Mon, Apr 30, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Walter Lohman On Taiwan: Rethinking US-Taiwan relations

Finally, on economics. Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization. As such, it is the world’s 13th-freest economy according to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, and therefore, a positive force upon the free flow of trade and investment.

Second, we have to act to make the most of these benefits.

This means greater government-to-government contact. It is crazy that the US is so constrained in its contact with a country that has so much to offer. The Travel Act offered a number of ideas for increased, sustained engagement that should be taken up by the Administration. The Administration should also end the suspense over US government attendance at the opening of the new de facto embassy in Taipei, and name a high-level cabinet official, as well as commit to sending one such official every year. The Secretaries of Energy and Health and Human Services make particularly good sense. As for the State Department, it is about time the US engaged at least at the Assistant Secretary level.

It means negotiation of a bi-lateral US-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement. It is mind-boggling that this has never been a priority for the US. Especially now that the US is lacking willing bi-lateral treaty partners, Taiwan is such an obvious choice.

It means making an all-out push for Taiwan’s involvement, if not membership, in international organizations that is so vigorous as to put at risk parts of our relationships with other members of these groups, allies as well as frenemies. The first most plausible target is INTERPOL.

And, of course, as always, it involves providing Taiwan the weapons it needs to make the strongest possible contribution to its own defense. But this has to be about more than procurement, and about more than US responsibilities. For its part, the US has to recommit to a regular schedule of arms sales, one in keeping with an integrated plan for defending Taiwan; Taiwan has to commit to making reasonable, responsible calculations about its requirements.

There is nothing new in this list of recommendations. But it is not the lack of ideas that is the problem. The problem is the lack of will to move on them with the sustained energy necessary to make them happen. As long as that effort ebbs and flows with Chinese threats and conciliation, they will remain on think tank drawing boards. To fix this, we need to change the way we think about Taiwan.

Walter Lohman is director of the Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

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