Special to WorldTribune.com
By John J. Metzler, April 12, 2023
Taiwan’s vibrant but threatened democracy had a good week.
After months of facing ominous political threats from the Chinese communists which may eventually culminate in Beijing’s invasion of the self-governing island, Taiwan seemed sure footed diplomatically with a little help from its friends.
Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen visited the United States in an unofficial but highly significant journey to meet with U.S. House of Representatives Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy in California.
Tsai’s meeting with McCarthy was the highest-level official encounter between U.S. and Taiwan Officials since 1979 when the Carter Administration broke diplomatic relations with Taipei and abrogated the Mutual Security Treaty with the Republic of China on Taiwan.
President Tsai was returning from visiting allies Guatemala and Belize in Central America to try to shore up its dwindling diplomatic ties, now only thirteen, in the face of Beijing’s poaching. Taiwan not only faces global diplomatic isolation but more seriously it simultaneously confronts the People’s Republic of China’s potent and expanding military.
Significantly last Summer former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a high-profile trip to Taiwan which infuriated China. Beijing’s regime has huffed and puffed over Taiwan’s political status since 1949, when the Republic of China government fled to the offshore island. Nonetheless the People’s Republic of China claims sovereignty over Taiwan even though it has never ruled the New Hampshire sized island for a single day.
Speaking from the highly symbolic setting of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, Kevin McCarthy stated, the friendship between Taiwanese and Americans “is a matter of profound importance to the free world,” and is critical to maintaining economic freedom, peace and regional stability. McCarthy added, “Taiwan is a successful democracy, a thriving economy, and a global leader in health and science.”
Taiwan’s President Tsai addressed her embattled island’s concerns head on to the bi-partisan Congressional audience stating, that “we are not isolated, and we are not alone.” She stressed “We once again find ourselves in a world where democracy is under threat. And the urgency of keeping the beacon of freedom shining cannot be understated.”
She spoke of defending the “peaceful status quo,” in other words not changing the semantic rules of the game where both governments in Beijing and Taipei speak within the context of one China. Taiwanese “separatism” or “Independence,” favored by a minority on the island would serve as a lightning rod to Beijing and almost certainly invite military aggression.
Just a day following the historic Tsai-McCarthy meeting in California, far across the Pacific, U.S. Representative Michael McCaul who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, along with a bi-partisan group of eight lawmakers visited Taiwan and reaffirmed Washington’s determination to stand with Taiwan and help the island defend itself. This was the first American Foreign Affairs Committee Chair to visit the island for 44 years.
Speaking at the Legislative Assembly in Taipei, Rep McCaul (R-TX) stated, “When we project strength, we get peace. If we project weakness, we invite aggression and war.” He stressed that the U.S. wants to do “everything in our power” to stand with Taiwan and to project strength to China by delivering arms sales to Taiwan and holding joint training exercises.
Importantly Taiwan’s democracy is supported by a significant bipartisan consensus in the U.S. Congress.
Related: China’s Taiwan blockade exercise closely tracked by U.S., Japan, April 11, 2023
But while fine words flowed from American allies and friends, Beijing’s military, both its naval units and warplanes, were literally circling the island of Taiwan like vultures. China’s “maneuvers” posed a boldfaced example to bully Taiwan, threaten its sovereignty, and pressure its political process. Taiwan shall be holding presidential elections early next year.
Perhaps the boldest statement was actually made in Beijing by visiting European Union Chairman, Ursula van der Leyen. She told Chinese leader Xi Jinping, “We all agree that stability in the Taiwan Strait is of paramount importance. We have a very clear interest in preserving this stability,” Von der Leyen added poignantly, “The threat of, or the use of, force to change the status quo is unacceptable”.
The key to Taiwan’s survival remains deterrence; for a generation now many American administrations have been transfixed on both China’s commercial market as well as the miasma that Beijing’s Marxist regime would magically transform into a more democratic state. This has not happened. Correspondingly, neither Taiwan’s military equipment nor its military force structure is sufficient to deter a possible Chinese invasion in a few years.
The three statements supporting Taiwan’s security represent a political trifecta for preserving democracy in East Asia. We hope.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]