Effects of Different Levels of National Interest on US-China-Taiwan Relations



   1.         Introduction

 The changes in the Sino-US competition for hegemony occur based on each country’s judgement on the different levels of national interest. Despite Taiwan being sandwiched between the two great powers, relying on the US seems to be the only choice it has because of aggressing Communist China. However, there is still full of uncertainty, and I dare not make improper responses and speculations.



   2.         National Interest

 The concept of “national interest” that renowned International Relations scholar, Hans Morgenthau, spoke of was one of abstractness and ambiguity. Superficially, it appears to be values that the ruling authority excises for the preservation of the survival, safety, and welfare of the sovereign-nation-state. Nonetheless, this is paradoxical as self-interest can be posed in the name of national interest.



   3.         Preservation of and Threat to National Interest

               The creation and preservation of national interest depend on Comprehensive National Strength (CNS), or else it can easily lose its decision-making power and state-autonomy, which further erodes its national dignity.


                  3.1.         American scholar Ray S. Cline proposes CNS is made up of the interactivity of material and spiritual strengths. The formula (provided below) for this is of important reference to Taiwan when aiming to position itself in amid the US-China conflict:

                        Pp = (C + E + M) (S + W)

C: critical mass (including population and territory)

E: economic capacity

M: military capacity

S: national strategy coefficient

W: national strategic will


                  3.2.         Levels of National Interests

                                3.2.1.         Interests for Survival

                                3.2.2.         Vital Interests

                                3.2.3.         Major Interests

                                3.2.4.         Peripheral Interests



   4.         US-China-Taiwan Trilateral Paradoxical Interests in the Cross-Strait Relations


                  4.1.         Positioning Taiwan’s National Interests after Transition of Power


                        In terms of Taiwan’s national strength, even though Taiwan has experienced multiple power transitions, and gained international recognition for its democratic

                consolidation, the elements that Ray S. Cline proposes bring concerns to many people.

The controversies over the appellation of the nation, national flag, and national anthem between different political camps have harmed the unity of the people in Taiwan.

Difference in National Identification: People have different views on not only their national identity but also the territory of their country. For example, some people think they’re Taiwanese, not Chinese. People may also think the territory of their country comprises only Taiwan, Penghu, Kinmen, and Matzu, which is different from what is stated in the Constitution.

Scholars, such as B. Anderson, have pointed out that without a unified identification towards sovereignty and territory, it is surely detrimental to national security and political stability.

In other words, the main reason for the recent increasing verbal coercion and military threat posed by Communist China to Taiwan, Penghu, and Matzu is that the government and people of Mainland China insists both sides across the strait have a shared view of “a common sovereignty and territory,” which includes Taiwan, Penghu, and Matzu; thus they are obligated to prevent Taiwan independence and division of the motherland. However, with the military and national strength of Taiwan only growing just recently, and facing the already risen China, the people must all agree that this is a difficult challenge.


                  4.2.         Communist China’s Insistence on its Fundamental Interests


In regard to Communist China’s United Front Strategy, from Mao Zedong’s “bloodshed Taiwan, to Deng Xiaoping’s “peaceful unification,” and to Xi jinping’s “not giving up the use of military force as an option to unification,” such national policies have always been unchanging. The CCP attempts to shape this issue as a “zero-sum conflict” to implement its will of unifying Taiwan. No matter what Taiwan proposes-“special state-to-state relations,” “No declaration of independence; no unification; no use of force,” or the “92 consensus,”- to ease the tension between the two sides, the argument that Taiwan is not a sovereignty state remains the same.


                                4.2.1.         Communist China’s consistent United Front Strategy:

                                            The positioning of cross-strait relations is that of central and local governments. The civil war is to be concluded.

                                            United Front Principles: Economy is a tool, politics is the goal.

                                                          Stringent in politics, lax in economy.

                                                          Strict with officials, yielding with civics.

                                                          Hard on diplomatic contests, flexible in cross-strait exchanges.


Despite both sides having once reached basic consensus on “Establish mutual trust, seek common ground while reserving differences, shelve disputes and create a win-win situation,” when a power transition occurs in Taiwan, the arise of legal independence provokes hawkish groups to justify their legitimacy for advocating military reunification.

Recently, the CCP’s incessant harassment by sending military aircrafts and ships to circle Taiwan shows what is close to the form of “clear and present danger,” indicating its strong intentions to “unify by force.” From the view of national interest, cross-strait relationship is not an interest for the survival of the CCP, but conflicts with its nationalist “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and the so called “unification of the motherland.” Therefore, the CCP has not only unilaterally enacted the Anti- secession Law; it has even set its strategies to unify Taiwan by force, such as initiating a blockade, nuclear attack, or amphibious landing, which poses a crisis to Taiwan’s survival. Would Taiwan’s government and people be hesitant in such political crisis?


                  4.3.         The Evolution of US Interest in Taiwan


American policies to Taiwan changed constantly by the global strategical situations. From the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty to the Joint Communique of the United States of America and the People's Republic of China on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations, the law “America has no permanent friends or enemies, only national interests” persists. Taiwan is merely one of the US’ major or peripheral interests.

After years, scholar I Walltersein first warned of "the Decline of American Power,” and now Trump has realized China is on its way to replace the US as the hegemon. Hence, he calls on Americans to “Make America Great Again," while implementing anti-China measures abroad with policies and measures range from joint military drills to trade wars.

Concurrently, the US announced pro-Taiwan and against-China strategies and policies e.g, the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act. The most evident move would be selling Taiwan more advanced offensive weapons in contrast to only offering sales of old offensive weapons. The main reason for this would be that the US sees the threat to its fundamental interests or interests of survival if it loses Taiwan, which occupies a critical strategic location in the first island chain of the Pacific



   5.         Conclusion

 International diplomacy is hardheaded. Comprehensive national power determines a country’s level of self-autonomy and interests. For Taiwan, the Taiwan Strait is an interest for survival, while for Communist China, it is a vital interest. As for the US, it is a changing strategic interest.

 In other words, China is facing the ultimate goal in “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” and “the unification of the motherland,” which inflict Taiwan with the most serious national security threat. The US will not completely sacrifice its national interest to meet Taiwan’s since Taiwan’s national interest as a whole will likely conflict with that of the US. Therefore, Taiwan needs to acknowledge it can only pursue its own national interest after it has met the US’ national interests.



Written by Prof. Peng, Jian Wen
Translated by Erica Lee


Login Success