Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just lifted “self-imposed restrictions” on contacts between American diplomats and the government of Taiwan, ending a practice that has been in place for 40 years to appease China. Pompeo also said he is dispatching Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to Taiwan for meetings that will begin this Wednesday. Other U.S. officials are suggesting that President Trump go further and formally recognize Taiwan.
Pompeo’s moves in the last days of the Trump administration have angered China’s ruling Communist Party, which considers the self-governing island of 23.6 million people a renegade province that should be brought under its rule. Chinese state media called Pompeo’s move a “cowardly act of sabotage” that “crossed a dangerous red line.”
But the tolerance of U.S. officials for kowtowing to China has become limited. Today (January 11) marks the anniversary of China confirming its first death from COVID-19. Earlier this month, it was revealed that U.S. officials have concluded the “most credible” explanation for the virus’s origin is that it escaped from a top-secret Chinese lab. Axios reports Dr. Anthony Fauci believes “a lack of transparency by Chinese officials— particularly about the novel coronavirus’s transmission—played a significant role in allowing COVID-19 to spread outside China.”
And as if to bolster Fauci’s suspicions, China this month delayed permission for World Health Organization scientists to ever the country and probe the origins of the virus.
Small wonder that U.S. officials have less interest in adhering to the one-China policy, under which the U.S. recognizes Beijing as the government of China and doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
But Taiwan, which is a shining light in terms of its international cooperation in fighting the coronavirus, does have a de facto U.S. embassy in Taipei, its capital, and it buys military equipment from the U.S.
Taiwan’s strategic location and its military helps keep China’s navy and air force confined to the country’s peripheral areas. This is an important contribution to U.S. interests. Last August, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declared that “China poses a greater national security threat to the U.S. than any other nation.”
In precarious times such as this, the U.S. needs to strengthen its friendships with nations like Taiwan. Even if the Chinese won’t like it.
That’s why several foreign-policy experts are urging the Trump administration to go further than Pompeo’s moves and establish full diplomatic relations with Taiwan.
Many argue that Washington can recognize only one “China,” either the People’s Republic of China or the Republic of China, at any one time. After all, each formally denies the legitimacy of the other.
Yet as China scholar Gordon Chang notes:
The U.S. recognizes states—India, Nepal, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia—with claims to territory and sea zones that China also claims.
So there is no diplomatic principle that would prevent Washington from recognizing two competing ‘Chinas.’ In essence, Washington would recognize Beijing and Taiwan for the territories that they in fact control.
Gerrit van der Wees, who teaches Taiwan history at George Mason University, told Newsweek, “Taiwan has never in its history been part of the People’s Republic of China.” Indeed, a poll released last year found that 83.2 percent of Taiwan’s residents view themselves as Taiwanese-only. Only 5.3 percent call themselves Chinese-only.
In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan called for a return to official relations with Taiwan. But he was never able to pull it off because of opposition from within his own State Department.
President Trump may have only days left in his turbulent tenure, but he could dramatically end them by recognizing Taiwan. Chang, the China scholar, says: “Recognition would make it clear that China would have to go through the U.S. and its friends to take Taiwan. It would go a long way to stopping China cold in its tracks, preserving democracy, defending America and keeping the peace.”