On April 14, a delegation of retired US officials arrived in Taiwan for a three-day visit. Anyone with a basic understanding of Taiwan-US diplomatic circles will understand the significance of former US deputy secretaries of state Richard Armitage and James Steinberg’s inclusion in the delegation.
The next day, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga met with US President Joe Biden at the White House for a leaders’ summit. Afterward, they released a joint statement containing strong language on Taiwan, which caused Japan’s four largest media organizations to lead with Taiwan as their top stories: a situation without precedent.
On April 16, the Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association raised Japan’s flag in front of its representative office in Taipei.
These events point toward a new era of US-Japan “strategic clarity” on Taiwan, characterized by explicit support for Taipei.
Philip Yang (楊永明), a National Security Council senior adviser under former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), appears not to have received the memo. He has been insisting that the US is still adhering to the old policy of “strategic ambiguity” and repeating the tired refrain that Taipei must negotiate with Beijing to avoid conflict.
The administration of former US president Barack Obama certainly followed such a policy, on the one hand conducting a “pivot to Asia,” while simultaneously allowing the US to become entangled in China, even acquiescing to a 2015 meeting between Ma and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) in Singapore.
Retired officials such as Yang must keep up with the times and stop wallowing in the past: The US’ China strategy has undergone a tectonic shift since then.
The Biden administration has clearly decided to retain much of the China policy it inherited from former US president Donald Trump. Biden, like Trump, is interested in pursuing US national interests and is conscious of the importance of policy consistency. This means adopting a clear, unequivocal and robust standpoint to deter China from taking any rash actions over Taiwan.
Washington took the initiative to dispense with ambiguity and Tokyo has followed. It is a critical juncture for Taiwan, whose politicians will find it increasingly difficult to hide behind ambiguity.
Traditionally, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) has relied on Washington’s support to survive, but it has a complicated psychology toward the US: It is naturally inclined to adopt an anti-US stance.
The KMT should be more rational when dealing with existential issues affecting the nation: The US has no territorial designs on Taiwan, whereas China every day plots to destroy it. Although unable to annex Taiwan, China takes advantage of every opportunity to vocalize its claim to it.
As China is the nation’s enemy, the choice for KMT politicians should be a no-brainer: With Washington and Beijing openly confronting each other, the KMT must side with the US.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte intended to play Washington and Beijing against each other, but China’s insatiable appetite for acquisition in the South China Sea eventually forced Duterte back into the US camp.
Many academics under the pay of the KMT harbor antediluvian notions of a “Greater China” empire, blinding them to a new strategic reality, which is why they frequently make anti-US, pro-China arguments too absurd to warrant further analysis.
Although no longer in government, Yang is aligned to an opposition party, and as a former security adviser, some outside Taiwan might interpret his words the wrong way. Former officials such as Yang should act with restraint and refrain from engaging in armchair strategizing.
Tommy Lin is medical doctor and president of the Formosa Republican Association.
Translated by Edward Jones
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