So long, CCNAA, we hardly knew ye. Established in 1979, after US president Jimmy Carter’s decision to switch diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, the inaptly named Coordination Council for North American Affairs was created by the Taiwanese government to handle ties with the US and was named as such to not offend Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the long-self-ruled island.
In its stead, and to mark the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which replaced the Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty of 1955, Taipei announced last week the renaming of the CCNAA to the Taiwan Council for US Affairs (TCUSA).
While seemingly an innocuous change and insignificant to some, including the term “Taiwan” will be viewed as provocative by an easily bruised Beijing and its touchy nationalists. In recent months, Beijing has pressured newspapers, airlines and international companies to change their “Taiwan” references to “Taipei, China.”
Yet pressure from Beijing only drives relations between the US and Taiwan closer. President Tsai Ing-wen is capitalizing on this support in the lead-up to Taiwan’s 2020 elections to “salami-slice” her way toward de jure independence. Beijing has used this same incremental yet highly effective method to attempt to control the South China Sea through the construction of islands.
In so doing, Tsai is placing a fairly safe bet that the name change is innocuous enough not to trigger an extreme response by Beijing. Among her own citizenry, the name change will hardly be noticed or will prove uncontroversial, as most consider themselves distinctly Taiwanese and view China and Taiwan as distinct nations.
A more controversial portion, however, was sliced off earlier this month when the secretary general of Taiwan’s National Security Council, David Lee, met with US national security adviser John Bolton in Washington. The meeting represented the first publicly acknowledged summit between the national security advisers of both countries since 1979. As the meeting reaffirmed Taiwan’s de facto governance over foreign affairs, Beijing predictably expressed its displeasure, urging Washington to “stop having official exchanges or upgrading substantive relations with Taiwan.”
Perhaps the next slice of the salami will be to change the anachronistic moniker of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), the de facto Taiwanese embassy in the US. The various Taipei Economic and Cultural Offices (TECOs) in major US cities could also be renamed, as could Taiwan’s hodgepodge of TECOs and their variants in other countries worldwide, many of which were recently pressured to drop any references to Taiwan.
Ahead of the January 2020 elections in Taiwan, Beijing would be wise not to overreact to such a small name change and lend further support to Tsai, whose favorability ratings have improved in the face of aggression from China. A single spark may start a prairie fire, according to Chairman Mao, but these latest salami slices should not be the spark.