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Old 01-27-2019, 08:28 AM
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Arrow The dangerous game of words and ships in the Taiwan Strait

The dangerous game of words and ships in the Taiwan Strait
By: Erin Dunne / | January 27, 2019 10:45 AM

On Thursday, two U.S. warships passed through the disputed Taiwan Strait, drawing criticism from China — the latest round in a dangerous game of words and ships.

Taiwan, an island separated from mainland China by only 110 miles, is claimed by the People's Republic of China, but it functions as an independent state. The fleeing army and government of the nationalist Republic of China relocated there when the communists took over on the mainland. Since coming to power in 1949, the governing Chinese Communist Party has continuously claimed authority over the island, which it deems a rogue province. Beijing, however, has not attempted to seize control over the territory.

That stalemate is frozen in diplomatic language as the "One China" Policy. Rhetorically, as of 1972, the U.S. recognizes that there is only one China comprising Taiwan and the mainland. And as of 1979, it recognizes that the legitimate government of China resides in Beijing, despite supporting and maintaining relations with Taiwan. In practice, Washington, including the Trump administration, has backed Taiwan with aid, arms sales, and unofficial diplomatic communications.

That diplomatic sleight of hand was on display last week after Beijing warned about U.S. interference in Taiwan.

As the chief of the Chinese military’s Joint Staff Department, Gen. Li Zuocheng, reportedly warned in a meeting with U.S. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson: “If anyone wants to separate Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will safeguard the national utility at all costs, so as to protect China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

Later, in Tokyo, Richardson explained that he “reiterated very clearly [to Li] that the United States is committed to the One China policy.” But added, “We remain opposed to any sort or unilateral action on either side of the strait to change the status quo.”

Although the silhouette of warships passing through the narrow waterway or Chinese air patrols is alarming, as long as those routine displays of force keep apace without incident or further escalation, both parties can keep up the necessary appearances. Washington keeps supporting Taiwan, and Beijing keeps posturing for control of the disputed island.

There are, of course, risks in this militarized dance. Should an too-close encounter result in a deadly clash, for example, it's unclear if a diplomatic solution would be possible.

But for now, the steady uncertainty of the status quo and the delicate juxtaposition of diplomatic nods and military maneuvers is the best option.

O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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