By Neil Hare
If the United States is island shopping, it is time to forget about Greenland and take a look at the island nation of Taiwan, that sits literally and figuratively in the middle of U.S.-China relations.
Unlike Greenland, which is actually owned by another country – Denmark – Taiwan sits in what U.S. foreign policy has declared “strategic ambiguity.” It is not recognized by the United Nations, the U.S., or any of the G-20 countries. The U.S. actually has a legitimate claim to Taiwan under international law by defeating Japan in World War II. Japan controlled Taiwan at the time and ceded all the territories they conquered in the region to the U.S. and the allied powers. When Nixon opened China in 1972, however, he placated them by agreeing to the “One China” policy, which states that Taiwan is not a separate country from China. The U.S. didn’t completely hang Taiwan out to dry, and in 1979 the Taiwan Relations Act was passed whereby the U.S. swore to defend Taiwan if attacked.
This confusing and tenuous Kabuki dance has lasted for 40 years until President Trump turned it on its head as he has done with many international relationships that date back to the post World War II era. He has communicated directly with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen and allowed her to officially travel within the United States. And, he’s authorized major arms sales to Taiwan including the recently approved $8 billion sale of 66 F-16V fighters to Taiwan. These actions have bordered on diplomatic recognition of Taiwan and have angered the Chinese.
President Trump has made our relationship with China the focal point of his first term, even willing to jeopardize the strong economy that is the highlight of his presidency by engaging in this heated trade war. So, President Trump, double down and buy Taiwan.
Look no further than the situation in Hong Kong, which is unravelling by the day with major implications to the global economy. The people of Hong Kong do not want to live under the oppressive rule of the Communist Chinese and are taking to the streets. They are currently lobbying the U.S. Congress to pass legislation keeping them out of China’s grasp. And, many of them are looking to leave Hong Kong and go to Taiwan, which at present, still has many freedoms of a Western-style democracy. However, they may be jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
Taiwan has a presidential election in January of 2020 between President Tsai who is arguably pro-U.S. and the staunchly pro-Chinese candidate Han Kuo-yu. If he wins there may be little the U.S. can do to stem the tide of Chinese influence over Taiwan. It’s also important to note China is willing to play the long game with Taiwan. They can employ their ancient torture of “death by a thousand cuts” and simply acquire Taiwan bit by bit. They already employ soft power tactics by hacking Taiwan daily, hiring its top talent, influencing its social media, dominating their trade, and without question, by trying to influence its upcoming election.
President Trump must take action before it is too late, otherwise China is looking at a huge win. Taiwan boasts the 22nd largest GDP in the world, is our 11th largest trading partner and leads in sectors like tech, biotech, chemicals, and engineering. It is also strategically located in close proximity to “frenemies” China and North Korea and allies Japan and South Korea. With all due respect to Greenland, Taiwan’s economy and geopolitical importance dwarfs that of the frozen tundra to the north.
If Taiwan is not for sale, a free trade agreement and special immigration status for the Taiwanese would be the smart thing to do. Both ideas would enjoy bi-partisan support and President Trump has the power to push both ideas through Congress. These deals will also actually help the U.S. economy and will likely not tweak China as much as the tariffs and recent arms deals with Taiwan. We simply cannot forsake Taiwan to Chinese soft power or perhaps even the use of force and time is running out.
President Trump has gone further than any President in 50 years to stand up to the Chinese. It is time to take this strong position to the next level by changing the U.S. policy to Taiwan. If we can’t buy it, give the Taiwanese people the benefits of free trade and special immigration status with the United States, before it is too late.
Neil Hare is the President of the Taiwanese American Chamber of Commerce and President of Global Vision Communications.