KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- Last Friday, Richard C. Bush wrote an article for the Brookings Institution arguing against the suggestion that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) should be invited to address the U.S. Congress.
His article was in response to a joint letter written to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi by five US Senators. The signatories to the letter were Cory Gardner, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, John Cornyn, and Ted Cruz, all Republican’s and all on record as being staunch critics of communist China and strong supporters of democratic Taiwan.
The crux of the argument made by the five Senators is that such a visit would be consistent with U.S. law thanks to the recently passed Taiwan Travel Act which permits senior governmental visits. They also said it would be just reward for one of America’s closest allies in the region.
It is difficult to disagree with thess main points, although most people would readily acknowledge that the situation is quite complicated. Perhaps the Senators are thinking about things more from the United States point of view than from Taiwan’s.
Bush’s rebuttal: U.S. – China relations
This is certainly the view of Richard C. Bush, whose article is forthright in its condemnation of the idea. But his argument is far from watertight. It is built around three key reasons.
Firstly, he argues that, despite the Taiwan Travel Act, such a visit would be “contrary to a fundamental principle of U.S. relations with China” which is that all relations with Taiwan would be unofficial. He predicts that if the U.S. breaches this principle, there would be serious consequences from the Chinese regime.
But as the letter from the five Senator’s rightly says, a visit by President Tsai to the U.S. Congress is now legal under the terms of the Taiwan Travel Act. That means this "fundamental principle," as he calls it, has already been breached. U.S. law now allows for official high-level visits from Taiwan. It is irrelevant when they happen and who visits really. The United States has chosen to change its position on this issue, something which the government is absolutely entitled to do.
Would there be consequences for the U.S. from China if such a visit took place. Possibly, but the current trade war is already stretching China to the limit. There are not too many more economic aces left up Xi Jinping’s sleeve. There would be howls of indignation from Beijing no doubt, but it is highly debatable whether China is capable of having the sort of negative effect on the U.S.A. that Richard Bush suggests.
Punishment for Taiwan
Secondly, he also argues that Taiwan would suffer too. Bush believes that communist China would seek to squeeze Taiwan even harder, make greater efforts to buy off Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies, intensify military exercises aimed at Taiwan, and interfere more in Taiwan’s democratic process.
He skirts around this point in a single paragraph which suggests that perhaps he isn’t too convinced by it himself. He shouldn’t be. The fact is that communist China cannot squeeze Taiwan much harder than it is already.
Their dollar diplomacy is already in overdrive, trying to steal Taiwan’s allies and ensuring those who hold out suffer economically as a result. Their hostile military actions towards Taiwan have also intensified significantly over the past two years and show no sign of letting off.
As for their interference in Taiwan’s politics, you only have to look at the unlikely success of the KMT in the recent "nine-in-one" elections, where the likes of Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) swept to power in no small part thanks to fake news emanating from China, and quite possibly Chinese money as well, to see this is already at work.
Throw into the mix the CCP’s efforts to keep Taiwan out of any international organization, their threats to any company that doesn’t refer to Taiwan as a province of China, and their ongoing but failing efforts to win, force. and even blackmail the support of the Taiwanese people for unification, and you have to ask Richard Bush how much more pressure China can realistically exert.
The dangers of presumption
His third point is a slightly better one. He suggests that the five Senators had not considered what Taiwan’s views on the idea of inviting Tsai Ing-wen to Washington might be, and suggests that Tsai would not be keen to take the gamble.
He may be right. But, like the five Senators, he is just as guilty of making assumptions on behalf of Taiwan’s President.
At the end of the day, if invited, it would be Taiwan’s decision whether its president should speak to the U.S. Congress or not. If Congress decides it would like her to visit, it would be best to invite her in private through the usual "unofficial" diplomatic channels.
There should be full and frank discussions about the merits and risks on both sides and, if agreement is reached that she will visit, how such an event is announced and the details of what she would say should be carefully coordinated by both sides.
Why President Tsai should address Congress
While Richard Bush argues that it is a bad time for Taiwan and the U.S. to be going down this path, the counter-argument is that there has never been a better time.
After years of appeasement, the international community finally seems to be cottoning on to what communist China is really like. Their human rights atrocities in Xinjiang province, the corporate espionage carried out through conduits like Huawei and ZTE, and their brazen willingness to execute an innocent Canadian over a diplomatic spat, is finally casting a light on the true character of the communist regime in China.
Communist China is a very different beast to the one President Jimmy Carter formally recognized back in 1979. Forty years ago, China was a developing country. Today, it is an economic and political behemoth and a significant threat not only to U.S. interests, but to global peace and stability.
In contrast, Taiwan has moved in the polar opposite direction. It has emerged from a brutal military dictatorship which still held hopes of reclaiming sovereignty over all of China, to become a flourishing democracy. Taiwan today is a fully fledged sovereign nation. It has enjoyed its own economic miracle, become a bastion for human rights, and today stands as a beacon for freedom and democracy in Asia, as well as being a staunch ally to the U.S. and the West.
These fundamental changes in the status of Taiwan and China demand that the rest of the world reassess their political and diplomat approach to relations in the Indo-Pacific. The time to do that is now.
Regardless of the inevitable petulance and tubthumping that will come out of Beijing, it is time for the U.S. and other developed countries to recognize Taiwan as the sovereign nation it so clearly is. This is the only realistic path to a lasting peace in the Taiwan Straits.
If the world continues to follow Richard Bush’s advice and tip-toe around communist China, this dangerous regime is going to continue to take liberties and exploit the fear and control they command. Eventually, one of those liberties will be Taiwan and that will leave the U.S. with the very difficult decision of whether or not to intervene militarily.
A speech by President Tsai before the U.S. Congress could be the first step down the road to normalization of relations between Taiwan and the U.S.A. And what better time for such a speech to take place than April 10th of this year – the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Taiwan Relations Act.