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What China intends to about Taiwan may become more clear in the coming weeks

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Taiwan, an election over the weekend sent a clear message to Beijing that the island wants to remain independent and democratic. It was a historic third consecutive victory for the Democratic Progressive Party, which has a history of resistance to China's attempts to impose its will on Taiwan. Now, shortly after the results came in, China made its disappointment and intentions clear with a simple statement, quote, "Taiwan is part of China." What China intends to do about it will become more clear in the coming days and weeks.

Bob Wang is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. He studies the China-Taiwan dynamic. Bob, as a matter of self-interest, should the U.S. be applauding this moment for democracy or maybe keeping a more neutral stance?

BOB WANG: I think the United States has clearly shown its very strong support for democracy with Blinken's statement - Secretary of State Blinken's statement. And so it is applauding it. And it's sending a delegation, which is a non-official delegation, of high-level former officials to Taiwan to meet with president-elect Lai Ching-te and as well as all the other political leaders in Taiwan. So I think it's shown, I think, a strong enthusiasm for the flourishing of democracy in Taiwan.

MARTÍNEZ: How strong could it be, though, if it's unofficial?

WANG: Well, because this is the historical sort of tie that we have. We don't have an official diplomatic tie with Taiwan. We do have unofficial ties. The American Institute in Taiwan - AIT - is technically unofficial. So we don't - we're not treating Taiwan as basically an independent with diplomatic relations with the United States. That's a historical fact.

MARTÍNEZ: So what should we make when President Biden, in response to the election, says, quote, "we do not support independence"?

WANG: Well, he's only stating what is, in fact, the case.

MARTÍNEZ: OK.

WANG: I think the question, obviously, is - you know, it does seem a little strange because Taiwan is de facto working as a government and independent in that sense. But obviously, Biden's statement is meant to carry on the historical position to avoid a conflict, a major conflict, with China over this issue. And I think generally the Biden administration, the U.S. in general, believes that what is good for Taiwan is to maintain its current way of life - freedom, democracy and all that - without a major conflict. And that's the realistic position, I think, that's been taken by the United States over the last - you know, since 1979.

MARTÍNEZ: How sustainable, Bob, is that long term, though? I know that, I guess, technically, right now if nothing happens, nothing bad can happen. But, I mean, how long can that last?

WANG: Well, nobody really knows. Obviously, a lot depends on China, on Beijing, and see what it does. But I think at this point, I think it's fairly clear to most people that a major conflict across the strait in that region with regard to Taiwan would be disastrous for China as well, for its economy, for its - with political consequences for its leaders. So I think it could last some time because it is - it would be, you know, a major blow to China to have a conflict as well, not just to Taiwan or the United States, but also to China.

MARTÍNEZ: So what's at risk, then, for the United States in economic terms if relations between these two key economic partners deteriorates further?

WANG: Well, I think the risk for the United States is that obviously a lot of the trade investment ties with China will slow down and, of course, have an impact on the United States. But at the same time, I think it's not good for China. So I think, eventually, they'll work out something where both sides will be able to restore at least economic trade ties to a normal level.

MARTÍNEZ: Bob Wang is a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. Bob, thank you.

WANG: You're welcome. Take care.

(SOUNDBITE OF EAGLE EYED TIGER'S "STASIS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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