KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) -- It is a testament to the impact that the Taiwan Travel Act (TTA) has had on U.S.-Taiwan relations that, no less a figure than former Congressional Speaker Paul Ryan paid a visit to Taiwan this week.
It is fair to say that Ryan isn’t everyone’s cup of tea in the U.S.A., but no-one can deny his seniority both within the Republican Party and in US politics. He is the 54th speaker of the House of Representatives, a former vice-Presidential nominee, and was for a while the de-facto leader of the Republicans during the Obama administration.
Ryan’s presence in Taiwan is a big deal. He is the highest profile US political figure to visit these shores for many years and his visit suggests that the US is beginning to ramp up its use of the TTA.
The visit marked the 40th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act and Ryan’s political experience showed in his deft handling of this important juncture in U.S.-Taiwan relations, even as Chinese fighter jets once again flew close to the island while he was here.
His speech while here was flattering to his hosts and while he flirted with a verbal attacks on Communist China, Ryan never quite crossed the line. Comments like, "Taiwan is a democratic success story, a reliable partner and a force for good in the world" and "We want the rest of the world to be more like Taiwan," will rile China, but are unlikely to provoke serious repercussions.
The presence of PLA fighter jets close to Taiwanese air space on the day of Ryan’s speech was no doubt arranged as a sign of Communist China's objection to the visit. But the reality is that such actions are nothing new and are something people in Taiwan are used to, although they will never accept it as justified.
While Paul Ryan was a high-profile guest, the truth is that he is still an ex-Speaker and indeed an ex-Congressman, having stood down after the 2018 mid-terms. The next step for the TTA has to be for a current senior U.S. political figure to visit Taiwan. Ryan is also another Republican in a long line to visit, and support for Taiwan should not become a single-party issue in the U.S.
The current Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, was making a visit to the U.K. at the same time Ryan was in Taiwan. It would be great to see her make a formal visit to Taiwan in the not too distant future as well.
A senior existing member of the Trump administration should also make the trip to demonstrate that despite China’s recent provocations, the U.S. continues to stand by Taiwan’s side.
The growing threat from Communist China
China’s recent threats of military attacks on Taiwan have been growing in severity, with a threat published earlier this week by the state-run Global Times newspaper to turn Taiwan into another Lebanon.
There has been some debate about what this comment might mean but anyone who visited Beirut during the height of the Middle East troubles will surely interprett it as a threat to reduce much of Taiwan to rubble.
It is easy to dismiss such talk as nationalist rhetoric aimed at stoking support from the brainwashed masses in China. But with Emperor Xi now ensured of power for as long as he wants it, the threat he poses to Taiwan is growing. The increasing volume of military exercises in proximity to Taiwan adds to concerns that Xi will follow through with an attack sooner or later.
This is why it is more essential than ever that the U.S. commitment to Taiwan remain both genuine and total. With China a growing threat to U.S. strategic and commercial interests in the world, it makes sense for both the U.S. and their western allies to begin to maneuver more towards Taiwan, which is, as Paul Ryan said, an example for the rest of the region to follow.
Time to seek a U.S. policy shift on China
William Stanton, a respected diplomat and former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) recently gave a speech in which he called for the U.S. to stop referring to it’s "One China policy" in diplomatic settings.
As Stanton explained, "We should also stop referring to the Three Communiques as if they're the Bible and we're referencing something that's holy… one is factually incorrect, one was effectively repudiated, and it was never observed in any case, so stop it. China can refer to it, OK. We should refer, as we're doing more and more in Congress, to the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances.”
He is absolutely right. The term "One China" is a piece of Communist Party propaganda that has no meaning in the real world. The current China, controlled by the Communist Party, consists of numerous regions such as Tibet, East Turkestan, and Inner Mongolia, which China has no real legitimate claim to.
It certainly has no legal or justifiable claim to sovereignty over Taiwan, which has never been part of Communist China.
The next stage of Taiwan's strengthening relationship with the U.S. should be to begin seeking a shift in Washington's stance towards China. Moving away from slavish adherence to CCP demands on sovereignty issues will be a big step forward for Taiwan and the whole region.
It could also result in other countries following suit. If any country currently has the economic power and political will to stand up to Communist China, it has to be the U.S.
Taiwan has got friends in the right places. But it is time to try and take that friendship to the next level.