After a recent visit to Beijing, Stanford University political scientist Oriana Skylar Mastro wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on Monday last week, titled “This is what America is getting wrong about China and Taiwan.”
Unfortunately, her article wrongly advised the US to conclude a new (fourth) communique with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and acquiesce to China’s ambitions to annex Taiwan (under the guise of “peaceful unification”) to avoid a war with China.
A few days later, while speaking at Washington think tanks, former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) cited Mastro’s op-ed, and called upon the US to remain neutral on the Taiwan question and stop “weaponizing” Taiwan.
He also urged the US to encourage the Taiwanese government to resume “peaceful dialogue” with Beijing based on the so-called “1992 consensus.”
Nonetheless, as Vice President William Lai (賴清德) recently said, accepting the “1992 consensus,” with its “one China” principle, would be equivalent to giving up Taiwan’s sovereignty, and losing freedom and democracy.
It should be clear that China’s so-called “peaceful unification” with Taiwan under Beijing’s “one country, two systems” formula is an empty promise, a red herring and a complete lie. The PRC government has proven untrustworthy. Look at East Turkestan — known to China as Xinjiang — Tibet and Hong Kong.
More importantly, the overwhelming majority of Taiwanese want to keep Taiwan free as a sovereign and independent country. They have no interest in making democratic Taiwan part of communist China.
Mastro also repeated the myth that the three US-PRC joint communiques had helped the US avoid a war with China over Taiwan.
What are really crucial in preventing the PRC from invading Taiwan are the US’ commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances, along with US arms sales and military assistance to Taiwan.
In 1972, when the US still maintained diplomatic ties with Taiwan, then-US president Richard Nixon and US secretary of state William Rogers visited communist China, and concluded the Shanghai Communique to pave the way for normalization of relations with the authoritarian PRC.
After establishing US-PRC diplomatic ties in 1979, Washington created self-imposed restrictions on high-level exchanges with Taiwan. However, with the Taiwan Travel Act signed into US law in 2018, all those restrictions on high-level visits from and to Taiwan have effectively been lifted.
Now, other than conceding to China’s isolation of Taiwan, one cannot think of any other reason why US President Joe Biden and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken — and their predecessors — would refrain from visiting Taiwan and signing a joint communique to reaffirm the US’ commitment to Taiwan and begin the process of normalizing relations with the democratic nation.
Since Biden took office in 2021, Washington has closely watched China’s increasing aggression against Taiwan. The US has issued joint communiques and statements with its G7 partners and other allies to reiterate their commitments to maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.
However, oddly and sadly, none of these communiques and statements involved Taiwan.
China has built up its military for decades, threatening peace and changing the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait. It is therefore more crucial and urgent than ever for the US and its allies to stand up to China’s continued bullying and diplomatic isolation of Taiwan, and openly challenge Beijing’s “one China” principle that unrealistically claims Taiwan as an integral part of China.
Taiwan has long possessed all the qualifications of statehood under international law. It has existed as a sovereign and independent state for decades, and deserves full membership in international organizations and formal recognition by all other states.
Last month, the US announced its recognition of and new diplomatic ties with two Pacific island nations, the Cook Islands and Niue, as part of its push to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.
Today, the US maintains diplomatic relations with almost every country in the world, except for North Korea, Iran, Bhutan and Taiwan. As a full-fledged democratic and free country that respects human rights, Taiwan does not belong on that short list of nations that do not have diplomatic ties with the US.
In 1954, then-US president Dwight Eisenhower, signed a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan, formally committing to defend Taiwan militarily to contain communist China after the Korean War. Eisenhower also visited Taiwan in 1960, making him the first and only sitting US president to do so in history.
The US maintained diplomatic relations and a mutual defense treaty with Taiwan until 1979 and 1980 respectively, showing clearly that the US’ formal and robust military ties with Taiwan could effectively deter Beijing rather than leading to China’s full invasion of Taiwan.
The only real reason the PRC has not invaded Taiwan is that China has not yet built the capability and does not have the confidence to make a successful conquest, especially when Beijing believes that US troops would intervene and help defend Taiwan.
Instead of concluding another confusing communique with communist China, the US president or the secretary of state should visit and conclude a joint communique or a statement with Taiwan to support Taiwanese’s right to self-determination, make it clear that Taiwan is not part of China, and pledge that US forces would defend the nation from a Chinese attack.
Washington should not let Beijing dictate US policy toward Taiwan. Avoiding diplomatic recognition of Taiwan to appease the PRC would only encourage more Chinese bullying and aggression.
To more effectively deter China’s forcible annexation of Taiwan, the US, as the leading democratic country, should diplomatically recognize Taiwan’s true “status quo” as an independent, sovereign country and adopt a policy of “strategic clarity” on Taiwan.
Doing so is in Washington’s interest, both for geostrategic reasons as well as to maintain US leadership in the world and contain rising authoritarianism.
Minze Chien is president of the Formosan Association for Public Affairs.
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