Funding the WHO supports Taiwan's membership

Funding the WHO supports Taiwan's membership
© Getty Images

Secretary of State Mike PompeoMichael (Mike) Richard PompeoChinese lawmakers approve law allowing for stricter crackdown on Hong Kong The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US virus deaths exceed 100,000; Pelosi pulls FISA bill Overnight Defense: Trump ends sanctions waivers for Iran nuclear projects | Top Dems says State working on new Saudi arms sale | 34-year-old Army reservist ID'd as third military COVID-19 death MORE did the right thing when he congratulated Tsai Ing-wen on her inauguration for a second term as president of Taiwan. As Pompeo rightly stated, President Tsai leads a “vibrant democracy.” Indeed, since 1996 Taiwan has witnessed seven consecutive free presidential elections and four peaceful transfers of power between the country’s two leading parties, the Kuomintang and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

The DPP, which president Tsai leads, has been a vocal advocate of Taiwanese independence; in practice, however, it has been more cautious in its relationship with the mainland. President Tsai essentially reiterated that stance in her inaugural address, emphasizing that “both sides have a duty to find a way to coexist over the long term,” and adding, “I want to reiterate the words ‘peace, parity, democracy and dialogue.’” 

Nevertheless, when she also asserted that “we will not accept the Beijing authorities’ use of ‘one country, two systems’ to downgrade Taiwan and undermine the cross-strait status quo,” she triggered outrage in Beijing, which has never dropped its insistence that the island is nothing more than a breakaway province. 

ADVERTISEMENT

It is, therefore, hardly surprising that Pompeo’s congratulatory message also infuriated Beijing. The Chinese foreign ministry complained that Pompeo had the gall to refer to Tsai as “president” and asserted that his message “constitute[s] a severe violation of the One China principle … and a serious interference in China’s internal affairs. … There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory.” 

Ever since the United States and China agreed in 1979 to establish diplomatic relations, on condition that Washington sever its formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan, Beijing has protested any American gesture, however small, as a step toward recognizing the island’s independence. In fact, both Republican and Democratic administrations have opposed any unilateral declaration of Taiwanese independence. Instead, they have maintained their commitment to let Taipei and Beijing resolve their differences, as long as they were to do so peacefully. 

As President Reagan made clear shortly after Washington agreed to the 1982 communique that put limits on the sales of defensive arms to Taiwan, “The talks leading up to the signing of the communique were premised on the clear understanding that any reduction of … arms sales depends upon peace in the Taiwan Strait and the continuity of China’s declared ‘fundamental policy of seeking a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan issue.’”

Much has changed since 1982, however. At the time, China was only just beginning to open its economy and was years away from becoming the economic and military powerhouse that it is today. Under President Xi Jinping it also has employed both its economic and military might to increase its influence throughout Asia and beyond, often resorting to bullying tactics to achieve its objectives. In these circumstances, it is not at all clear that China remains committed to a peaceful resolution of its differences with Taiwan. And it is in this context that Pompeo’s message is to be welcomed.

Consistent with Reagan’s formulation, in 2019 the Trump administration agreed to sell Taiwan 108 M1A2 Abrams tanks and 250 Stinger missiles. It also won congressional approval for the sale of 66 F-16 C/Ds Block 70 fighters; the last American fighter sale to Taiwan, of now ancient F-16A aircraft, was completed nearly two decades ago. And just this week it requested congressional approval for the sale of 18 MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology (AT) heavyweight torpedoes. In addition, to signal American support for the island state, the Navy has increased the frequency of its freedom of navigation transits through the Taiwan Strait.

ADVERTISEMENT

Of equal significance, on March 26, President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump marks 'very sad milestone' of 100K coronavirus deaths DOJ: George Floyd death investigation a 'top priority' Lifting our voices — and votes MORE signed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act, which enables the administration to contemplate reducing American economic, security and diplomatic engagement with nations that take significant actions to undermine Taiwan. Consistent with the act’s intent, the administration should be pressing the World Health Organization (WHO) to enable more extensive Taiwanese participation in its activities, especially its effort to combat and contain the coronavirus. As usual, it is China that is blocking any expanded role for Taiwan in that organization. 

Taiwan has notched an impressive record in coping with the disease, and has much to offer the WHO. Unfortunately, Trump’s hostility toward the WHO, which he considers excessively susceptible to Chinese influence, renders it difficult for Washington to press Taiwan’s case. The administration should reconsider its posture toward the WHO and terminate its suspension of funds for the organization. 

In doing so, it not only will quickly overshadow China’s increasingly visible role in the fight against the disease that originated on its territory, but also will be best positioned to enable an active Taiwanese presence in the WHO. This not only would be consistent with the TAIPEI Act, but would fully underscore Pompeo’s warm words in praise of Taiwanese democracy. 

Dov S. Zakheim is a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and vice chairman of the board for the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He was under secretary of Defense (comptroller) and chief financial officer for the Department of Defense from 2001 to 2004 and a deputy under secretary of Defense from 1985 to 1987.