Breaking with Tradition

Hillary Clinton is back from China and in some ways things haven’t looked rosier for US – China relations in the entirety of the CCP’s rule over the mainland. Questions about human rights in China are out of fashion in Washington and other, seemingly-less controversial issues that both parties are keen to cooperate on are on the table.

In the spirit of mutual cooperation, the US conducted a round of military talks with China, which a top US representative said were the best he’d ever seen. Topics of mutual interest like anti-piracy took center stage. At this rate, a truly peaceful rise for China may just be in the cards.

China Daily has reported that “whether it is in methods of contact or how issues are formulated, everything is very different from before….On a diplomatic level, China and the United States are becoming quite balanced.” This is, of course, what China has always yearned for – the diplomatic respect and international political clout that one would expect from a country as large and populous as China.

Of course, no discussion of US—China relations are complete without mentioning Taiwan, and the more things change the more they stay the same. Taiwan is the 800 pound gorilla in the room whenever officials from either side of the Pacific meet – especially, one would imagine, military officials, and US has recently confirmed it will continue to sell arms to Taiwan in accordance with its longstanding stated defense obligations to said gorilla. This anachronistic policy goes beyond new attitudes towards China and strikes a deep nerve in both Washington and Beijing, going back farther than the Obama Administration and the Hu regime. This is tradition and tradition can admittedly be hard to break.

Relations between the US and China have shifted dramatically in the last decade. With the reality of cross-straits flights, relations between the mainland and Taiwan have never been better since Manchu emperors ruled the island from afar. While no one is suggesting that the US should withdraw its commitment to aid and defend Taiwan, there is wisdom in changing the tone and intensity of American cross-straits involvement. The United States cannot play referee forever.

While this idea may sound like it came from the mouth of a CCP spokesman denouncing American meddling in internal-Chinese affairs, a US shift away from focusing on Taiwan in cross-straits relations brings as much responsibility as breathing room to the mainland government. Should the US take a smaller and smaller role in cross-strait affairs, Beijing would be forced to learn to grow into its new role as a supposedly-responsible global power and throw out the on-again-off-again saber rattling that has become characteristic of cross-straits tensions. This includes curbing excessive and dangerous rhetoric regarding Taiwan that inflames local political opposition on the island and makes the job of moderates in Taipei just that much more difficult.

The Sino-American feud over Taiwan is a tradition as old as the PRC itself. Now that there has finally been some real progress made between Taiwan and the mainland and the US has room to step down, China must carefully consider its next move. The world is watching to see what a “peaceful rise” really looks like.

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