Have the courage to recognize Taiwan
Recent events have vividly confirmed that the United States should establish formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, or the Republic of China (ROC). While the Communist Party-led People’s Republic of China allowed a global public health crisis to happen with its attempted cover-up of COVID-19, including its apparent manipulation of the World Health Organization, Taiwan’s response to the virus was among the most transparent, accountable, humane and efficient in the world.
Yet China blocked Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly and has tried to profit from the crisis by selling sometimes-defective health products. It intimidates critics, even petulantly going after an Australian student for criticizing his university’s subservience to Chinese demands.
Non-recognition of Taiwan has become an intolerable and unconscionable contradiction that undermines American integrity and credibility. The Jimmy Carter-era policy was based on the premise that recognition of China would help transform the communist regime into a trustworthy and responsible partner for the United States and other countries, and that both Chinas could not be recognized because of their competing claims to dominion over Taiwan and the mainland.
This has proved false. China’s COVID-19 malfeasance — which appears to continue in the form of efforts to hack vaccine research in other countries — is only the latest proof that the country’s integration into the liberal world order has not only failed, but has undermined the integrity of international norms and institutions. Think of the massacre of peaceful demonstrators at Tiananmen Square; of today’s Uighur concentration camps; of China’s live organ harvesting; its persecution of dissidents; massive censorship; and a range of other moral outrages. Beijing coerces other societies to remain silent about them in international forums, and takes over islands claimed by neighbors, refusing to negotiate.
China has become, or always was, a rogue state; a coercive police state based on violence, not consent; a state incompatible with the ideals of the modern world; one that undermines those ideals by inspiring and supporting other authoritarian rulers.
Taiwan, on the other hand, is a leading democratic society and economic and scientific powerhouse, and a key U.S. ally, with trade in goods and services worth almost $100 billion. The country hosts 200 American diplomats in a massive new complex that we cannot call an embassy. And Taiwan today understands itself as a sovereign state with no ambitions to control the mainland.
Only a few small countries stand up to Chinese bullying by recognizing Taiwan, and when some finally cave in to Chinese pressure — as America itself did 41years ago — Washington scolds. Last September, for example, when the Solomon Islands switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing, Vice President Pence declined to meet with the leader of the Solomon Islands to discuss development partnerships, and reassessed U.S. assistance.
Beijing warns — or threatens — that recognizing Taiwan “will backfire” on the international community. Washington long has been paralyzed on the Taiwan issue for fear of disrupting the delicate sensibilities of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and harming U.S.-China relations. But the pandemic has disrupted all that for the world: Decoupling is ongoing, Beijing’s strident responses are backfiring, and China is increasingly isolated, needing most export markets and diplomatic partners to revive its economy and regain international credibility.
We live in an era when illusions are being painfully removed from international politics. China’s claim over Taiwan is one such vestigial illusion and China, as well as Taiwan and the international community, will be better off with it gone. As former national security adviser John Bolton wrote 20 years ago, recognizing both Taiwan and China simply means recognizing reality. The CCP does not represent the people of Taiwan, and never will.
What is more, the United States never will allow Taiwan to be absorbed into China by force. An attack on Taiwan would start a devastating war between China and the United States, and would destroy Taiwan. Recognition will simply make this official, so China and the U.S. can move on in developing their relationship. China and the U.S. are becoming more open and honest about their differences, in the wake of the disastrous virus, and the U.S. has less to lose and more to gain with a policy of realism and honesty.
The American people want friendship with the people of both China and Taiwan. The United States wants China as a partner in trade and social and international development, a China that plays by the rules, and respects the rights of people at home and abroad. Normalization of ties with Taiwan would be a dose of tough love that would help China let go of its failure to control Taiwan — a goal it cannot achieve — and move on.
Perhaps if the United States and other democracies treat China as a responsible adult, it will become one. If that happens, the world will be a safer and healthier place.
Jianli Yang is founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a Tiananmen Massacre survivor, and a former political prisoner in China.
Aaron Rhodes is president of the Forum for Religious Freedom–Europe, human rights editor of Dissident Magazine, and author of “The Debasement of Human Rights.”