Mon, Oct 14, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Walter Lohman On Taiwan: Taiwan’s diplomatic allies in context

Last month, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act. This is just the first step in the legislative process, of course, but given Capitol Hill’s record on Taiwan over the last two years, it’s got a good chance of passing and being signed into law before the end of the Congress next year.

The TAIPEI Act authorizes the President of the US to penalize countries that shift diplomatic relations from Taipei to Beijing, or to reward them for not doing so. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Cory Gardner (R-CO) is addressing a problem many of Taiwan’s supporters in Washington are wrestling with, how to help Taiwan maintain a modicum of diplomatic recognition, despite the fact that the US itself does not recognize Taiwan.

Senator Gardner is right to try. But even as he and other friends of Taiwan try, Washington needs to start planning for a future in which Taiwan has none of these now 15 “allies.”

Let’s look at a few realities.

First, starting with the obvious — US recognition of Beijing instead of Taipei is not going to change. The deal it struck with China in the 1970s is a permanent feature of American diplomacy and the international environment. Love it, hate it, or anything in between, China is a big and ever more powerful country. The US has a broad range of interests at stake in its dealings with it. Its governments must be able to talk to each other.

Second, Taiwan is a state. Governments, analysts, NGOs use special language to talk about Taiwan. But we can never lose sight of the fact that Taiwan has defined borders, a government, a permanent population, and the capacity to conduct relations with other countries. Call it what you must, but this makes it a state — independent of whether it is recognized by others.

Third, Taiwan’s unofficial relations are far more important to Taiwan than its official ones. We call the countries that recognize Taiwan its “allies,” but they are far from that. Panama would never have come to the armed defense of Taiwan. The US, while not an “ally,” will, and it will be joined by its own (real) allies, like Japan. Even in peacetime, Taiwan gets far more from its informal relationships with countries like Japan, Australia, Singapore and Germany than it ever did from Kiribati. And there is even more these friends of Taiwan can do.

Fourth, how much are these 15 relationships really worth? President Tsai (蔡英文) is right not to get in a bidding war over their loyalties. American policy makers would be crazy to step into this role itself. If there are areas where we can work together to help them in areas like public health and cyber security, or development, or investment, great. Maybe that buys some time, and that’s good. But if you think this is going to dissuade them from one day cutting a deal with Beijing… well, I think the recent history speaks for itself. As for the most important of Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, the Vatican, it doesn’t need any of the assistance the US or Taiwan can offer. It’s in the market for souls and there are far more of them in China than Taiwan.

Fifth, “transits” are not the only excuse for stop-overs in the US. Probably the most significant loss that will come with loss of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies will be its loss of a pretext for Presidential visits to the US. Come on. We can be more imaginative than that. How about another university invitation, a la Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) 1995, or an NGO invitation? Surely there is an NGO somewhere in the Western Hemisphere that will be happy to have the democratically elected leader of Taiwan grace them with his or her presence.

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