TIPA bill offers both opportunities and risks for Taiwan

The flurry of pro-Taiwan legislation in the USA presents both opportunities and risks for Taiwan. But it is through true statesmanship that Taiwan can really win global support.


(By Wikimedia Commons)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – Last Friday saw a new piece of Taiwan-related legislation announced in the US. It is the latest in a number of bills put forward by Taiwan’s most vital international ally.

But despite this flurry of support, the feeling that these bills are more of an attempt to unsettle China than really boost Taiwan continues to linger. And for Taiwan, that possibility is a real concern.

The latest bill is known as the “Taiwan International Participation Act of 2018” or TIPA. It has been proposed by Senator Cory Gardner (Republican: Colorado) and Senator Edward J. Markey (Democrat: Massachusetts).

According to their press release announcing the proposed bill, it is a direct response to the “unprecedented pressure” China is currently placing on Taiwan. The bill will “instruct U.S. representatives in international organizations to use the voice and vote of the U.S. to support Taiwan’s inclusion."

It comes in the wake of Taiwan’s recent exclusion from the World Health Assembly(WHA) and the timing appears to be no coincidence. While the bill has been announced, no text has so far been published which does raise the suspicion that it might have been announced in direct reaction to the WHA situation. It seems quite plausible that, even as you read this, staffers for both senators could be urgently piecing the bill together from scratch.

However, the trend of recent pro-Taiwan bill proposals in Taiwan shows that there is a more concerted effort on the part of US legislators to show support for Taiwan.

The Taiwan Travel Act, which permits senior official exchanges between the USA and Taiwan was recently approved by both the US Senate and Congress and, crucially, signed into law by the President himself.

The "Taiwan Defense Assessment Commission Act of 2018," which would require the US Department of Defense to ensure that they are helping Taiwan to meet its defense needs has recently been referred to Senate Committee for consideration.

And the “Asia Reassurance Initiative Act of 2018” which aims to require the US Government to develop a long-term strategic vision and comprehensive, multifaceted and principled U.S. policy for the Indo-Pacific.

Included in this bill are specific requirements for regular U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and more diplomatic and defense contacts between the two countries.

Senator Cory Gardner was behind this bill too and he was very clear about his believes about Taiwan in his statements announcing TIPA. “The United States has an obligation to do everything it can to strengthen Taiwan's international standing,” he said. “This bipartisan legislation will help ensure that major international organizations do not turn a blind eye to our ally Taiwan simply because of China's bullying tactics.”

Everything here sounds like good news for Taiwan and there is no doubt that Taiwan-funded lobbying in Washington will have been behind much of what has happened recently, which would mean that Taiwan was not only supportive but also potentially instrumental in the legislation being put forward.

But there is also reason for Taiwan to be cautious about this surge of support in the USA too. For a start, with the exception of the recently passed Taiwan Travel Act, all of these proposed bills face a minimum of two years edging through the legislative process before even having a chance of getting onto the statute books. There is no guarantee that they will clear every hurdle.

But the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will see these bills now and they will only fuel the rhetorical fires of those in China who believe Taiwan is preparing to formally secede. The pro-China lobby in Washington will do their best to derail them. But even if they are unsuccessful, and the bills do pass, that may not necessarily be good news for Taiwan.

For the US to pass a law requiring it to advocate for Taiwanese participation in international organizations will undoubtedly be seen by the CCP as an intervention into their sovereignty and a violation of their "One China" policy. They will inevitably react to such a law even more strongly and Taiwan will bear the brunt of this.

The recent push by the CCP to buy Taiwan's diplomatic allies and force international airlines and other private companies to list Taiwan as "a Province of China" is a reaction to a DPP Government they disapprove of. But it is no coincidence that they have doubled down in the wake of the Taiwan Travel Act being passed in Washington.

If Taiwan pushes for too much too soon from Washington, it is therefore risking the CCP being pushed over the edge and their response being even more aggressive. That can only be a bad thing for Taiwan.

In this scenario, the only real option open to Taiwan is to tread carefully, liaise closely with the U.S. on their strategies towards the CCP, and on the international stage, be seen to act like a responsible nation state.

The current Government of Tsai Ing-wen appears to be doing just that. In the wake of their exclusion from the WHA, Taiwan sent their Health Minister to liaise with allies on the fringes of the event, and while there were some protests against their exclusion, these did not distract from the main health agenda of the meeting. That is exactly as it should be.

In the wake of the event, Taiwan confirmed that they remained committed to promoting public health globally and even announced a donation of $1 million to the World Health Organization’s Ebola fund.

Their stance received plaudits around the world, with US Senator Cory Gardner saying it best by commenting that “China could learn from the example of international and global leadership that Taiwan has presented.”

Sadly, such maturity and statesmanship appears to be beyond the CCP, as their petty and ridiculous bullying of international airlines has recently shown. Regardless of formal diplomatic recognition, it is the sort of behavior Taiwan has shown which wins friends and admirers on the international stage. Indeed, it is arguably more important than pro-Taiwan legislation in the USA or elsewhere. And that is reason enough for Taiwan to continue on this path.

In the long-run, Taiwan can only benefit from building such a positive global reputation. And while, in the short-term, the CCP may score a few political points, over time, they will inevitably overreach themselves, and it is then that Taiwan will be the beneficiaries.