- - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Xi Jinping, the president of the People’s Republic of China and the chairman of the ruling Communist Party, now says the delicate relationship between China and the Republic of China on Taiwan cannot continue, but refuses to meet President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan to talk about it. Therein lies a looming crisis for Washington.

Mr. Ma has gone far to extend economic and cultural ties to the mainland, too far for many on the island. The delicate balance has been jarred by a widely circulated video of a Chinese military exercise, including an unmistakable depiction of an attack on Taiwan’s presidential palace.

President Obama has the responsibility for implementing the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which prevented President Jimmy Carter abandoning Taiwan, and requires a continued working arrangement between the United States and Taiwan for defending the island. House legislation in the last Congress extending arms sales to Taiwan was blocked in the Senate by Harry Reid, then the leader of a Democratic majority in the Senate.

Almost 15 years have passed since the United States added anything to the island republic’s defense, whether selling Taiwan aircraft or particularly needed submarines. China, on the other hand, has been spending lavishly to expand its military. The Taiwan legislature has been reluctant to spend money and the United States has been reluctant to authorize the sale of more arms, in keeping with the Obama strategy of slighting friends and courting enemies. No one in Washington wanted to disturb what the analysts imagine is a sleeping dog.

President Xi Jinping already has a lot to deal with, not only with opponents in his party, but with resistance in remote areas of the vast country. Armed resistance to Beijing rule is bubbling among Turkic minorities in westernmost Singkiang, and frequent self-immolation by dissidents continues after Beijing cut off negotiations with the Dalai Lama for Tibetan autonomy.

With a half million Taiwanese operating factories on the Mainland, Beijing has used economic incentives to press for a political settlement. But President Ma’s efforts — given the island’s lackluster economy in a worldwide slowdown — have set off a backlash.

Mr. Ma’s Nationalist Party is sagging in the polls and appears headed for a defeat in the presidential election in January. The Democratic Progressive Party, which once called for formal recognition of Taiwan independence, is expected to win handily. The party’s following has grown with the Sunflower student movement, whose leaders take cues from what’s happening in Hong Kong, where the “one country, two systems” solution promised with the British departure is routinely subverted by pressure from Beijing.

Beijing’s aggressiveness in the South China Sea — building bases a thousand miles beyond its southern shores on coral reefs reclaimed from the ocean — has changed strategic considerations. Maintaining the de facto independence of Taiwan — the preference of most Taiwanese — has now become not only a moral and legal issue for Washington, but a strategic necessity. Communist control of the Taiwan ports would breach “the first island chain” and strengthen Beijing’s threat to freedom of navigation, coming as President Obama shrinks the U.S. Navy. Japan, increasingly sensitive to threats by both China and North Korea, consider a neutral Taiwan essential to defense of Japan. Trouble simmers.

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