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Editorial: There are no winners if Taiwan Strait tensions worsen

Storm clouds are gathering over the Taiwan Strait.


Tensions between China and Taiwan started to worsen last year after Tsai Ing-wen of the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was inaugurated as president in the island. The DPP’s stance toward the issue of Taiwan’s independence is sharply at odds with Beijing’s official position that Taiwan is a breakaway province and part of Chinese territory.


The situation has been compounded by the election of Donald Trump as the next U.S. president. In early December, Trump spoke by phone with Tsai, breaking decades of protocol. He has gone so far as to question Beijing’s “One China” policy, which effectively requires countries with a formal diplomatic relationship with China to break official ties with Taiwan.


Around the same time, the Chinese military seized a U.S. underwater drone, further heightening tensions between the two countries. Earlier this month, a Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, sailed around Taiwan.


The relationship between China and Taiwan is fraught with danger and could trigger a crisis if mishandled.


Taking any action that increases tensions between the two sides serves nobody’s interest.

All the parties involved should remain firmly committed to avoiding provocative actions that can make waves in the relationship.


The United States and China are also in potential conflict over the basic principles of freedom and democracy, in addition to security issues.


The United States has been supplying weapons to Taiwan, while developing strong and complementary relations with China in trade, investment and other areas.


Despite these potential flashpoints, the United States and China, after many twists and turns, have found a diplomatic formula that commits both countries to cautious behavior designed to maintain stability in their ties. Trump doesn’t seem to have a clear understanding of the implications of this history.


Many past U.S. administrations initially adopted a hard-line stance toward China but later switched to developing better bilateral ties.


This time as well, Taiwan could end up being buffeted by repercussions from the diplomatic game the two powers play.


China’s responses to actions taken by Washington tend to be directed more at Taiwan than at the United States.


Late last year, Sao Tome and Principe, an island nation off the west coast of Africa, severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and established a formal relationship with China. It is believed that the small African country’s move was orchestrated by Beijing as part of its responses to the Trump-Tsai conversation.


China’s Liaoning is no match for U.S. flattops with regard to operational capabilities. Many experts even doubt whether the vessel can safely handle takeoffs and landings of fighter jets.


Still, the deployment of the Liaoning to the Taiwan Strait was a sobering event for Taiwanese.


The way the Chinese administration of President Xi Jinping has tried to intimidate Taiwan while at the same time labeling the people there as “fellow citizens” is simply baffling.


In Taiwan, a sense of identity as Taiwanese separate from mainland China has been growing while its economic ties with China have been expanding. Facing this sticky dilemma, Taipei has no choice but to seek to maintain the status quo of cross-Strait ties, at least for the time being.


The Tsai administration’s actions have been based on this reality.


Since taking office in May 2016, Tsai has maintained a cautious attitude.


There can be no quick solution to the diplomatic conundrum posed by the relationship between China and Taiwan.


All that the countries involved can do is to continue efforts to protect stability while hoping that talks between the two sides will make progress toward a peaceful future of their relations.

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