The Covid-19 crisis has seemingly changed strategic dynamics to China's advantage in the South China Sea : Facebook

With US President Donald Trump preparing for his second summit with Kim Jong Un and tensions between Beijing and Washington continuing to intensify, a group of five key American senators wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to invite Taiwan’s unpopular president to address a joint session of Congress. Many onlookers have struggled to define exactly what that invitation will mean for the Taiwan Strait if it is extended. Is there a danger that the gesture will exacerbate tensions between the United States and China?

China is one of America’s’ rivals and has constantly pressed Taiwan into submission, and tried to stifle it and maintain the fiction of the one-China policy. Beijing has continued to escalate rhetoric and actions that threaten Taiwan’s democracy and sovereignty. The only way to preserve Taiwanese democracy, at this moment, is the status quo and measured, practical policy. It’s a good thing the vast majority of Taiwanese voters understand this.

Taiwan needs Washington’s strong support, but the Americans should be careful not to adopt a belligerent posture. Relations between Beijing and Washington have been tense in recent months, and because the US does not officially recognize Taiwan’s government and there are so many global flashpoints that could quickly divert the Trump administration’s attention, there is a concern is that the US might take an outspoken stance on Taiwan and then suddenly soften its tone, which could leave the island in an even more vulnerable position.

Washington exercises tremendous influence on the Taiwan issue. How the US Congress exercises that influence could well affect the future prosperity and safety of 23 million people

Taiwan is just a part of the broader context of Sino-American relations. If Beijing is taking some hard knocks as a way of expressing displeasure with Washington’s actions, it pays a price in inviting President Tsai Ing-wen. Experts on Taiwan said the senators’ proposal is flawed and Taiwan would suffer, as a gesture that intended to help it would only hurt it. This is because Beijing would take the opportunity to squeeze Taipei even more than it is already.

Washington exercises tremendous influence on the Taiwan issue. How the US Congress exercises that influence could well affect the future prosperity and safety of 23 million people. Taiwan must maintain a balanced relationship with the United States on the one hand and with China on the other. Will inviting Taiwan’s president to Washington mean wading into a conflict in the Taiwan Strait that could escalate into outright war? The invitation is contrary to a fundamental principle of US relations with China and for Washington, it could be a fatal strategic blunder.

The use of military force would be catastrophic for those on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, and for the region. But how far does the United States intend to push this? And why would Washington conclude that this ill-considered symbolic gesture is worth the risk? The invitation would make substantive cross-Strait progress more difficult, not less. That these questions must now be considered highlights the disorderly nature of US-Taiwan-China trilateral relations.

Concern over China’s reaction is the main reason Congress would choose not to invite President Tsai. The Americans should ask themselves whether hosting a speech by an unpopular Taiwanese president is worth taking such a risk. If the president of Taiwan were to speak to a joint meeting of Congress, it would provoke an enormous backlash from Beijing. An act such as allowing her to address Congress might be just the excuse Beijing would use to take military action. Would the United States really commit forces to that fight, treaty or not? I hope we never get to find out.

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Kent Wang

Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies (ITAS), a conservative Washington-based think-tank focusing on aspects of US-Taiwan relations, and is broadly interested in the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation, as well as in East Asian security architecture.

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