Letters & Opinion

Domestic and Foreign Policy Approaches Revisited — Part 1

Lessons from the World’s Two Most Powerful Leaders

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By Earl Bousquet

Saint Lucia, the Caribbean and the world have just got another example of the latest redefinitions of traditional Diplomatic Protocols – and especially why ‘Foreign Policy’ is both an extension of ‘Domestic Policy’ and a necessary pillar of gubernatorial policy, one that’s everything but static and always needs revisiting and refreshing in accordance with how the world turns and how that spin affects each country and every citizen across the globe.

Monday’s virtual summit between what the international press refers to as ‘the two most powerful men in the world’ (representing the two most powerful nations) has again demonstrated and reconfirmed that while every nation has its own ‘foreign’ policy, none can or should be divorced or disentangled from the universality of relations between people and states.

China’s President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden’s three-and-a-half-hour virtual meeting displayed all the optics of friendliness and reassurance that’s shown both sides are very-much-aware of the unaffordable cost of a war between the two most powerful armies on the planet and will do everything possible to prevent even any related ‘accidental’ or ‘unintended’ conflict.

Never mind which party or president is in office in the US, Washington always seeks to provide a sense of political comfort to whichever party or president is in office in Taipei that, if ever needs-be, the US will engage the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) to help Taiwan.

But while always giving such verbal political and diplomatic comfort to Taipei, Washington has also always balanced between its three successive bilateral treaties with Beijing that recognise the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the TRA that seeks to assure Taiwan the US will side with it should there be any unlikely military engagement between the mainland and the island.

US ties with Taiwan have more to do with Washington’s strategic military interests in the South China Sea than everything else; and following outgoing President Barack Obama’s refusal to give any such comfort to Taiwan during the 2016 election campaign won by current President Tsai Ing-wen, President Donald Trump did everything to increase Washington’s political and military contact with the island, much to Beijing’s natural annoyance.

But even while tilting more heavily to Taiwan, Trump was also trying hard to cozy-up with his China counterpart, President Xi – until the usual differences over trade again froze Beijing-Washington ties.

Biden, one year after wining the presidency, let go of his embrace of the aggressive Trump policy towards China in favour of a virtual bear-hug with Xi, in which the two most important players in the international stage started showing a resumption of old friendships.

It started with the unexpected unity in positions between Beijing and Washington during last week’s Glasgow Climate Change (COP-26) Summit on issues like setting deadlines for achieving the most important targets that will determine the speed at which the planet will start recovering from the already-near-perpetual damage caused globally by unrestrained human actions contributing to the Climate Calamity facing the world today.

Glasgow also ended with an unexpected joint China-US statement committing two of the most powerful actors in the Climate and Environmental arena to work closer together to fight the multiplying global effects of Climate Change.

Then came the news, within days, that Presidents Xi and Biden would hold the virtual summit that everyone’s still talking about today.

China and the US have a long history of Dancing Diplomacy that dates back to 1971 when Washington dumped ties with Taiwan and the PRC as the only China recognised by member-states of the United Nations.

The TRA was supposed to be a later written assurance of sorts that the US would side with Taiwan in any Cross-Strait battle with the PRC, but the TRA has never really been effectively activated, as the USA continues to maintain its age-old policy of ‘Plausible Deniability’ in relation to the island, which China has never stopped regarding as a natural part of the mainland, from where Taiwanese families today emerged, particularly after 1949.

After 51 years standing alone and building its own network of international allies by way of governments willing to recognize Taiwan and press for its return to the UN and 72 years after the PRC was founded, Taiwan is still caught in the crosshairs of China-US ties, as again indicated in the most recent assurance given by both that they will never go to war, even accidentally, over Taiwan.

The mainstream media continues to milk the headlines from the virtual Xi-Biden summit, but this isn’t the first time Beijing and Washington have shown how easy it is to meet each other halfway in times of trouble that threaten to get too big, or too hot.

But every now-and-then the world’s two most powerful nations, under whichever leader, take actions to show and reaffirm that ‘when push comes to shove’ they can and will step-back from the brink, as seen earlier this year in the case of the return of the Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of China’s telecommunications giant Huawei to Beijing, following a long diplomatic and political standoff between the US, Canada and China that spilled into several other areas, including detention and conviction of two Canadians Ontario insists are diplomats and honest citizens, but the Chinese said were spies.

As if to also extend the principle of Plausible Deniability to diplomacy, neither Beijing, Washington or Ontario have admitted there was any tit-for-tat or give-and-take negotiation that led to the settlement, but all three are verily pleased they were able to get over that rough patch, in which the US undoubtedly walked-back on its claims that Huawei is a Beijing intelligence outfit and its CFO had committed inexcusable violations of US financial laws.

The summit was welcomed by the US-China Business Council, which yesterday said the online summit between the two ‘most important and biggest’ nations and economies in the world had resulted in the two ‘building guardrails against military confrontation in the South China Sea,’ as there would be ‘no business’ (for American companies) to profit from.

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