neither by industrial nations nor developing ones. High-quality products originating from mainly China including Taiwan, but also from South Korea and Japan are indispensable for the world economy and the West particularly. Any blockage on the Taiwan Strait or South China Sea, through which the greater part of trade between East Asia and Europe and Africa flows, will be a doomsday situation for the world economy.
The interdependence among nations of the world, but emphatically on China and its neighbors has become the cornerstone of the global economy. One example suffices to illustrate this fact in an incredibly ironical way. In the first months of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, when U.S. Administration officials were throwing accusations and even insults on China, the U.S. Congress held a hearing on February 26, 2020 in which a question was raised on how dependent the U.S. is on China economically. The most shocking revelations were made by none other than the ultimate leader of U.S. armed forces, Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with regards to the U.S. dependence on China for medical supplies.
“We have got a military medical system, and we have the same access to all the drugs that are available in the commercial system, et cetera,” he said. To the shock of everyone, he added: “You rightly pointed out that it is a vulnerability to have a country such as China manufacturing high percentages — I don’t know if it is 97%, 98% or 80%, whatever it is, but I do know it is high percentages of the ingredients to [the] American pharmaceutical industry across the country, both military and civilian.”
If the U.S. armed forces are so dependent on China for their medical supplies, it is not difficult to imagine how the conditions are for the rest of the U.S. economy.
Clearly, the U.S. is the largest economic partner of China and its greatest market. Therefore, it is almost impossible to imagine these two powers getting at each other’s throat. The fact that both the White House and State Department tried to calm down the Chinese side with assertions of respect for the one-China policy is an indication of the realization of how big a blunder Pelosi committed. It is therefore important to let the wise people and cooler heads to take the lead in amending these relations. The same goes for Europe. While it was possible during the Cold War to have a divided world with each part with its own economic systems and supply chains, today’s world is different, and any attempt to divide it will result in a cataclysmic disaster.e sam
Strategic implications for global governance
The samples cited above about the views expressed by leaders from Africa and other countries are an obvious indication of the sympathy China has received in most countries in the global south. This is a stark contrast to the views expressed concerning Western interventionist policies and acts in the past thirty years.
What the Pelosi visit represents is a new flagrant breach of the global governance system as defined by the UN Charter and international law. The so-called “rules-based system” is an attempt to constantly move the proverbial goal posts according to the interests of major Western powers. This is not only an outrage, as expressed by the officials cited above, but a great danger.
The dangerous implications of replacing international law with the rules-based order was candidly but with strong wording explained by Xu Xiaobing, director of the Centre of International Law Practice at Shanghai Jiao Tong University Law School, in an op-ed published by the South China Morning Post.
Referencing the August 3, G7 foreign ministers statement affirming their “shared commitment to maintaining the rules-based international order, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and beyond” but indicating that “there is no change in the respective one China policies, where applicable, and basic positions on Taiwan of the G7 members” [Emphasis added].
To me, writes Xu, “this is a terrific statement in that it gives us a clue as to how the rules-based international order applies in a real case, such as the crisis caused by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan”, stressing that this “shows the rest of the world and especially China what to expect under this order”.
Xu further explained that on the surface, “rules-based international order” is a new, neutral term meant to confer moral superiority on whoever is using it. The term has both legal and political significance and clearly originated from the United States, which is casting a wary eye on China’s rise. He asserts that “there are no similar terms described or defined in any classical text on international law. Indeed, the principles and rules of international law are rarely mentioned when the rules-based international order is invoked, as the US and its allies recently did with regard to Taiwan.”
It is also a serious violation of the United Nations Charter, which provides in Article 2 that all UN members shall refrain in their international relations from violating the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the UN.
The conclusion he draws is that “the G7 statement leads to the inevitable conclusion that the rules-based international order favored by the US and its allies is in essence an international order based only on the rules wherever they deem them to be applicable, even though this is against the principles and rules of international law.”
It is a well-known fact that the Western powers, including NATO and the EU have used this type of terminology, like “responsibility to protect”, to simply wage wars and invasions against weaker nations in violation of international law. The disastrous cases of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen are an open book of suffering and destruction for everyone to read. But treating China and Russia in a similar manner will not be a repetition of the same. Many experts are raising the warning flag that there is no way the West can impose these new arbitrary rules on China and Russia without causing a major military confrontation where the use of conventional weapons is made obsolete. Only nuclear war will be decisive. But in this case, the existence of humanity as a whole will be at stake.