Trump, Xi and Tai­wan

Pres­i­den­tial talks mustn’t over­look a vi­brant Asian democ­racy

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Lester Wolff Lester Wolff is a for­mer chair­man of the Asian and Pa­cific Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee of the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee and was a prin­ci­pal au­thor of the Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act. He is cur­rently a pol­icy ad­viser to TECRO.

This week, the world will wit­ness the first meet­ing be­tween U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping. There has been much spec­u­la­tion on which top­ics their con­ver­sa­tions will ad­dress, and it is a safe bet that Tai­wan will be on the list. The U.S.-Tai­wan re­la­tion­ship is a vi­tal one, and it is nec­es­sary — es­pe­cially in this time of change and un­cer­tainty — to re­state the rea­sons why.

Thirty-eight years ago this month, the Tai­wan Re­la­tions Act (TRA), an im­por­tant, bi­par­ti­san cre­ation of the U.S. Congress, was signed into law. Ne­ces­si­tated by Wash­ing­ton switch­ing its of­fi­cial diplo­matic recog­ni­tion from Taipei to Bei­jing, the TRA has al­lowed the United States to main­tain its friend­ship and ties of co­op­er­a­tion with Tai­wan and its peo­ple. It states that the sta­tus of Tai­wan should be de­ter­mined by peace­ful means, and that non­peace­ful means to do so are a threat to the re­gion and of grave con­cern to the United States.

At the same time, the TRA rec­og­nized, and con­tin­ues to rec­og­nize, the re­al­ity of the world in which we live — one where Bei­jing has never re­nounced the use of force to take Tai­wan, and where it en­gaged first in a mas­sive mil­i­tary build-up across the Tai­wan Strait, and now in the wa­ters of the East and South China Seas. The TRA man­dates that the United States “make avail­able to Tai­wan such de­fense ar­ti­cles and de­fense ser­vices in such quan­tity as may be nec­es­sary to en­able Tai­wan to main­tain a suf­fi­cient self-de­fense ca­pa­bil­ity,” and we have done so in the decades since with bi­par­ti­san sup­port.

Re­la­tions be­tween the United States and Tai­wan were fur­ther bol­stered through the Six As­sur­ances made to Tai­wan by Pres­i­dent Ron­ald Rea­gan in 1982, which stip­u­lated: the TRA would not be al­tered, the United States would not me­di­ate be­tween Taipei and Bei­jing, and the United States would not al­ter its po­si­tion about Tai­wan’s sovereignty or for­mally rec­og­nize China’s sovereignty over Tai­wan.

As a re­sult of U.S. com­mit­ments to Tai­wan, an en­vi­ron­ment was cre­ated where the peo­ple of Tai­wan — the pop­u­la­tion of which is now more than 23 mil­lion — built a true, func­tion­ing democ­racy that has ex­pe­ri­enced the peace­ful trans­fer of power from one po­lit­i­cal party to an­other three times since 2000 at the pres­i­den­tial level, and for the first time at the leg­isla­tive level last year. Amer­i­cans who have vis­ited Tai­wan or worked with Tai­wanese peo­ple know that the rea­son the re­la­tion­ship is so strong is be­cause we share many of the same val­ues — a com­mit­ment to democ­racy, per­sonal free­dom, in­di­vid­ual ex­pres­sion and the rule of law. Tai­wan has con­cur­rently grown into a vi­brant so­ci­ety gar­ner­ing achieve­ments in science and tech­nol­ogy, ed­u­ca­tion, the arts and pop­u­lar cul­ture that have been ex­ported and em­braced by peo­ple else­where in the re­gion and around the world.

In ev­ery sense, the TRA and the re­la­tion­ship that has been built upon it have been suc­cess­ful. Just as Tai­wan has ben­e­fited, so has the United States and the wider global com­mu­nity. Tai­wan today is not only one of Amer­ica’s most de­pend­able al­lies in the Asia-Pa­cific and its 10th-largest trad­ing part­ner, but it is an ex­am­ple for emerg­ing democ­ra­cies ev­ery­where and a leader in pro­vid­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid in times of need — all this in spite of the re­gret­tably lim­ited in­ter­na­tional space in which Tai­wan is al­lowed to op­er­ate.

At a time when democ­racy ap­pears to be in re­treat in many parts of the world, Tai­wan demon­strates how it can be a suc­cess. As Amer­i­can diplo­mats and for­eign pol­icy ex­perts have pointed out time and again, the U.S. com­mit­ment to Tai­wan un­der­scores to Amer­ica’s friends and foes its com­mit­ments to its al­lies and to democ­racy, and helps to main­tain U.S. cred­i­bil­ity abroad.

In the five months since the U.S. pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, there has been need­less un­cer­tainty re­gard­ing U.S. pol­icy on China, Tai­wan and crossstrait re­la­tions. Be­fore his con­fir­ma­tion ear­lier this year, Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son reaf­firmed the TRA and the Six As­sur­ances and said, “The U.S. com­mit­ment to Tai­wan is both a le­gal com­mit­ment and a moral im­per­a­tive.” This was a pos­i­tive first step.

This week’s Trump-Xi meet­ings are an op­por­tu­nity for the pres­i­dent to both pub­licly and pri­vately make the same im­por­tant points. U.S. en­gage­ment with China is im­por­tant to the peace and sta­bil­ity of the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion, but it is also vi­tal that the mu­tual in­ter­ests of the United States and Tai­wan should not in any way be com­pro­mised by this process.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY GREG GROESCH

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