Mon, Apr 15, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Ian Easton On Taiwan: Building a better status quo

This month gaggles of distinguished diplomats, politicians, and military officers will gather together in Washington and Taipei to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act (U.S. Public Law 96-8). Glittering banquets will be held, eloquent speeches will be made, and illuminating discussions will take place. Much will be said about the “status quo” and how important it is. Politely left unsaid will be what the “status quo” actually is and where it came from.

The truth is that the United States and Taiwan have a lot of hard work to do. The relationship between Washington and Taipei is probably the best it has been in forty years, but it’s not even close to being as good as it should be.

The United States government, in some respects, has treated Taiwan like an international pariah since 1979. If nothing major changes, American foreign policy elites can be expected to continue along this path until the road runs out.

It must be recognized that Washington’s policy toward Taiwan made geostrategic sense in the late 1970s when the Soviet Union appeared unstoppably ascendant. American strategists believed they needed the People’s Republic of China, then a fellow adversary of the USSR, to help arrest Moscow’s predatory advances around the globe. Because Taiwan’s authoritarian government didn’t share common values, it could be sacrificed.

The situation has since changed. Today the Soviet Union is long gone, and China’s communist government has become the most dangerous source of instability in the world. Taiwan has also changed. Today, Taiwan is a shining democracy.

China’s current dictator, Xi Jinping (習近平), is an ambitious militarist. Chairman Xi has repeatedly signaled his intention to conquer Taiwan. With every passing democratic election in Taiwan, it becomes harder and harder for Beijing to maintain the myth that the island is not a legitimate country. China’s provocative actions continue to heighten regional tensions.

Normally, in situations like this one, the U.S. would station troops in the threatened democracy to serve as a strategic trip-wire. It would extend ironclad security guarantees to forestall aggression and war. Alternative policies of appeasement and accommodation have been tested before, only to see tragedy strike. Yet, in this case, American policymakers have struggled to adapt to the changing facts on the ground. How do you help protect a country that you don’t even treat as a country?

The “status quo,” or existing state of affairs, is neither static nor sustainable. The “status quo” is that Washington treats authoritarian China like an elite member of the community of nations and democratic Taiwan like an untouchable member of the world’s lowest diplomatic caste.

When was the last time a sitting American president talked with his Taiwanese counterpart? When was the last time an American secretary of state visited the island? When was the last time a Taiwanese president, foreign minister, or defense minister was welcomed in Washington?

Many American policymakers remain convinced that showing goodwill to China by giving Taiwan the cold shoulder could have real benefits. It has also seemed unwise to risk doing anything that might give China an excuse to attack. However, this line of logic deserves further scrutiny in view of Beijing’s disquieting track record.

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