Taiwan: So Far From Beijing, So Close to Washington?
US Taiwan policy: ‘All this has happened before, and will happen again’
As I found out when I had to teach an annual class on the subject, it is difficult to overestimate America’s influence on Taiwan. From foods like soy milk, the omnipresent corn kernels, and Aiwen (Irwin) mangoes, to college textbooks and scholarly and scientific practices, to sports and exercise, to major consumer brands and military hardware, the US is a powerful shaper of the lives of Taiwanese. Taiwan’s relationship with the US is crucial to the island nation’s security.
One of the recurring features of the US-Taiwan-China triangle is that when China and the US are at loggerheads, the US moves closer to Taiwan. This week on Wednesday, June 20, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), introduced House Concurrent Resolution 124 to the 115th Congress, which calls for the US to resume diplomatic relations with Taiwan and to abolish the U.S. “One China Policy.” Rohrabacher is a founding co-chairman of the Congressional Taiwan Caucus.
Similar resolutions were introduced in 2005 by Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-CO), in 2007 and in 2009 by John Linder (R-GA), and in 2012 and 2013 by Michael McCaul (R-TX). Rohrabacher’s resolution is worded similarly to Tancredo’s, but Tancredo had included a line from Bill Clinton about the assent of the people of Taiwan, in order to give the resolution a more bipartisan appeal. Rohrabacher dropped that line.
One reason Rohrabacher might have left out specific language to attract bipartisan support is that it is not necessary: Taiwan has strong bipartisan support in Congress. For example, the Taiwan Travel Act was passed early in 2018 with unanimous support in both the House and Senate.
Though it is only a resolution, and will likely go nowhere, such open statements of support are always appreciated in the pro-Taiwan community.
The Trump Administration has done many things that make Taiwan supporters cautiously optimistic, from arranging a phone call between Presidents Tsai and Trump, to selling arms to Taiwan, to appointing pro-Taiwan individuals such as Randall Schriver and John Bolton to key policymaking positions. The US is engaged in a trade war against China, which at present appears will have only a limited impact on Taiwan. Taiwan is also closely allied to nations such as Japan and Philippines, whose territory the China government is attempting to steal.
It is tempting to argue with the trade war and the growing animosity between the US and China, as well as with US allies and friends, that a sea change in the US Taiwan relationship is in the air.
Yet, those with long memories will recall that then-President George Bush once promised to defend Taiwan, then later instituted a de facto arms freeze and refused to sell fighter aircraft to Taiwan because the Administration needed China’s government’s cooperation on some other issue. The Obama Administration, with China policies determined by officials who had circulated in and out of consulting firms that did business with China, appeared to regard Taiwan as an impediment to good relations with Beijing. Many within the US government appear to secretly wish that they would wake up one morning and find that the ocean has swallowed Taiwan and the island will never again vex their councils. Even this apparently pro-Taiwan resolution may be little more than political pandering: Rohrabacher is in a close race for his seat in a district with many Asian-American voters.
In thinking about this, it is important to remember two things. If readers are tempted to make conclusions about “Trump’s view” of things or Trump’s legendary arbitrariness and capriciousness, recall that US Taiwan policy has immense historical momentum dating back to the late 1940s, and the opinions and understandings of many go into the making of it. It will not easily be deflected from its current course. Though the island may often appear to be only a tool for cynical US officials, and is often painted as such by cynical critics of the US, it never entirely becomes one: there is a deep well of affection and support for Taiwan among Americans and their government that helps to shape the US Taiwan relationship.
Taiwan supporters should also take the long view. The trade war will end at some point (though it may well end in a hot war, if it persists). Anti-China officials like Peter Navarro, the current assistant to the President, Director of Trade and Industrial Policy, and the Director of the White House National Trade Council, along with John Bolton and other pro-Taiwan administration officials, will move to the next phase of their lives. Trump will someday not be President.
But Taiwan will still be here, and the dynamic by which the US moves closer to Taiwan when it moves farther from Beijing will still be operation. The US “One-China policy” will still fail to include Taiwan in China. Japan will still be there pushing the US to get more interested in the Taiwan problem.
Further; the deep human-to-human links between Taiwan and the US will still be there, still drawing my two nations together, still helping to humanize US Taiwan policy and still pushing US officials to do the right thing.
Count on it.
Take Action Now
Tell your lawmakers to support H.Con.Res. 124 Expressing the sense of Congress that the United States should resume normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Click here and you will taken to ACT’s online tool to contact your Representative.
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