The End of the “One China” Trap: World history and geostrategery classrooms

Historical knowledge, particularly world history level analysis, is so vital for policymaking. A few big-picture ideas and predictions.

The world is dynamic, yet humans shape the world as if it is static. When America and communist China normalized their relations in the 1970s unresolvable issues were purposely fudged. The status of Taiwan is one of those – this is why there is the confusing ‘One China Principle’ versus the ‘One China Policy’. Long story short: in the 1970s and 1980s, Taiwan was a China KMT colonial dictatorship, the Chinese communists did not have the means to invade and annex Taiwan, the two dictatorships did not have a disagreement about One China – merely over which side is the real China and which side are the bandits. It was far easier for Beijing and DC back then to sidestep the issue over the status of Taiwan.

This is not the reality of 2022 – for several decades starting with President Clinton successive administrations have talked about adjusting policies to changing reality. A stronger but authoritarian, ethnonationalist, imperialist communist China, a democratic and technologically advanced Taiwan Republic where the sovereignty is arrived at via peaceful fair and free national elections. And yet by our bad luck, we have had decades of mediocre presidents, each distracted by his own scandals and mistakes. My observation is that with the end of Globalization 1.0 – leaders can either get ahead of changing circumstances and shape and guide – or, as in the case of US Indo-Pacific policy, we can passively wait until we are forced to deal with it. That is where we are now, the room and time for kicking the can down the road have run out.

Military. For at least a decade the Chinese communists have had the ability to plausibly annex Taiwan by force. At the very least to cause a ton of damage and disruption to the region. America had been distracted by its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the GWoT. Not until the Obama second term did we pivot to the Indo-Pacific, and even now it has been half-hearted. Not only have we not focused on the military preparation for the China Threat, but we have also been slow in changing the diplomatic-political conceptualizations necessary to deter and defeat China’s ambitions. Meaning, the 1970s fudging about the status of Taiwan was basically a ‘agree to disagree’ – Red China had no power to act, and both DC and Beijing wanted to focus on the USSR. However, by 2022 it is long past the time for a US-led global adjustment on Taiwan – is it a nation? would a Chinese communist invasion to annex Taiwan violate international norms? Strategic ambiguity can no longer function while serving the vital national interests of the US and its democratic allies in the Indo-Pacific.

That strategic ambiguity era is gone; the status quo is dynamic. The previous pattern that used to work – kind of like with the North Koreans, is changing rapidly. Every time Beijing wants something it throws a military tantrum – and then their partners in the west would push for “de-escalation/talks” – and then DC would concede something. This is how we ended up with so many communique. That era is over not because “hawks” are in charge – the material and geostrategic realities have changed.

So while there are long overdue military-strategic changes that this latest Chinese communist missile crisis will provoke – Japan will change its constitution and double its military; Japan-Taiwan-US will no longer hide their military-intelligence collaborations. The counterstrike capabilities of both Japan and Taiwan will massively increase – Japan will become a nuclear power before the end of this decade. Assuming American democracy can keep it together long enough to deal with real-world problems, the largest overdue project is an American-led global democracy consensus on the status of Taiwan. My guess is that it will be the internationalization of the Taiwan Relations Act adopted by Japan and NATO and Quad. Think of it this way – during the annual RIMPAC maneuver in the south Pacific the “group photos” of the alliance carriers and destroyers and submarines – there will be a diplomatic-economic parallel to this. What we know about the Chinese communists is that they can target and sanction smaller nations like Lithuania – but when democracies take collective action, they are too vulnerable alone to act. 7.8.2022

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