China warns of harm to US ties with Trump’s support for Taiwan, Tibet bills

Lawrence Chung
·4-min read

China warned of further harm to relations with the United States on Monday after US President Donald Trump signed legislation in support of Taiwan and Tibet.

Trump signed into law the Taiwan Assurance Act and the Tibetan Policy and Support Act on Sunday as part of a massive appropriations bill that averted a government shutdown from Tuesday.

The passage of the legislation comes as Trump prepares to step down next month, with the two countries at loggerheads on almost all fronts.

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Both acts attracted bipartisan support in the US Congress, with one aiming to deepen relations between the US and Taiwan and the other threatening sanctions against Chinese officials who seek to choose the next Dalai Lama.

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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing “resolutely opposed” both bills, saying Taiwan and Tibet were issues of China’s territory integrity.

“The US should never implement any bills or provisions targeting China,” Zhao said, adding that harming Chinese interests would have a serious impact on bilateral relations.

In Taiwan, the presidential office and foreign ministry said the legislation would improve cooperation between Taipei and Washington.

“On behalf of the government and its people, we offer our sincere thanks to our bipartisan friends from the administrative and the Congress for assisting us in upgrading our defences and promoting our participation in international organisations,” presidential office spokesman Xavier Chang said.

The Taiwan Assurance Act aims to deepen US-Taiwan relations on the basis of the Taiwan Relations Act, legislation implemented in 1979 to underline the US’ substantive ties with the island and its determination to supply arms for Taiwan to defend itself.

The new legislation calls for Washington to encourage the self-ruled island to increase military spending to fend off potential attacks from China, which considers Taiwan a renegade province that must be returned to its control – by force if necessary.

It also calls for normalisation of US arms sales to help boost the island’s defences.

In addition, the legislation urges the US to promote “meaningful participation” by Taiwan in the United Nations, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization, Interpol and other international bodies.

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Liu Weidong, an international relations specialist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Trump’s continued “tough on China” approach in his last days in office was not a surprise.

“Trump wants to create trouble for the incoming administration of Joe Biden,” Liu said.

“But it depends on how Biden will implement the policies after he takes office. It’s possible that he may choose not to be so heavy-handed with the implementation.”

Fudan University professor Shen Dingli said the legislation would have a limited effect because the acts were only guidance for the president.

“Whether Biden will implement them depends on the state of bilateral relations, but it’s unlikely that he will go all the way,” Shen said.

Wang Kung-yi, who heads the Taiwan International Strategic Study Society think tank, said the assurance act paved the way for future US arms sales, making it difficult for Biden to restrict them to ease tensions with Beijing.

“By calling for the normalisation of arms sales, the assurance act makes sure future arms supplies for Taiwan will be regularised,” Wang said.

At the same time, it would give Biden the scope to sell more expensive arms to Taiwan, he said.

The Tibet Policy and Support Act also attracted bipartisan support in the US Congress.

The legislation says that the US’ official position is that the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including the next Dalai Lama, should reflect the wishes of the Tibetan Buddhist community and the instructions of the present Dalai Lama.

Mainland Chinese officials risk having their overseas assets frozen and being denied entry to the US if they try to appoint their own nominee for the traditional role.

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Li Da-jung, professor of international relations and strategic studies at Tamkang University in Taipei, said both pieces of legislation were strong on rhetoric and reflected strong bipartisan support in the US for Taiwan and Tibet.

“But it is up to the US administration to enforce the legislation,” Li said.

“Also, we need to see what Biden will say about foreign policy, including in relation to Asia and US competition with mainland China, before we can say how far his administration will go in consolidating the legislation.

“Any small adjustments of Washington-Beijing relations will affect US-Taiwan relations.”

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