Breath Easy, All This Diplomacy Isn’t That Bad
China has publicly claimed the South China Sea, the body of water that begins at Taiwan and extends down to Singapore. China has been piling sand around coral reef in these waters, creating over 2,000 acres of new land for radio towers, airstrips, and military strategy points. With the Transpacific Trade Partnership in the homestretch of its negotiations, these waters are more important to the global supply chain and international trade than ever. Not to mention all of the trade that North and South America does with the Middle East, primarily oil and energy shipping, comes around India, under Malaysia, and through the SCS. China believes that their control over these waters will keep them more and more relevant in the global economy as they are being left out of the massive trade pacts being created. These waters also progress China’s militaristic and expansionist goals. China has been slowly overtaking Taiwan’s trade revenue, with 60% of the Taiwanese economy now wrapped up with China in some way. When asked about how Hilary Clinton would handle the future of Taiwanese relations, she emphasized that economic ties are often incredibly relevant to political ties. Her implication was that the further Taiwan integrates their economy with the Giant Dragon, the more vulnerable their democracy becomes. Add with this the aggressive encroachment on international waters in the SCS and China becomes an immediate threat to Taiwan. If there is one thing that America has consistently defended, it is freedom of navigation. The free flow of trade through the SCS is one of the most important components of a functioning American economy.
In addition, 1972 brought about the Shanghai Communiqué, where Nixon forged a normalization effort with China and the rest of the world. It was a diplomatic gamble some have been comparing to Obama’s recent deal with Iran to curb their nuclear program. To recognize the People’s Republic of China (or what we know as China today) meant having to amend our “One China Policy,” a strategically ambiguous stance on who the sole government of China was. We had to discard public recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan today).
To ameliorate the damage to the U.S.-Taiwan relationship after the Shanghai Communiqué, the U.S. created the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA). The TRA set out a list of commitments to Taiwan, mainly saying that we will continue to supply and sell them weapons as well as support them in war if there was ever a cross-strait attack where the aggressor is China. It is unnerving to see such aggression from China in the SCS, as this not only threatens our economy but also our relationship with a very valuable ally. Taiwan is a small island of just 23 million people, yet they are our 10th largest trading partner. Taiwan is a vibrant, multi-party democracy with young people active in the governmental processes and local movements. Their intellectual property regime is nearly impeccable, they donate money and labor to the largest and most influential international organizations during crises, and their medical facilities are considered some of the best in all of Asia. Taiwan is truly a remarkable United States ally, and an attack on Taiwan by China would mean direct intervention of U.S. troops, which could spur off something much bigger. The last thing the U.S. wants is a Pacific Rim war, this time against unruly dictators like Kim Jong-un with nuclear weaponry on their docket.
In an Asian Conference over the weekend, Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi met on a side accord to discuss what the United States has been calling “problematic actions.” The meetings were surprisingly very productive, and it is said that the United States and China have come to a diplomatic accord that will reduce the aggressive behavior in the region. While no official deal has been signed, there is an incredible amount of momentum going into the next few days of negotiations.
The diplomatic grind that the Obama administration has been on for the final stretch of his presidential tenure has been a breath of fresh air from the typical American approach of the 21st century to international affairs. While we still pass along our military excesses to our police forces and the culture of internal weapon restrictions is incredibly lacking, our foreign policy has taken a turn for the non-violent and non-threatening. Relationships are being reformed with countries that fifty years ago one would never imagine another diplomatic visit. War sometimes works, and it sometimes doesn’t. Diplomacy sometimes works, and it sometimes doesn’t. It’s all a roll of the dice, and no political theorist or expert analyst will be able to predict the unpredictable.
However, by associating Global Nomads Group’s mission with the recent foreign actions the Obama administration has taken, we can agree that forming bonds with countries with empathy for their goals, their people, and their ambitions is a much more positive option than meeting them with hostility. Obama said in a recent interview that I watched something to the effect that Iran has legitimate reason to be angry at us, seeing as though we once supported a certain Saddam Hussein in the Iraq-Iran conflict. We also loosened the social structure of the Middle Eastern region, which resulted in the ISIS surge. More importantly, Obama recognizes the potential of Iran, as their populations is one of the most educated in the world. He sees the sanctions that the P5+1 creating waves of starvation and despair in the country, and he wants to leverage their health and safety for the world’s. There will always be compelling reasons for people to ensue in battle because of an official’s actions, but with Cuba, Iran, and now China, our diplomatic alliances seem to fade and our compassion for people prevail. Whether it prevents a nuclear arms race in the Middle East or avoids a war with the largest economy in the world is still up to chance, but in terms of bolstering our reputation in the international community, this is a step in the right direction.