During his speech at the Global Taiwan Business Forum in Kaohsiung on Tuesday morning, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo made a reference to how he graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point only a decade after the fall of Saigon.
He said at the time that he would have been dubious that the US and Vietnam would be able to cooperate on as many issues as they do today. The choice of Vietnam was telling. His immediate point was that the US’ relations with Vietnam are a measure of how quickly and radically the international situation can change, given changing realities on the ground.
Vietnam is an example of a regional player that finds the rise of China concerning; the US needs nations in the region to help contain the ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Pompeo’s speech was ostensibly about Taiwan’s post-COVID-19 pandemic business opportunities from the perspective of international economic and trade trends. He emphasized his decade-long experience as a businessman as well as his experience as a politician to bring together the topic of his speech and the reason that he was the person to deliver it.
While the speech was written in consideration of regional business ties and opportunities, politics was ever present. Throughout, China was the elephant in the room, either implied or explicitly mentioned.
He spoke of the warmth he received in Taiwan, both from officials and the business community, saying that this was his second trip to Taiwan. He contrasted this with his persona non grata status in China, an expression of the reality that Taiwan and China are not the same place.
US-China relations have not always been this bad. For decades, successive US administrations pursued a policy of political and economic engagement with Beijing, from which China benefited hugely.
Pompeo spoke of how the CCP’s behavior over the past two decades has necessitated a re-evaluation, and of the need to recognize that the policy of engagement was flawed and had failed.
The politician in Pompeo made sure that the speech was punctuated with criticisms of the current US administration’s ambiguity on the US’ commitment to defending Taiwan, contrasting it with his own initiatives while US secretary of state during the administration of former US president Donald Trump, such as the removal of rules regulating official visits between US and Taiwanese officials, and a more robust China policy.
The positive changes that Pompeo introduced while secretary of state, as well as his statement during his previous visit in March that Taiwan is already independent and that the US should officially recognize this reality, are widely welcomed in Taiwan, as was the friendship of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, whose state funeral was happening that same morning, a reference Pompeo also made.
Abe recognized the threat posed by the CCP, and Pompeo said that the Japanese government is discussing doubling its defense budget and that Australia plans to build nuclear submarines in response to the CPP’s behavior.
Essentially, Pompeo’s speech was about how the international situation is shifting, and the China policy of not only the US, but other members of the international community must change and is changing to confront the threat posed by the CCP.
Although the politician in Pompeo did not want to concede it, US President Joe Biden’s administration is making inroads to forming an alliance to contain China, including regional players such as Vietnam, Australia, Japan and India, but also those further afield, such as the EU, including central and eastern European states that have done more than their share of highlighting the belligerent behavior of the CCP and standing against it.
The situation continues to shift and the arc of history is moving in Taiwan’s favor.
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