National Security & Defense

Taiwan Is America’s Friend, and Trump Was Right to Speak with Its President

A Taiwanese sailor holds the flag during a tour in 2008. (Reuters photo: Nicky Loh)
A first line in the defense of democracy, Taiwan depends for its existence on American support.

The Taiwan strait has unexpectedly become a major news story this week; generally, it’s the world’s least-talked-about world war waiting to happen. President-elect Trump took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, who herself was just elected, this past May. As NRO readers are doubtless aware, this was somewhat scandalous: The U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, having chosen instead to accept, officially, that Taiwan remains part of China and that Beijing is the legitimate seat of China’s government.

Of course, as secretary-of-state short-lister John Bolton said, “China doesn’t tell us who we can talk to.” More than that, we already have extensive unofficial relations with Taiwan — and for good reason: Taiwan is one of our best friends in the world, one of our friends most deserving of support and most in need of it. Taiwan is the Israel of East Asia, a first line in the defense of democracy, a country whose existence is threatened by looming bellicose tyrants.

I had the pleasure of being in Taiwan not too long ago. This was not long after investigative journalist Ethan Gutmann reported that roughly 100,000 practitioners of neo-Buddhist Falun Gong had been arrested and murdered, and had their organs harvested. In Taipei, I saw several groups of Falun Gong peacefully meeting in parks, doing tai chi–type meditative exercises. I saw other groups of Falun Gong protesting China’s treatment of their coreligionists outside tourist attractions popular with Chinese visitors. None of the Falun Gong I saw was attacked, beaten, tortured, or murdered — because, of course, Taiwan has freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. These protests directed at Chinese tourists are a source of embarrassment to the Taiwanese government, which knows that every provocation of China might end in war. Nonetheless, I saw a policeman outside the skyscraper Taipei 101 eye a few Falun Gong protesters and then go back to his work with an implied shrug of the shoulders. Taiwan, of course, has freedom of speech.

While I was in Taiwan, I had a chance to talk to two students who had been part of the Sunflower protests of fall 2014; they had marched in opposition to a proposed cross-strait agreement with Beijing that many Taiwanese felt would make Taiwan too beholden to China. They succeeded in getting the new pact postponed, and not a single protester was run down by a tank, or thrown into a labor camp without trial. Because, of course, Taiwan has an independent judiciary.

Partly because of the sentiment of the protests — opposition to increased closeness with Beijing — the majority party that negotiated the tentative deal became the minority party. Because, of course, Taiwan has free elections. While I was there, I had a chance to attend a pre-election presidential press conference, where then-president Ma Ying-jeou was asked by a (rude) Taiwanese reporter about his very low approval numbers. The reporter wondered if Ma was bothered by people making fun of him. President Ma gave a polite politician’s answer; the reporter was not arrested or dressed down. Because, of course, Taiwan has a free press.

#related#Our American free press is having a conniption over President-elect Trump talking to President-of-Taiwan Tsai. They foresee dire consequences — ruined diplomatic relations, treaties sunk, maybe even war. What they don’t understand is that Taiwan doesn’t exist just as bargaining chip to be played against Beijing. We support Taiwan not because it’s in our interest (though frequently it is) but because it’s the right thing to do. General James Mattis said we pay a price in the Arab world for supporting Israel. He’s right, and it’s a price worth paying. When Soviet premier Alexei Kosygin asked LBJ why the United States chose to side with tiny Israel against 80 million Arabs, Johnson said, simply, “Because it is right.” There are only two true, liberal democracies that, without American support, might be obliterated tomorrow. The other is Taiwan.

Mr. Trump talks a lot about rewriting agreements to benefit the U.S., as he should, and a lot about getting our own back with China — which we should. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with any of that. But when it comes to our relations with Taiwan, he should remember that there’s more to them than the art of the deal. We must support Taiwan because it is right.

Taking that call from President Tsai was a very good start.

Josh Gelernter — Josh Gelernter is a weekly columnist for NRO, and a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
U.S.

Questions for Those Who Believed Jussie Smollett

The “we reported the Jussie Smollett case responsibly” contention has been blasted to smithereens. Twitter accounts and headlines in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times reported as fact Jussie Smollett’s wildly implausible allegations, and many other journalists did so as ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More