Mon, Jul 15, 2019 - Page 6 News List

John J. Tkacik, Jr. On Taiwan: The US places Taiwan among Indo-Pacific democracies

History is in the making. East Asia is on the cusp of a great-power transition. Like Japan of the 1920s, China of the 2020s has reached parity in “comprehensive power” with the United States, and views itself as a competitor for geopolitical preeminence in the Indo-Pacific region, if not the globe.

American President Donald Trump is wary of the potential of Beijing’s predatory state mercantilism to hollow-out global prosperity, and capacity of China’s territorial aggressiveness to intimidate neighbors from India, the South China Sea to the Taiwan Strait and Japan. He is unsettled by Beijing’s support for rogue and illiberal states from Russia, North Korea, Iran and Syria, to Venezuela and beyond. He postures with a mercurial personality that keeps friend and foe alike off-balance. But he maneuvers his Administration to counterbalance China with the doctrine of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” that he began to articulate in 2017.

Eight years ago, by contrast, the “No-Drama” Obama Administration announced a vaunted “Pivot to the Pacific” as a symbolic counter to China’s gathering hegemony in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. It was a nice idea, hobbled by three fatal flaws: first, “Pivot to the Pacific” was a slogan without a strategy; second, the Obama Administration failed to invest new resources in its Pacific foreign policy; and third, there was no mention of Taiwan.

By 2019, the Trump Administration has addressed these deficiencies. Apart from the classified doctrine that gestated in the National Security Council, the agencies have their own public and classified “FOIP” initiatives.

On June 1, 2019, the Pentagon’s unclassified Indo-Pacific Strategy Report was published, and to my utter amazement, it mentioned “Taiwan” thirty times, and devoted an entire page (page 31) to Taiwan, its “hard-won democracy,” the nature of China’s threat, and the magnitude of the US-Taiwan partnership. Specifically, the paper postulates “the United States has a vital interest in upholding the rules-based international order, which includes a strong, prosperous, and democratic Taiwan.”

Some might dismiss the Trump Doctrine of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” as a mere reboot of Obama’s toothless “Pivot.” Yet, unlike the “Pivot,” President Trump’s “Indo-Pacific” strategy is backed by new maritime assets and unprecedented moves to integrate Taiwan into the FOIP structure. The Pentagon has indeed enhanced its security cooperation with Taiwan since the arrival of Assistant Secretary Randall Schriver last year. The details of that relationship are, of course, not for publication, and on the Taoist principle that “those who know, don’t say; those who say, don’t know,” (知者不言,言者不知), alas, I can say no more.

Washington’s diplomatic initiatives are more public. Last month, in this column, I pointed to serious and persistent moves by the US State Department to persuade Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic partners to maintain their relations with Taipei. Last year, when the Trump Administration recalled three US ambassadors from Central America to voice dismay about severing ties with Taipei, I had thought the State Department was prompted by China’s aggressive economic diplomacy in the region, not so much by Taiwan’s plight. But the Administration’s persistent rhetorical support for Taiwan since then, by Vice President Pence, Secretary Pompeo, the Pentagon, and the unprecedented inclusion of Taiwan in the Pentagon’s Indo-Pacific strategy document of a few weeks ago, are solid evidence that Taiwan now holds a new and significant position in the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific.”

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