Who Benefits In US-China Conflict Over Taiwan?


This is an excerpt from an interview of global affairs expert Benjamin Lim, who headed the Reuters Beijing and Taipei bureau before joining The Strait Times.

Intended or unintended consequences of Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit?

For the US, it’s an opportunity to sell more weapons to Taiwan at the same time they can make China look bad, i.e., demonize China and then contain China. For Beijing, the visit has galvanized the Chinese nation, and at the same time, the tensions divert attention away from China’s woes including the economic slowdown and the tough Covid measures. China is also able to regularize the drills — this is now the new normal. As for Taiwan they just broke out of diplomatic isolation. It’s a minor victory but then it’s going to be a pyrrhic victory, thinking they have reinforced the US commitment to defend Taiwan and also winning the sympathy of western democracies and Japan.

For the major stakeholders, the tensions if they’re manageable are not necessarily bad news for the stakeholders, but it’s bad news for the Philippines and the rest of Asean.

If war is not the main agenda, then what is?

All these tensions are good for the arms manufacturers. It’s not good for the countries in this region, even for Japan and South Korea. But for the Hawks in the US, China, Taiwan, in the region, conflict is good news because it justifies their existence, they get a bigger budget to buy more weapons.

There won’t be full-scale war, but if there is a mishap or miscalculation, there will be conflict, and then China will be able to force Taiwan to sit down for peace negotiations — but then it’ll be on the brink of war. For China they want to win the war without firing a single bullet, that’s according to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

For the US, it is the fact that China is now the number two economy in the world, and the US won’t just sit back and watch China overtake them. The US has to do something; they’re claiming that they’re defending freedom and democracy but from China’s point of view, it’s not about freedom and democracy — they see a lot of double standards.

Take Russia for example; the question is, was Russia provoked to invade Ukraine? And, of course, different people have different takes on this and so, when it comes to China, the US, Taiwan or even China-US relations it’s the same thing, you won’t be able to convince the Hawks otherwise, once they have the upper hand, it’s easy for tensions to slide to a clash or extended conflict because of heightened nationalism. For now, the moderates have the upper hand; President Biden, President Xi Jinping, they have been relatively restrained, and they’re not looking for a fight. But then there are people in the US, military, congress and senate who would be happy to see, and profit from, conflict.

Taiwan is caught in the middle of the US and China; will they be able to handle the consequences? Is it playing into the agenda of the US?

Taiwan is trying to push the envelope to become de jure independent. It argues that it has the right to change the status quo. It does not want to be in diplomatic isolation forever, but if it wants to change the status quo, then there will be costs — the US has been helping Taiwan, and Taiwan is playing to America’s agenda willingly.

The Taiwan issue is the unfinished Chinese civil war between Beijing and Taipei. Western media says that the PRC (People’s Republic of China) has never ruled Taiwan, but most people tend to forget that Chiang Kai-Shek lost to Mao Zedong and fled to Taiwan and took with him most of China’s gold reserves as well as all the relics [Chiang also declared there was only one China, and he intended to retake the mainland supported by the US]. North and South Korea signed an armistice in 1953. China and Taiwan never signed anything.

More important than the meeting between Nancy Pelosi and Tsai Ing-wen is the meeting between the TSMC Chairman Mark Liu. TSMC is the world’s biggest maker of chips, and Nancy Pelosi is trying to talk TSMC into relocating its engineers and facilities to the US. According to some analysts, if TSMC quits Taiwan, then this will be the beginning of Taiwan’s end because it’s tantamount to the US recognizing that it cannot stop China from eventually taking over Taiwan.

Russia and Ukraine happening in Beijing and Taipei?

China has pledged peaceful reunification with Taiwan since 1979. All parties China, the US, and Taiwan have been relatively restrained prior to the current Taiwan crisis. China is not trigger happy, they’re not the provocateur. But continuously provoking China is like provoking the dragon.

Assumptions are a recipe for miscalculation for disaster. From Taiwan’s point of view, they think the US and Japan will rush to their rescue and Pelosi’s visit has emboldened Taiwan. The other assumptions are, China is convinced that the US will not risk the lives of American soldiers and go to war over Taiwan. On the other hand, the US suspects China is just bluffing and will not dare make the move because it is too risky militarily, economically and diplomatically.

Should other nations remain as bystanders to what is happening?

All the Asean nations have urged parties of all sides to restrain themselves and maintain the peace, and that would not go down badly with the Chinese because the Chinese are for peace as well.

For the Philippines, evacuation plans for all the OFWs in Taiwan should be the priority. But then more importantly, we have to ask ourselves whether we want to be caught in the line of fire and become collateral damage of a war that has nothing to do with us.

High-level US officials visiting the Philippines, how does this now affect the relations between the Philippines and China?

For the Philippines, now is a balancing act. Our President (Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.) wants to work with the two sides but it’s walking a difficult diplomatic tightrope and it’ll be a test of his wisdom and his courage. The US may pressure us to do things against our interest, but we are a sovereign nation, and we have to decide for ourselves, what is in our best interests.

Marcos’ visit, open-stance and speech at the UN Headquarter in New York in September could change the world’s perception of the Philippines and of the Marcos family. It was also in September 1974 when Imelda and Bongbong Marcos went to China for 10 days in five cities, and they met with Mao, and Imelda made beso-beso, then Mao took her hand and kissed it. This is an iconic picture. So, when the Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan came to attend BBM’s inauguration, he paid the courtesy call on Imelda. The Chinese have this decades-long relationship with not just Imelda but the Marcos family.

BBM is in a unique position to play the role of peacemaker in this region.

Interview by Karmina Constantino in ‘ANC Dateline Philippines’ of Benjamin Lim, a Filipino veteran journalist who has worked both in China and Taiwan for almost four decades. He has broken some of the biggest stories out of the region, including President Xi Jinping’s rise in 2007 when Mr Xi was not on any China watcher’s radar screen. He published a book, Taking China’s Pulse, in 2016 in which he predicted Mr Xi would serve at least three terms.

A similar version was published in Manila Times on August 21 2022. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks. (idsicenter@gmail.com)

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