节大磊:台湾海峡是否正走向另一场危机?

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节大磊 (进入专栏)  
Chen emphasized that Taiwan, as an Indo-Pacific democracy, is willing to work with others to defend the so-called “rules-based international order.” In other words, Taipei saw an opportunity to align itself with the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy and to turn Taiwan’s security into a broader Indo-Pacific security issue. If this rhetoric is translated into actions, Beijing can be expected to react strongly.

  

   A MANAGEABLE BUT DANGEROUS SITUATION

  

   Despite these worrisome developments, the situation in the Taiwan Strait is unlikely to spin completely out of control for the time being for three reasons. Due to its growing power and influence, mainland China has gained much more confidence in its ability to keep things under control across the strait and believes that time is more or less in its side. This means that Beijing now has greater strategic calmness (zhanlue dingli) and is not likely to overreact. In July 2018, for instance, Xi met with former KMT chair Lien Chan and stressed that Beijing will continue to adhere to its existing Taiwan policies “steadfastly.”

  

   Moreover, peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait seem to remain important interests for the United States. Any attempts by Washington to change its One China policy would risk disrupting these interests. On this point, a useful reference point is the opening of a newly constructed office complex in Taipei in June 2018 for the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), where unofficial U.S. representatives facilitate the informal relationship between Taiwan and the United States. Two facts related to the AIT building’s opening probably suggest that Washington still takes Beijing’s sensitivity about Taiwan into consideration to some degree. The United States only sent an assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs, a relatively low-level official with a nonsensitive policy portfolio, to the dedication ceremony. In addition, rumors that the U.S. Marines would be stationed to safeguard the building have not yet materialized.

  

   Furthermore, the Tsai government has its own reasons to be cautious about switching to a more radical approach or accepting all of Washington’s offers of support without any reservations. After the phone call with Trump, for instance, Tsai had to downplay its significance by stating that it does not represent a policy change. As the smallest player in the strategic triangle between Beijing, Taipei, and Washington, Taiwan understands well that it would likely suffer the most from any potential confrontation or conflict across the strait. Trump’s unpredictable style and his talk about playing the Taiwan card only reinforces Taipei’s fears about being unduly reliant on Washington or being used as a bargaining chip. Furthermore, it seems that the DPP and Tsai have taken to heart the lessons from the Chen administration about the great damage an overly radical approach could do to Taiwan’s own interests.

  

   Although these considerations somewhat moderate the risks of confrontation, if the negative interactions between Beijing, Taipei, and Washington continue and if relations keep deteriorating, it is certainly not inconceivable that another crisis across the strait could transpire. Such tensions could be triggered by any of the three parties, whether by strong pessimism on the part of China, a provocative redefinition by Taiwan of the nature of cross-strait relations, or the potential that Washington might sail a warship to a Taiwanese harbor.

  

   However such a hypothetical crisis were to unfold, it could be more dangerous than previous ones. The 1995-–1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis certainly unsettled the region, but mainland China’s policy toolkit was still quite small at the time, especially in military terms. The years of the Chen administration were turbulent indeed, but ironically Beijing’s and Washington’s aims seemed more aligned than ever before as they both grew frustrated with Chen’s policies and actions.

  

   If another crisis were to take place in the next year or two, it would unfold amid an almost total lack of trust between Beijing and Taipei and during an emerging strategic competition between Washington and Beijing. Furthermore, when push comes to shove, a much more capable Chinese military could conceivably be deployed if tensions ran high enough. Such a crisis would be a losing proposition for all sides.

  

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