Fragile peace in the Indo-Pacific

Hussein Haridy
Tuesday 16 Aug 2022

In the wake of the visit by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, Washington must prove to Beijing that it will uphold the One China Policy, writes Hussein Haridy


The storm over the “official” visit of Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan earlier this month has subsided.

However, the consequences of the visit on the course of Chinese-US relations and regional security and stability in the Indo-Pacific region are difficult to predict. We need time to grasp their impact on the strategic environment in the region and on whether the countries concerned, including the US and China, will now pause and rethink the way forward.

I believe that the outcome of the 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party later this year will help efforts to understand how the overall regional security situation will develop in the short and medium terms. This will particularly be the case if the party chooses to endorse Chinese President Xi Jinping for a third term in office, as it is expected to do.

Both the Americans and the Chinese will be going over the latest developments in the Strait of Taiwan in order to draw the proper conclusions as to the best way for them to avoid a military conflict over Taiwan. The onus is on the Biden administration to rethink its “muscular” approach to China and its nationalist policies. It is up to Washington to prove to Beijing that it will uphold the One China Policy and that preserving the status quo in the Strait of Taiwan is a strategic priority.

This should imply that the US government will desist from sending any messages that could be interpreted by the pro-independence movement in Taiwan to mean that the US would support, at some time in the future, the independence of Taiwan through incremental steps, whether political, diplomatic, or military.

Senator Robert Menendez, the Democratic Party chair of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in early August that he and Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican – South Carolina) were drafting a bill that would be tantamount to an indirect repudiation of the One China Policy by the US government even though this has contributed significantly to preserving security and stability in the Strait of Taiwan and the Western Pacific for the last four decades.

The bill, if passed by the Senate and the House, would undermine regional security throughout the Indo-Pacific region and would represent a challenge to the Chinese government, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

How China would react in such a case is a major question and should be of grave concern not only for the US but also for its allies and partners in the region. The rational course of action would be to desist from making moves that would demand, or, to put it differently, push Beijing to adopt countermeasures.

On the margins of the 55th meeting of the foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) that took place in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong, and Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa held a Trilateral Strategic Dialogue on 5 August.

The dialogue coincided with the Chinese military drills in the Strait of Taiwan organised in response to Pelosi’s visit, and these were condemned in the Final Statement released after the conclusion of the meeting. The firing of Chinese ballistic missiles during the drills, five of which according to the Japanese government landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, was also condemned.

 However, it was reassuring to read about the desire of the US, Australia, and Japan to engage in further diplomacy to minimise the risks of miscalculation. In the meantime, the three countries reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. 

This welcome reaffirmation should be accompanied in future by steps to reassure Beijing that the three countries with their other allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific will live up to this commitment to regional peace and security.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 18 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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