When I was a young man, I served as an infantryman in the Korean War. Many of my fellow soldiers died around me, but in the end we prevented the unification of Korea under a totalitarian dictatorship because we fought for democracy.
That war was the result of aggressive behavior on the part of North Korea, which was subsequently joined by the newly established People’s Republic of China under then-Chinese leader Mao Zedong (毛澤東). China entered the war in October 1950, leading to a major conflict with pitched battles that lasted until the armistice in July 1953.
What also significantly contributed to the start of that war was a statement by then-US secretary of state Dean Acheson that Korea lay outside the US’ Asian defense perimeter. This led former North Korean leader Kim Il-sung to believe that the US would not intervene if he invaded South Korea.
Why am I raising this issue now? Because at the present, the US is deciding on whether to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan and on its military posture in East Asia in the face of a rising China. While the US does need to engage China to encourage it to take a responsible stance toward its neighbors, it should also be emphasized that the US needs to draw clear lines in the sand, so that Beijing fully understands Washington’s position.
One of those lines is to make clear that the US is committed to Taiwan’s defense. As elaborated in the Taiwan Relations Act, this requires that the US “provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character,” adding that it needs “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.”
At present, the US government is going through the final stages of its decisionmaking process on the sale of advanced F-16C/D aircraft as well as an upgrade of the existing F-16A/Bs Taiwan operates. This decision will be based on the growing threat posed by the People’s Liberation Army, which has built up its forces across the Taiwan Strait with advanced aircraft, resulting in a major cross-strait military imbalance. It will also be based on the economic benefits to the US in terms of jobs and manufacturing capabilities; certainly a key argument in times of economic downturn.
However, last but not least, the US needs to make clear it is committed to the continued existence of Taiwan as a free and democratic nation. Mixed signals like those of Acheson in the early 1950s would have disastrous consequences. The sale of the F-16C/Ds would be a first step. Beefing up the US’ forward presence in East Asia is another.
However, an even more important step would be to start treating Taiwan as a normal country in its own right. For too long the US has clung to the “one China” policy, which dates back 40 years. The US needs to bring Taiwan out of its externally imposed political isolation.
The Taiwanese have made a momentous transition from an authoritarian regime under former dictator Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石), who claimed he would “recover” China, to a vibrant Taiwanese democracy that began to take shape under former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝).
Don’t the people of Taiwan deserve a US adjustment of its policies to reflect this new situation, bringing Taiwan in from the cold? To do that, the US needs to safeguard their hard-earned democracy and ensure their freedoms and security by giving them the means to defend themselves.