Standing with Taiwan

President Barack Obama has made more than his share of foreign policy mistakes since taking office, but his recent decision to sell defensive weaponry to Taiwan was not one of them.

This decision may do much to convince some that — early signs to the contrary — the United States under Obama’s leadership is not going to abandon international commitments vital to our national security interests, world stability and, in more than a few cases, the very survival of nations living in the shadow of vastly more powerful hostile neighbors.

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Since taking office the president has been tested in various ways by foreign leaders and hasn’t fared as well as most Americans might have hoped or expected. In the dangerous world in which we live, a president has to demonstrate not just compassion and amiability, as Barack Obama does, but an inner strength and resolve that serves as a stronger real-world deterrent than all the planes, aircraft carriers and cruise missiles in the American arsenal.

When that determination and resolve is called into question, all hell can and does break loose. Decades ago a U.S. secretary of State led the communist world to believe we weren’t committed to the survival of South Korea, and more recently Saddam Hussein misinterpreted the words of a U.S. envoy as a green light to invade Kuwait, just two illustrations that reinforce the image of predator nations prowling about in search of opportunities to expand at the expense of their neighbors.

The tendency to abandon the weak in order to avoid confrontation with the strong has led to the invasion of many smaller nations and even world wars and tempts those who hope to avoid the almost inevitable costs of appeasing predator nations even today. In the Middle East, “experts” suggest that but for Israel, all would be well; in Asia, there are those who would abandon the democracy that flourishes on Taiwan to “better” relations with Beijing.

Mainland China has insisted from the beginning that Taiwan belongs to it and that any recognition of or assistance to the island amounts to interference in the “internal affairs” of China. After former President Jimmy Carter broke relations with the government in Taipei and “normalized” relations with Beijing, our government banned travel to Taiwan by high-ranking U.S. civilian and military officials so as not to antagonize the Communist mainland government.

Congress responded in 1979 with the Taiwan Relations Act, which, while semantically avoiding the question of recognition, required that Taiwan be treated as the sovereign nation she is and warned Beijing that an attack on Taiwan or threats to subjugate the island by “non-peaceful means” would be viewed with alarm by the U.S. The Act, which has always enjoyed wide bipartisan congressional support, also pledged that the U.S. would provide defensive arms and equipment to Taiwan, and we have done so in the years since as Beijing has increased its military presence across the straits.

Every time a U.S. president has delivered on this commitment, however, Beijing has protested loudly and vehemently, hoping to force the United States to back down or to think twice the next time. This time, China’s rulers, taking time out from their war against Google and their own people, are outdoing themselves in bluster. They seem clearly surprised that a president they had perhaps assumed would prove more pliant than any since Carter actually decided to stand up to them.

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The bluster will be followed by more concrete demonstrations of Chinese outrage. There will no doubt be “exercises” in the Formosa Strait, harassment of U.S. business and the like, but in the end, if the president stands firm, we will have lived up to our commitment to a free and friendly nation, convinced a large and potentially predatory nation that we remain a force in the world, and demonstrated to others that we aren’t ready to abandon our friends.

A good decision, Mr. President, but make it stick. Beijing will rant and rave; the “experts” will tell you Taiwan isn’t worth the aggravation; and lobbyists representing those who profit from business on the Chinese mainland will mobilize to urge you to be more conciliatory.

Remember what Margaret Thatcher told then-President George H.W. Bush after Saddam Hussein went after Kuwait: “This is no time to go wobbly.”

Keene is chairman of the American Conservative Union and a managing associate with the Carmen Group, a Washington-based governmental consulting firm.