On July 6, US National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific Kurt Campbell told a virtual meeting of the Asia Society that the US does “not support Taiwan independence.”
His remark was met with dismay by those who were hoping the momentum of increased US support for Taiwan would lead to a more full-throated advocacy for independence, as well as anger among those who thought it morally reprehensible that US President Joe Biden’s administration is not more explicitly getting behind Taiwan.
Analyses of Campbell’s words have since proliferated. However, before hackles are raised, it is important to consider the context in which they were said.
Campbell was responding to a question from Asia Society Policy Institute vice president Daniel Russel, who asked: “How much love is too much love for Taiwan?” now that incremental moves toward increasing engagement with Taiwan mean that the US is edging closer to the line separating unofficial and official relations, “which in effect hollow out America’s ‘one China’ policy.”
Campbell predicated his answer by saying that he needed to be very careful, as the US is dealing with a “delicate and dangerous” balance, and has extraordinarily important interests in the maintenance of peace and stability. He added that other nations are coming to realize that, too, naming Japan and the UK.
Voicing support for Taiwanese independence would disturb this delicate balance.
Campbell had to be careful because he was not offering a personal judgement or official desired objective. He was maintaining official US policy, as a representative of the US administration. He would have been keenly aware of the audience he has beyond the three other participants in the virtual meeting. His words were designed to send a signal to Beijing, Taipei and members of the US Congress pushing for more official support for Taiwan.
Russel’s point about the blurring of the lines between official and unofficial US-Taiwan ties is central. Starting with the administration of former US president Donald Trump, Washington has made incremental moves to increase engagement with Taiwan, and the Biden administration has continued on this trajectory of blurring official/unofficial exchanges with Taipei, doing away with the appearance of clearing these with Beijing first, as would be expected if the US recognized Beijing’s jurisdiction over Taiwan.
The US’ donation of COVID-19 vaccines to Taiwan is a good example of this.
In addition, with the Biden administration’s encouragement, a G7 communique last month stressed the importance of maintaining peace in the Taiwan Strait, as did the joint statements from meetings between Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga in April and with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in May.
Much has been made of the Chinese Communist Party’s “salami slicing” in the South China Sea, achieving its aims by incremental steps that individually do not constitute a provocation. The Biden administration is slicing some salami of its own by getting more countries to support peace across the Taiwan Strait. The more voices speak up for peace, the more difficult it would be for Beijing to direct its anger at any one actor.
While Campbell did not voice support for Taiwan’s independence, neither did he say the US supports unification, a position far more consistent with adherence to a “one China” policy.
This is how the policy defended by Campbell seeks to protect Taiwan without risking regional, and perhaps global, disruption — or even war — that nobody in their right minds would want.
Many Taiwanese would like independence for their country. However, would they want to risk war, especially when it is by no means the only solution? It is easy commenting on Taiwan’s problems when you do not live in Taiwan.
The small Baltic nation of Lithuania last week announced that it would accept a Taiwanese representative office in its capital, Vilnius, and that it would establish its own trade office in Taiwan by the end of the year. This was more than a welcome announcement to Taiwan and goes far beyond the normal establishment of trade relations. Lithuanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Gabrielius Landsbergis summed it up succinctly, boldly saying: “Freedom-loving people should look out for each other.” With these words, Landsbergis was purposefully going beyond normal diplomacy; he was also presenting a moral challenge and reminder to other democratic nations. A look
Having deceived the world about its nuclear capabilities while preparing for an arms race, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now using its increasing nuclear forces for virtual nuclear coercion. This new threat will continue until the United States, Japan, and Taiwan can restore the CCP’s sense of fear. This dynamic is a familiar one for Taiwan. As the CCP’s People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) capabilities have grown, its inhibitions about conducting larger and more frequent coercive military demonstrations have shrunk. The PLA now more openly practices for the destruction of Taiwan’s democracy and the murder of its citizens. In the nuclear realm,
The Tokyo Olympics will perhaps be remembered as one of the oddest Games in the event’s long and checkered history. Held amid a global pandemic, spectators are banned from most venues, leaving athletes to play out their feats of sporting brilliance in eerie silence. Meanwhile, furious Tokyo residents wave placards outside some venues, calling for the Games’ cancelation. Adding to the incongruity of it all, the entire Russian team is absent, banned due to a doping scandal. That the Tokyo Olympics went ahead at all has been extremely contentious in Japan. Critics fear a mass outbreak of the highly contagious Delta
On a peaceful day in the open Pacific Ocean to the east of Taiwan, a US carrier and five accompanying warships were slowly sailing to guard the western Pacific. Another carrier battle group had just returned to its home port in San Diego. Suddenly, alarms went off as many intercontinental ballistic missiles were launched from the interior of China, flying toward Taiwan. Numerous Chinese warships, carriers, fighter jets, bombers and submarines were fast converging on the US ships. Not too long after, missiles, bombs and torpedoes were fired at the US carrier. The surprise to Americans was the number of