Last March, former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Taiwan and met with the country's leaders. He issued a statement that said he personally believed the US government should immediately take necessary steps to "do the right and obvious thing" by offering diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.
More recently, former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has called on the U.S. to end its policy of "strategic ambiguity" by guaranteeing to defend Taiwan against a Chinese invasion. He said, “The U.S. should issue a statement that is not open to misinterpretation.”
In 1979, at the request of China, the U.S. unilaterally terminated a mutual defense treaty and severed diplomatic relations with Taiwan. The U.S. then closed its Taiwanese military bases and withdrew all of its troops.
As a result, Taiwan has become increasingly vulnerable to a Chinese invasion, and Taiwanese have been subjected to innumerable indignities and various forms of discrimination. Taiwanese presidents, for example, have been treated like international pariahs, banned from even talking to American presidents.
America's betrayal of Taiwan, a longtime ally, was fundamentally unprincipled and dishonorable. Chinese pressure was not and will never be an acceptable excuse for America's own moral failures.
On behalf of the American people, U.S. President Joe Biden should offer to restore the diplomatic and defense ties that were in place prior to 1979. Biden should also appeal to all countries, especially Japan, to join America in recognizing Taiwan and supporting the restoration of its UN membership.
If China cuts ties with America in retaliation, so be it. America's future diplomatic relations with China should be premised on China’s recognition of Taiwan as a sovereign equal and its commitment to peaceful cross-strait relations
Today, Taiwan is a beacon of freedom and democracy, ranking well above America on both measures. Given the ever-present threat of a Chinese invasion, Taiwan's very existence is a miracle and an inspiration. For these reasons alone, Taiwan deserves to be internationally recognized, respected, and defended.
After Taiwan was expelled from the UN in 1971, it has been steadily losing diplomatic allies, which is putting the country in an increasingly dangerous position. Although China's leaders have never ruled Taiwan, they believe it is their territory and that they have a legal right to take it over by force. Their beliefs are further reinforced by the fact that America, Japan, and many other countries “acknowledge”—but do not refute—the so-called "one China" principle, which is based on the false assertion that the Republic of China (ROC) no longer exists and that Taiwan is therefore legally part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
China’s legal arguments are undermined by two realities.
1) The ROC still exists, and it has transformed from an authoritarian state into a democratic Taiwanese state.
2) Due to the Chinese Civil War, legal sovereignty over Taiwan was never explicitly transferred from Japan to the ROC after World War 2, as was originally intended. Taiwan's political status was instead left undetermined. Consequently, Taiwanese have a legal right to self-determination, which they are now exercising via democratic processes, and the PRC has no legal right to determine their future for them.
Due to the international community’s collective failure to resoundingly reject China’s spurious legal arguments, Abe Shinzo has warned that China's leaders might eventually invade Taiwan, claiming that it is "necessary to suppress anti-government activities in one of its own regions, and that such acts therefore would not violate international law." China's leaders would also claim that military intervention by the U.S. and other countries would be illegal because it infringes on China's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
By not championing international recognition of the fact that Taiwan and China are different countries, America and its allies are allowing China to weaponize international law to justify an invasion, obstruct international intervention, and to compel Taiwanese to submit to Chinese Communist Party rule. These factors are increasing the likelihood of war, which threatens the sovereignty and territorial integrity not only of Taiwan, but also Japan.
In the words of Abe Shinzo, “A Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency, and therefore an emergency for the Japan-U.S. alliance.”
Because Japan and Taiwan are close neighbors, any conflict in Taiwan could spill over into Japan. It is impossible to guarantee Japan’s security without guaranteeing Taiwan’s.
The U.S. has over 50,000 troops stationed in Japan and is obligated by treaty to contribute to “the security of Japan and the maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East.” Japan’s pacifist constitution limits its ability to defend any country except itself. With regard to Taiwan’s defense, the burden of leadership necessarily falls on the U.S. Arguably, because of America's treaty obligations to defend Japan, it has an implicit treaty obligation to defend Taiwan.
To understand why Japan's security is so dependent upon Taiwan's security, one only needs to look at Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Since the invasion began on February 24th, Ukrainians have fought heroically. Nonetheless, over 5 million Ukrainians—more than 11% of the population—have evacuated to neighboring countries. Half of the refugees are children.
Japan’s Yonaguni Island is so close to Taiwan that it is possible to look across the water and see Taiwan’s mountains when the weather is clear. If China invaded Taiwan, causing a refugee crisis on a scale comparable to the one in Ukraine, Yonaguni and the neighboring Yaeyama Islands could potentially be overwhelmed by up to 1 or 2 million people.
Given that the combined population of the Yaeyama Islands is just over 50 thousand, the islands simply do not have the resources to cope with a Taiwan refugee crisis. If refugees were not transported to the Japanese mainland or other countries fast enough, the situation could develop into a humanitarian disaster.
Local residents in the Yaeyama Islands may also feel compelled to leave their homes, simply due to fear, or perhaps because of a government order, especially if Chinese warplanes are flying dangerously close.
Massive displacement of both Taiwanese and Japanese would likely be just the beginning of the problems caused by a Chinese invasion.
China has for years been openly fostering a small Okinawa independence movement which is vocally opposed to the presence of the American and Japanese militaries. Japan's Public Security Intelligence Agency issued a report in 2017 which warned of China's intent to divide Japanese society.
If China successfully acquired Taiwan by force, it would likely use force to take Japan's nearby Senkaku Islands, which China also claims. After consolidating military control over those areas, it might ramp up efforts to pry the entirety of Okinawa prefecture away from the Japanese mainland.
China has already been taking over islands in the South China Sea and turning them into military outposts. China has also recently declared a "no limits" partnership with Russia, which has been carving off chunks of Ukraine, first by occupying Crimea, and then by recognizing the independence of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics in the Donbass region.
China's willingness to support Russia should make Japan wary of the possibility that China's own territorial ambitions have "no limits."
Merely issuing a statement, such as Abe Shinzo has proposed, will not be enough to deter China from invading Taiwan. The U.S. must also back up its defense promises with a credible guarantee that it will not—indeed cannot—abandon Taiwan.
One of the most politically feasible ways of doing that would be to move a significant number of U.S. troops from Okinawa, where they are viewed as a burden, to Taiwan, where they are actually needed. Taiwan would be safer, and as a result, so would Okinawa.