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Taiwan is a country, US should stop 'strategic ambiguity'

Taiwan is a country, US should stop 'strategic ambiguity'

(CNA photo)

America’s decades-old policy of “strategic ambiguity” has become an embarrassment and a stain on its reputation as a defender of freedom and democracy. Many government officials, along with Hollywood and the business community, are so anxious about angering China that they risk twisting themselves into pretzels in order to avoid saying what ordinary people take for granted: Taiwan is a country.

There’s nothing "strategic" about making yourself look like an ass — just ask John Cena. In place of "strategic ambiguity," America and other democracies should adopt “strategic integrity," a policy of speaking and acting in a way that is consistent with shared moral principles.

Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), firmly states that Taiwan is a sovereign independent country and has called on China to face this reality.

She seeks dialogue on the basis of equality and dignity. She probably doesn’t want to risk alienating her most important allies by stating the obvious, but as a foreigner, I can say it: the world's democracies must also face reality.

Not a single major democratic nation officially recognizes Taiwan as a country or maintains formal diplomatic relations. This is an absurdity and also a key reason why Taiwan continues to face exclusion from international organizations such as the United Nations and World Health Organization.

Instead of blaming China for Taiwan’s international isolation, democracies should look in the mirror.

Last year, Congress passed the TAIPEI Act, which states that the U.S. should "support Taiwan in strengthening its official diplomatic relationships... with countries in the Indo-Pacific and around the world."

While the intentions are good, the law stinks of double standards. America has no moral authority to tell other countries to maintain formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan as long as it refuses to do so itself.

Thanks to the pathetic kowtowing of macho man John Cena, #TaiwanIsACountry is now a popular hashtag on social media. U.S. Secretary of State Blinken and Japanese Prime Minister Suga both "accidentally" referred to Taiwan as a country, setting off a cascade of international news headlines.

At the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, in violation of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy that is supported by no one but China, Japanese public broadcaster NHK introduced Taiwan’s Olympic delegation as “Taiwan です!” Many international media outlets followed suit, respecting Taiwanese sovereignty by rejecting the IOC's belittling term “Chinese Taipei” (中華台北), which Beijing purposely miswrites as “China’s Taipei” (中國台北) to falsely imply its sovereignty.

An international consensus has clearly emerged: Taiwanese have a right to be treated with dignity, and China has no right to police the language and foreign relations of other countries.

In December, U.S. President Biden will host a Summit for Democracy. Its purpose is to bring together democratic leaders from around the world to "set forth an agenda for democratic renewal and to tackle the greatest threats faced by democracies today through collective action."

One of the top items on the agenda should be a multilateral initiative to recognize Taiwan. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) can easily retaliate against one small country that acts alone, such as Lithuania, but it can’t simultaneously punish the entire democratic world without significantly damaging its own interests.

Due to the approaching Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, democracies will have extra leverage to deter CCP belligerence. Democracies can warn the CCP that if it responds to diplomatic recognition of Taiwan with threats of violence, they will immediately announce the Olympic boycott human rights organizations have long been advocating; if the CCP threatens to break off diplomatic relations, democracies should let it.

All of the reasons used to justify a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics can be used to justify a diplomatic boycott of China altogether. From an ethical perspective, our diplomatic relations with China and Taiwan have been completely backward.

If democracies end formal ties with China, they could still maintain informal ties with the country by letting it change the name of its embassies to "Beijing Economic and Cultural Representative Office," as is the current practice with Taiwan.

The Taiwan Relations Act is a 1979 law the U.S. passed after it cut ties with Taiwan and established ties with China. The law states that “the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means; to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means... is a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."

Taken at face value, the law suggests that America has more than enough reasons to cut ties with China. The Chinese military flies warplanes into Taiwan’s airspace on a near-daily basis in order to intimidate its citizens.

The clear message is that if Taiwanese refuse to accept the CCP as their sovereign ruler, they will someday pay for it with their lives. Such behavior is the antithesis of "peaceful"; it is psychological violence — a kind of terrorism.

The foundation upon which America and other democracies established diplomatic relations with China has been severely eroded. These ties are a privilege, not a right that the CCP can take for granted. Democracies should not hesitate to withdraw that privilege or award it to a country that deserves it: Taiwan.

A Taiwanese friend recently told me that foreign countries do not and will not diplomatically recognize Taiwan because of its outdated constitution.

I think this is a common but mistaken argument that Taiwanese use to rationalize the current unjust state of affairs. They put the blame entirely on themselves rather than on the moral failings of other countries, where it actually belongs.

The problem with Taiwan's constitution is that it was written before the Chinese Civil War ended in a lopsided stalemate. The Communists overtook China and the Republic of China (ROC) government retreated to Taiwan, where it remains to this day.

According to Taiwan's constitution, the country is still officially called the Republic of China. However, it made constitutional revisions beginning in 1991 that acknowledge that Taiwan's “jurisdiction extends only to the areas it controls” and that its president and legislators are “elected by and accountable to the people of those areas only.”

Meanwhile, the People's Republic of China constitution still falsely claims that "Taiwan is part of the sacred territory of the People’s Republic of China." Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) has vowed that Taiwan "must" be unified with China, even if it requires the use of "force.”

Taiwan's constitution is indisputably outdated. Other countries also have outdated constitutions, but such flaws have not been an impediment to their diplomatic recognition. For example, South Korea's constitution still claims North Korea as its territory, but nearly every country recognizes South Korea, except for North Korea, which claims it as part of its territory.

Despite the territorial dispute, most countries diplomatically recognize both North and South Korea. This means that recognizing both Taiwan and China shouldn't be a problem, even if Taiwan hasn't updated its constitution.

Right now, the only country that opposes dual recognition of Taiwan and China is China itself. Historically, the Chinese government has refused to establish diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Taiwan.

In 1997, for example, Liberia announced that it recognized both Taiwan and China, and China responded by immediately cutting ties with it. Using "dollar diplomacy," China later convinced Liberia to dump Taiwan and switch back to it.

Ever since Taiwan was forced out of the United Nations in 1971, more and more counties have chosen the path of putting economic interests above ethics, including all of the highly developed countries that can presumably afford to have principles.

At its peak, Taiwan had diplomatic relations with 70 countries, but today, only 15 small countries still recognize it. This number could soon drop lower, as a presidential candidate in Honduras is promising to establish ties with China if elected.

The diplomatic scoreboard clearly shows democracy losing against autocracy. If democracies are ever going to rally a comeback, the Summit for Democracy is the ideal place to begin.

A growing number of American political figures have publicly expressed support for diplomatic recognition of Taiwan, including former UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor John Bolton, Congressman Tom Tiffany, Congressman Lance Gooden, and Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president.

Congressman Tiffany has sponsored a concurrent resolution in the House of Representatives that calls for diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. So far, five other lawmakers have signed on as cosponsors.

In June, Japanese Defense Minister Nakayama Yasuhide questioned the morality of his country’s 1972 decision to cut ties with Taiwan. He also called on the world to protect Taiwan “as a democratic country" and proclaimed that Taiwan and Japan are not friends — they are family members.

Taiwan is not China’s “internal matter.” It is an international matter that concerns all of us, especially democracies.

We must take ownership of this fact and stop letting the CCP propaganda machine control the discourse. If we wake up one morning to see horrifying images of Chinese soldiers invading Taiwan, the Chinese government will claim that it is righteously defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity and that foreign countries have no right to interfere in its internal affairs.

We need to ask ourselves right now: Are we going to swallow this propaganda and use it as an excuse to do nothing? Will we ignore Taiwanese pleas for help as their cities burn and their loved ones die?

Hopefully not, but we risk this outcome as long as our governments continue to officially endorse the fiction that “there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China.” Letting the CCP incorrectly believe that democracies won't come to Taiwan’s aid is a very dangerous mistake, one that could lead to a reckless gamble resulting in an actual invasion and war.

Stop the diplomatic discrimination, equivocation, self-censorship, hypocrisy, and lies. The 23.5 million citizens of democratic Taiwan deserve to be treated with respect.

Diplomatically recognizing Taiwan will send an urgently needed message, and it's also the right thing to do. Let’s not wait until it is too late.

Lindell Lucy is an American based in Tokyo, where he teaches economics at an international high school. He has B.A in philosophy from Stanford University and is currently studying international relations at the Harvard Extension School as a master's student. He has started an online petition calling on democracies to diplomatically recognize Taiwan. You can sign it here:

Updated : 2021-10-23 23:13 GMT+08:00