WASHINGTON’S NEW TAIWAN POLICY WILL DECISIVELY TRANSFORM US-CHINA RELATIONS
Eleven days before his tenure ends, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo adeptly set things right as regards America’s relations with Taiwan going forward. Washington, aware that the Chinese government adheres to its “one-China” principle, has over the decades “voluntarily restricted” contact between American and Taiwanese politicians, diplomats, and military personnel. But Pompeo declared on January 9 that this policy is “no more.”
“Taiwan is a vibrant democracy and reliable partner of the US, and yet for several decades the State Department has created complex internal restrictions to regulate our diplomats, servicemembers, and other officials’ interactions with their Taiwanese counterparts. The US government took these actions unilaterally, in an attempt to appease the communist regime in Beijing. No more.”
Nearly four years ago, on February 28, 2017 to be specific, the US Senate unanimously passed the Taiwan Travel Act, allowing all US government employees, including cabinet members, to freely travel to Taiwan for talks with their counterparts.
The situation surrounding Taiwan has since undergone a sea change. Hong Kong and Taiwan drew international sympathy and support as Beijing ruthlessly suppressed the democratic movement in the former British colony. While the Chinese suppression of Hong Kong intensified, President Tsai Ing-wei, heading the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was re-elected in a landslide last January. The pro-Beijing Nationalist Party suffered a devastating loss, now advocating opening diplomatic relations with Washington more eagerly than the DPP.
The new coronavirus pandemic spread from Wuhan, China, right after the election, with Taiwan doing a splendid job stemming it. The US dispatched Secretary of Health Alex Azar to Taiwan last August and Under Secretary of State Keith Krach a month later to see firsthand Taiwan’s response to the pandemic. And now UN ambassador Kelly Craft is expected to be in Taiwan about the time this column is in print. In other words, America’s internal restrictions concerning Taiwan, maintained since 1979, have in effect been already removed. This time Pompeo put that in plain language as government policy, setting matters right regarding America’s posture toward Taiwan.
China reacted vehemently, as expected. The Global Times, the English edition of the Communist Party (CCP) mouthpiece People’s Daily, asked in a January 10 editorial if the Biden administration would invalidate the incumbent government’s actions “that stepped out of line” and if Pompeo would make further provocations, including his own visit to Taiwan? No honorific was used in referring to the secretary.
US Will Stand with Taiwan
The daily urged China to “clearly show its resolution to firmly oppose the US’ extreme provocations” in order to prevent the Biden administration from following the new Taiwan policy under pressure from the Trump administration, in effect crushing the foundation of the “one-China” policy. Describing Craft’s visit as “a test of Beijing’s response to Pompeo’s team,” the daily demanded that Taipei resolutely oppose it, adding:
“If they dare to stage a Pompeo visit before the end of (his) tenure, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army fighters will fly over the island of Taiwan immediately, declaring Beijing’s sovereignty over the island in an unprecedented way…If the US and the island of Taiwan dare to overreact, war will be sparked.”
Obviously, Beijing is resigned to viewing the Craft visit as impossible to prevent, but it is clear that the Chinese also desperately want to block Pompeo’s visit under all circumstances. The daily further warned:
“Those on the island of Taiwan must not take for granted that they can seek secession with the help of the last-ditch madness of an administration abandoned by the Americans. On the contrary, such madness is very likely to bring them annihilation.”
Speaking of madness, isn’t that precisely what the Chinese reaction to Pompeo’s remarks is—not the US action itself? Obviously not knowing what to do with their anger, the daily went on to show contempt for Pompeo and Trump, claiming:
“Many Americans, not just the Biden camp, are worried that the current administration is so inept that it will resort to nuclear weapons.”
But it is none other than China that has deployed as many as 2,000 missiles, including those with nuclear warheads. Have they forgotten about their own “madness” with which they have blatantly threatened the free world with nuclear attacks when push came to shove? China’s insane attack on the Republican administration shows how strongly Pompeo’s new policy has impacted the Chinese. What extremely worries the CCP is the possibility of the Biden administration honoring it. How in fact will Biden deal with Pompeo’s policy?
In 1979, when Washington restored diplomatic relations with Beijing, Senator Biden voted for the Taiwan Relations Act, under which the US stringently opposed China’s annexation of Taiwan, pledging to stand with Taiwan in defending its independence. The Taiwan Travel Act enacted in 2018 under the Trump administration is an extension of the Taiwan Relations Act, which Pompei explained by merely using different expressions in his announcement.
Thinking logically and assuming that Biden is a politician of conviction, I have no doubt he will honor Pompeo’s policy.
Pompeo’s crucial decision will have a rebounding effect on Japan, which leaves little leeway for Tokyo to dither over the Taiwan issue. In the unlikely event of siding with China, Japan would be repeating the mistake it made on the heels of the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square.
Force of Evil Spirit
The China policy of the Japanese Foreign Ministry revolved around two major pillars at the time: 1) Never incite China. When criticizing the suppression at Tiananmen Square, be careful not to cause China to lose face; and 2) Help China in the pursuit of Deng Xiaoping’s reform and plans to further open the country. Otherwise, there would likely be a chaos in China that could become a serious destabilizing factor for the security of the whole of Asia.
Contrary to the US and Europe, Japan—then under the successive administrations of prime ministers Sosuke Uno (June-August 1989) and Toshiki Kaifu (August 1989-November 1991)—assumed a restrictive posture toward imposing economic sanctions on China over the massacre. But its compassion proved a blunder. The CCP is a force like an evil spirit which refuses to recognize the freedom and ethnic diversity of the Chinese people. Japan is now paying for having naively put trust in this sinister force.
Many parts of Biden’s China policy remain opaque at this juncture. But one thing appears to be certain: he will not be able to exercise strong leadership at home. It would be wise for the world to brace itself for a situation in which the Biden administration may likely be compelled to be on the defensive against the unwavering foreign policy of a CCP committed to ruling by force. The more under attack from China Biden becomes, the harder Japan should endeavor as an ally to back his administration. It is definitely in Japan’s national interests to come up with ideas to the best of its ability aimed at enhancing the structure for cooperation with the US.
From a mid- to medium-range perspective, there will be absolutely no future for China so long as it continues to destroy human freedom. I know the nations in the liberal camp will eventually triumph and build a future far more desirable than China’s. Believing so unflinchingly, it is important for us to powerfully support and sustain efforts to safeguard Taiwan’s independence.
Japan already is part of an industrial structure developed jointly with the US and Taiwan to confront the Chinese offensive. While China is desperately building a global supply chain excluding the US, Japan is an important member of an expansive supply chain that does not include China. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, which already has decided to build a US$12 billion plant in Phoenix, Arizona, is slated to start R&D operations this year in Tsukuba City, Ibaragi Prefecture, in a partnership with Japanese companies. There will also be a TSMC plant in Kita-Kyushu. I firmly believe that America’s new Taiwan policy announced by Pompeo has hit the nail on the head. Japan on its part should use its ingenuity in developing a viable policy to protect Taiwan and implement it with courage.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 934 in the January 21, 2021 issue of The Weekly Shincho)