Last week, Taiwan’s de facto New York consulate, the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office, hosted a discussion on the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the TPP free-trade deal. Needless to say, Taiwan wants to be included in the TPP. The U.S. should make sure it is.
Free trade is good for everyone involved; the more parties there are to a free-trade deal, the more tariff-unprotected markets are available to all the deal’s members. Membership in the TPP would be a big boost for Taiwan’s economy, which is heavily dependent on trade. So big a boost that, at a few informal meetings over the last few months, Taiwanese foreign-office officials have been dropping hints that they’d like me to write about it (disclaimer). But the fact is, Taiwan is an important source of electronic components and new technology that we would like to import (your computer, your phone, your TV may all have Taiwan tech in them); and in the other direction, Taiwan is a rich country that’s getting richer, with money to spend on everything we’d like to sell it. Economically, it would be a win for both countries.
But there’s considerably more to it than U.S.–Taiwan trade. Neither our economy nor our position in the global economy will be threatened by not doing business with Taiwan. But both are threatened by newly imperialist Communist China.
Red China is building islands in the international waters of the South China Sea — because they can; because no one is willing to seriously challenge China’s ponderous military or its even more ponderous economy. In 2011, $5.3 trillion of trade passed through the South China Sea; $1.3 trillion of that was U.S. trade. Fifty percent of oil-tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea — three times more than through the Suez Canal and five times more than through the Panama Canal. The South China Sea is vital to our economy, and to everyone else’s.
Ceding control of such vitally important international waters to one of the world’s most despotic regimes would be a very bad idea — from an economic standpoint, of course, but, much more important, from an ethical one. If China has a finger in so gigantic a slice of the world-trade pie, the market will become inextricably tied to the thugs running Beijing. Tibet will be fully assimilated; every last follower of Falun Gong will be murdered and have his organs sold on the black market; Chinese Christians will be driven underground or into prison camps; the human rights of China’s political prisoners will be of even less concern to the “global community” than they are now.
The freedom of the high seas must be protected — ideally, without going to war with anyone. We need to make it clear that China’s empire-building won’t be tolerated; we can do that by cozying up to Taiwan.
As you probably know, Taiwan is formally the “Republic of China”; that is, free China. The People’s Republic of China — colloquially, “China” — is unfree China. Both officially adhere to the “One China Policy”; that is, there is only one China, to which both the mainland and Taiwan belong. Neither officially recognizes the legitimacy of the other’s government. The PRC has a population of 1.3 billion and the world’s second-largest economy, behind ours. Taiwan has a population of 24 million, and the world’s 26th-largest economy, behind Belgium’s. The PRC, therefore, carries considerably more weight on the world stage. In order to repress Taiwan’s functional sovereignty, China has used its clout to prevent Taiwan from gaining membership in various world organizations, like the WHO and the IAEA. In others, like the WTO and the Olympic Committee, Taiwan has to participate under the name “Chinese Taipei.” Unqualified Taiwanese membership in the TPP would be a powerful, non-military thumb in the eye of expansionist China.
Of course, the U.S. shares some guilt for the isolation of Taiwan — we switched our recognition from the ROC to the PRC in the Seventies, in order to help deepen the Sino-Soviet split (among other things). We succeeded, and now the Soviet Union is gone. Our focus should move to bellicose China, and that means we should be pulling closer to Taiwan.
And more important than trade is this: We, the United States of America, should support free peoples against despots.
We should make it clear to Beijing that we won’t be beholden to China’s dictators, and that we will do business with whomever we want. We should also make it clear that China’s imperialism — and its cyber-militarism – won’t be ignored. Instead of sending a carrier group into the Taiwan Strait, we could make a very strong statement by backing Taiwan’s bid to be included in the second round of TPP membership. It would be good for us, good for world markets, good for everyone who isn’t a dictator.
And more important than trade is this: We, the United States of America, should support free peoples against despots. That means supporting Taiwan and opposing Beijing. That ought to be reason enough to support Taiwan’s TPP membership, even if it weren’t also in our financial interest.
Happily, though, it is in our financial interest. So write your congressman. And your favorite presidential candidate.