As a part of the 2021 omnibus spending bill advanced by the United States Congress in December, legislation passed reaffirming American support for independence movements in Tibet and Taiwan. According to the South China Morning Post, the Tibet Policy and Support Act was passed as an amendment to the spending bill, halting construction of Chinese consulates in the United States until an American outpost is opened in Tibet and placing sanctions on any actor that interferes with the succession process for the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile, the 2020 Taiwan Assurance Act calls for normalizing U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, increased military spending for the region, and advocates for Taiwan’s participation in international bodies which do not require statehood. This legislation enhances the U.S.-Taiwan ties under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
These legislative moves yielded a cold response from China. As Reuters reports, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian expressed China’s opposition to the bill and emphasized that “the determination of the Chinese government to safeguard its national sovereignty, security and development interests is unwavering.” China has also rebuffed moves by Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to open dialogue with Beijing. According to Al-Jazeera, Tsai’s New Year’s Day speech invited dialogue amidst increased tensions between Taiwan and China, saying, “my principles for dealing with cross-strait affairs have always been join discussions, finding solutions and pragmatically solving problems.” In response, however, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office called the move a “cheap trick” and claimed that Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party “has continued to provoke by seeking independence, confronting the mainland at every turn, deliberately creating confrontation across the Taiwan Strait,” as Reuters reported.
The rejection of President Tsai’s outreach comes as uncertainty dominates the high-profile relationship between the United States and China, a key determining factor in the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait. The duration of the Trump administration has been marked by escalation and confrontation with China. Along with President Trump’s notorious trade war known for retaliatory tariff hikes, the last four years have included the growth of the internment of the Uyghurs in China’s Xinjiang province and continued political crackdowns in Hong Kong. The chances for resolution of this conflict in the near future appear slim. The incoming Biden administration is focused on rebuilding alliances tested to their breaking point by the Trump administration. The signature unilateral and overtly confrontational approach pushed by President Trump towards China received significant criticism, although according to Don Casler and Richard Clark of the Washington Post, Biden is unlikely to reverse tariffs put in place by Trump. However, President-elect Biden has emphasized that human rights will be an important component of his diplomatic initiatives. The New York Times has reported that Biden aims to pressure India on its human rights record, especially on the status of Kashmir and India’s Muslim population. Similarly, Biden has made firm statements about taking a strong stance on human rights with Egypt, a key military partner and ally for the U.S. in the Middle East.
Meanwhile, China continues to double down on dubious claims of the status of Taiwan and its control over Tibet. Having established his strong-man status and increased the length of his rule, Xi Jinping maintains a strong economic and diplomatic position having used the tumultuous period of the last four years to advance the Belt and Road Initiative and persuade European nations to become more favorable towards their interests. Notably, China inked a new investment deal with European powers including Germany and France on January 3rd. China’s star continues to rise at the right time and with it comes little incentive to roll back its strong stances on issues like Taiwan and Tibet. On the other hand, President-elect Biden hopes to return a calming American diplomatic role to East Asia and all parts of the world, rather than an escalatory one.
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