In the president’s State of the Union speech, he patted himself on the back for establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba’s dictators — a decision, he said, that has “extend[ed] the hand of friendship to the Cuban people.” Never mind that the Cuban people have no say in the government up to which Mr. Obama is cozying — but if the president is in a friendly mood, there’s a different island nation that could really use American diplomatic ties. One whose government derives its power from the consent of the governed. It’s time we re-recognized Taiwan.
We have no official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, no embassy in Taipei; our interests on the island are managed by the semi-private “American Institute in Taiwan.” The dictators of mainland China claim ownership of the democratic island; likewise, Taiwan claims ownership of Communist-subjugated China. In 1949, after the Communists had won China’s civil war and the Nationalists had set up shop on Taiwan, the U.S. recognized the satellite island as the legitimate seat of China’s government. The Nationalists were headed by our wartime ally Chiang Kai-shek, who ran Taiwan as a (somewhat benevolent) dictator. In 1972, Nixon and Kissinger succeeded in weakening the Soviet Union and splitting the Communist bloc by opening Red China. This began a process of détente that led, in 1979, to full recognition of Beijing’s Chinese Communist Party as the governors of China and the end of our mutual-defense treaty with Taiwan.
Though terminating the mutual-defense treaty was a disgrace, recognizing Beijing was a defensible decision. Communist China was then — as it is now — a brutal, repressive dictatorship, but Taiwan was still governed under postwar martial law. Recognizing the Red Chinese government was a decent trade-off: The damage dealt to Soviet authoritarianism was worth switching ties from a military dictatorship to a Communist one. But now, Taiwan is a legitimately free country, with free elections, a free press, freedom of religion, and a free economy. It is a beacon of democracy.
And it is loomed over by a militarizing, expansionist mainland China. Red China desires unification with Taiwan, either under a “one country, two systems” arrangement, as in Hong Kong, or, if necessary, under Communist military rule: According to the text of China’s 2005 Anti-Secession Law, if peaceful unification cannot be achieved, Communist China “shall employ non-peaceful means and other necessary measures.”
Starting in 2008, Taiwan’s government pursued détente with Beijing; now, cross-strait relations are back on the rocks, with Taiwan supporting Hong Kong’s popular efforts to preserve its colonial/post-colonial democratic system. On Red China’s side of the strait, there are 2,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan. The mainland’s military outnumbers Taiwan’s 10 to 1.
The Taiwanese claim of sovereignty over all China is not unreasonable — after all, theirs is the only Chinese government governed by the will of Chinese voters. But the idea of de-recognizing Beijing’s CCP government is unrealistic. On the other hand, the prospect of recognizing the government of Taiwan as the legitimate government of Taiwan, and reestablishing our lapsed mutual-defense treaty, is not only realistic, it verges on a moral imperative.
And it’s practical: China is using its military might to assert an absurd claim of sovereignty over the entire South China Sea. And with it, one of the world’s principal shipping channels. The American response has been, so far, limp-wristed. China builds a military airbase on a reef it doesn’t own, in international waters, and President Obama responds by donning a Sino-ceremonial costume and toasting China’s dictator. Asserting a new alliance abutting China’s claims would be useful in preserving the integrity of international waters. As would the presence of a mutual-defense military force.
But in the end, this is what matters: Taiwan, like Israel, is a free country loomed over by barbarous, genocidal despots. Like Israel, it needs, and deserves, our support. Kennedy didn’t vow only that we would “oppose any foe,” but also that we would “support any friend . . . to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”
Words to live by. He meant friends like Taiwan, like Israel, and — I dare say — like the oppressed people of Cuba.
— Josh Gelernter writes weekly for NRO and is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard.