News pops that a bipartisan delegation of U.S. House and Senate members are in Taiwan, thumbs up. Meantime, Communist China conducts military exercises nearby. The truth is, U.S.-Taiwan links are long, deep, and enduring – just like Chinese harassment.
Four facts help define the special relationship. They offer hope and concern. The question is: As tensions rise globally, is Taiwan in trouble? What dominates, hope or concern?
First, recall history. U.S.-Taiwanese relations are complex but tight. China’s civil war started in 1927 and got suspended during WWII, with Japan the aggressor. It resumed after Allies beat Japan and tried to guide China to democracy.
That effort failed, although led by U.S. General George C. Marshall. The Communists, learning from Soviet Joseph Stalin, prevailed by force in December 1949.
Ironically, on the eighth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the Communists pushed China’s democratic Nationalists to Taiwan. On December 7, 1949, Communists took over China.
They did – and still do – by repression. Although living standards climbed for some, poverty is ubiquitous, and government control over individuals suffocating. Communism leaves no room for individuality or liberties we enjoy unthinkingly.
China’s 1.4 billion people cover an expansive landmass, are systematically oppressed, pockets of prosperity vastly outweighed by brutal suppression of childbearing, free speech, worship, travel, grievance, self-defense, with no freedom from captivity, imprisonment, torture, concentration camps “reeducation,” or fair trials, appeals, or Habeas Corpus rights. None.
In 1972, anti-communist U.S. President Richard Nixon tried a Sun-Tzu move and visited Communist China, thinking (naively) democracy’s influence would win them over. In 1979, Jimmy Carter opened official relations with Communist China.
Unfortunately, all this led to back-seating Taiwan, subject to “informal” and “unofficial” relations with the U.S., an ally in principle but with no formal alliance.
Under the 1979 “Taiwan Relations Act,” a “one China” policy was hatched, a clever artifice that permitted “strategic ambiguity, China imagining Taiwan part of their Communist world, the West imagining Taiwan the vanguard of a someday democratic China.
Too clever by half, this act by Jimmy Carter, who also managed to forfeit the Panama Canal and crush the U.S. economy, nullified the “Sino-American Defense Treaty” with Taiwan.
Bringing history to this hour, the policy remains unchanged – as Joe Biden makes Jimmy Carter look better with botched policy descriptions. The U.S. is not obligated to defend Taiwan but may deliberate ambiguity. Fortunately, Biden has not suggested China make a “minor incursion.”
Second big U.S.-Taiwan link: The U.S. sells defensive weapons to Taiwan beyond anything sold to other nations not formally allied with us, including Ukraine. Since Carter, but especially after Reagan, we have sold tens of billions of dollars weapons to Taiwan.
These weapons are not insignificant, but a major deterrent to Communist Chinese aggression. We have sold everything from Maverick, Tow, Hawk, Stinger, Patriot, HARM, and Harpoon missiles to aircraft including C-130s, F-16s, and Super Cobras, mine-hunting ships to sub-killing systems. Trump conducted 20 deals, and Biden has done three. So we are tied closely.
Third, on any given day, roughly 80,000 Americans are in Taiwan, and of that number perhaps two-thirds are resident citizens. The connectivity includes, therefore, major shared vulnerability. If the U.S. is concerned about fractions of this number elsewhere, this bond is especially tight.
Fourth, having spent time in Taiwan in years past, the ideological tie to Americans – the shared reverence for freedom, willingness to fight for it, understanding everything from the Bill of Rights and free markets to deterrence and respect for limited government is acute. If not the most freedom-loving country in our mold, they are surely one of them.
So, weighing hope against concern, the reality is deeper than a few congressmen visiting Taiwan with thumbs up, or another Chinese false charge or set of exercises meant to given Taiwan pause. Reality is that hundreds of trips by members of Congress have gone to Taiwan, and hundreds of Communist Chinese exercises have aimed to intimidate that free nation.
The real question of this moment is – what are Communist China’s calculating leaders thinking about Biden’s weakness, his on-and-off resolve to defend Taiwan, and what do they think about Putin’s stumbling attempt to forcibly take Ukraine?
Answers to those questions directly affect Taiwan, deterrence, America’s credibility, and potential military engagements. Are these links enough to tip the balance toward peace, or is Taiwan in growing danger – with all the downstream consequences of Chinese adventurism?
Net-net, while Communist China could miscalculate as badly as Putin did in Ukraine, the balance of history, military support, American citizen presence in Taiwan, and ideological alignment between our two peoples, suggest that hope should prevail.
Yes, Communist China could take the wrong lessons from Russia’s invasion, Biden’s weakness, slow military sales, and global distraction, but if concern is high – and it should be – strong reasons exist to believe a Chinese assault would be foolhardy. Let us hope we can keep thumbs up.
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