Editor’s Note: This story was excerpted from the October 7 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.
Beijing’s relentless pressure on Taiwan is causing alarm in Washington as US power pivots toward Asia.
China’s rising military might and demonstrated willingness to ignore agreements it once made over Hong Kong’s one-country-two-systems formula are changing the US strategic outlook for Taiwan. Since last Friday, China has dispatched nearly 150 warplanes into Taiwan’s defense zone – part of what the State Department describes as a series of “destabilizing” actions in the Taiwan Strait that risk resulting in “miscalculations.” The self-governing island’s defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, has also warned that Beijing will have the capacity within four years to mount a “full scale” invasion.
US President Joe Biden says he spoke to Chinese President Xi Jinping about Taiwan recently. “We agree we’ll abide by the Taiwan agreement … and we made it clear that I don’t think he should be doing anything other than abiding by the agreement,” he said, apparently referring to bedrock documents of US-China relations that grant diplomatic recognition to Beijing rather than Taiwan and to the Taiwan Relations Act, which conditions recognition on the island’s future being settled peacefully. The law also requires the US president to allow Taiwan to buy American weapons for its self-defense.
Washington has long maintained strategic ambiguity on how far it would go to defend Taiwan in the hope of deterring a declaration of independence by Taipei or an invasion by China. But Beijing’s forcefulness is stirring a debate in think tanks and on Capitol Hill about whether the US should just come out and say it would defend the island democracy if it were attacked. The idea is to make Beijing think twice and offer Taiwan the comfort of a US guarantee.
Critics warn this could provoke China even more. It would likely be unpopular with Americans tired of foreign wars. And it would present Biden with a dilemma his predecessors have managed to avoid answering: Would it really be in US interests to wage war with China over Taiwan?
‘To responsibly manage competition between our two countries’
It may have taken six hours of discussion between US national security adviser Jake Sullivan and China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, but their bosses, Biden and Xi, are now clear to start lining up a virtual meeting, according to a senior Biden administration official. The official said that Wednesday’s meeting was “a productive step” toward a meeting between the two leaders that “would really be part of our efforts to responsibly manage competition between our two countries, hoping that it would be very much in the same spirit of the competition today, and open dialogue, honest back-and-forth.”
Thousands of America’s indebted graduates just got some good news.
The Biden administration announced changes to the federal student loan forgiveness program that could help more than half a million borrowers in government or public service jobs, like nursing or teaching.
Under the existing system, qualifying public-sector workers can qualify for forgiveness on their loans if they make 10 years of payments. But the system is notoriously difficult to understand and use. The Biden administration will make plenty of friends if it can make the process easier. But even that won’t do much to fix the bigger problem: the extortionate cost of a college education in the United States.
Federal student loans in many cases don’t pay for the entire cost of college every year, forcing students without wealthy parents to take out private loans at higher interest rates. According to statistics aggregator Educationdata.org, average federal student loan debt is $36,000 per borrower and private student loan debt is $55,000 per borrower. Many Americans go through their entire working lives trying to pay off their loans; then-President Barack Obama caused a stir in 2012 by revealing that he and his wife hadn’t paid off their college loans until 2004 — the year he was elected a senator and saw his income spike from the profits of an autobiography that started leaping off the shelves when he became famous.
College costs are rising around the world, but America is exceptionally expensive. Tuition for a public university in a student’s home state can be at least $10,000 to $15,000 per year; living and other costs can double the annual price. If a student wants to go to another state, they are often looking at tuition fees of well over $40,000. Private universities cost even more. And once students graduate, the price keeps rising — prestigious law and other vocational postgraduate courses can set you back around $100,000 a year.
Of course, the argument is that people who get degrees tend to get better jobs and can afford to pay back their loans. And there’s nothing wrong with advantaged citizens bearing the cost for their education. But the cost of college also surely puts off less wealthy Americans, which has big consequences for social mobility. It’s not great for the economy, either, as the spending power of graduates is weighed down by the huge debts they lug through life.