Experts assess current US policy towards China, impacts of Hong Kong and Taiwan

HOUSTON, April 20, 2022 – In partnership with the George HW Bush Foundation for U.S.-China Relations, Asia Society Texas hosted a webcast on international relations and how Hong Kong and Taiwan would address the future US policy toward China. Moderator David Firesteinfirst president and CEO of the Bush China Foundation, spoke with Elisabeth Freund Laruschairman of E Larus Consulting LLC and professor emeritus of political science at the University of Mary Washington; Hans Stockton, dean of the division of social and behavioral sciences and global studies at the University of St. Thomas; and Rick Waters, Deputy Under Secretary of State for China, Taiwan and Mongolia in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs. The discussion focused on current US policy toward Hong Kong and Taiwan, the impact of developments in Hong Kong and Ukraine on sentiment in Taiwan toward mainland China, and the future of US-China relations.

Overview of current US policy toward Hong Kong and Taiwan

Deputy Assistant Secretary Waters began by providing an overview of overall U.S. policy toward Taiwan and Hong Kong, noting that the U.S.-Taiwanese relationship is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act, the Three Joint Communiques, and the six insurances. The United States’ goal is to maintain a stable environment that “would allow dialogue to take place without coercion.” Regarding Hong Kong, DAS Waters noted that US policy is guided by the Hong Kong Policy Act, which had been the basis of policy since Britain’s handover in 1999 and outlined differential treatment of Hong Kong and mainland China. . However, he said the passage of the 2020 National Security Law in Hong Kong showed that Hong Kong no longer had enough smugness from Beijing to deserve differential treatment. He cited diminishing freedoms, increasing risks to the rule of law, shrinking civil society and growing restrictions on rights and freedoms in Hong Kong due to the law.

Larus added that these concerns have impacted how American businesses view Hong Kong and, in combination with the city’s strict COVID quarantine policies at the start of the pandemic, drove nearly 25% of Americans from the town to consider leaving town. She expects the combined problems to lead to more foreign companies – including Americans – leaving Hong Kong, especially with the bipartisan political focus in the United States on the national security risk of supply chains. who depend on hostile nations.

Taiwan’s response to developments in Hong Kong and Ukraine

Stockton added that the passage of the national security law in Hong Kong also marked the end of the “one country, two systems” era, and also reinforced for the citizens of Taiwan that such a policy is not is not an option. He pointed to Taiwan’s last presidential election in 2020, where the Democratic Progressive Party lagged in the polls before developments in Hong Kong boosted incumbent President Tsai Ing-Wen’s campaign and her message to remain independent from Beijing. . Still, Stockton warned that while Taiwanese people are skittish about reunification, the largest group of respondents favor the status quo, meaning a pragmatic relationship that includes economic engagement with the mainland. Trade between Taiwan and mainland China increased by 25% in 2021.

Even though Taiwanese citizens increasingly identify as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, according to Larus, reflecting a robust development of Taiwanese nationalism and identity in recent years, she noted that authorities in Beijing view the issue of reunification of Taiwan as untouchable. “It was not what the Taiwanese wanted; this is what has to happen,” she said of Beijing’s view.

However, panelists did not think the chances of a conflagration across the strait were particularly high – and in fact may have diminished following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Stockton noted that the Chinese, learning from Russia, might recalibrate any assumptions that mass firepower would lead to quick victory and instead take longer to consume intelligence. Larus added that Chinese President Xi Jinping is unlikely to do anything before the Party Congress in October when he begins his unprecedented third term, but after that she said it would make sense to gauge the sentiment of cross-strait relations through the results of upcoming elections in Taiwan.

Look to the future of the US-China relationship

Assessing the future of US-China relations, Larus acknowledged that the relationship is likely to cool amid growing anti-China sentiment in Congress. Stockton said the barometer will be the final form of the America Competes Act and what the language of the legislation will signal. He also indicated that there is an ongoing debate over whether US policy toward Taiwan will remain one of “strategic ambiguity” or move toward “strategic clarity.” Finally, Stockton noted that the nature of Sino-Russian relations will also influence US policy toward China.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Waters remained more optimistic about the desirability of collaboration with China – whether on North Korea, climate change or Afghanistan – and said: “When our interests line up, we just find that we will do things together.” For example, he said, the U.S. government still issues visas to Chinese students because exchanges remain essential for U.S.-China bilateral relations, as well as U.S. own interests. Nonetheless, he stressed the importance of building at home and strengthening relationships with key allies and partners.


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