OPINION: Taiwan needs to stop relying on wishy-washy America
With the combination of political and economic incentives, many nations were asked to choose between the friendly, democratic island of Taiwan and the more powerful, business-friendly People’s Republic of China — and Taiwan took the back seat.
As we marked the 40th anniversary of Taiwan’s Relations Act on April 10, 2019, many saw this as an important milestone in the relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan.
Yet, it is imperative for Taiwan people to keep in mind that the U.S. has not been consistently growing its support for Taiwan, instead Washington has been choosing when to extend its support strategically.
For instance, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act in February 2018, a bill that allows high-level officials to visit Taiwan. Many regarded this as a positive step to create a more normal relationship between Taiwan and the U.S.
However, the Wall Street Journal reported on June 17 that U.S. President Donald Trump has requested no American diplomats travel to Taiwan while the trade negotiations with China are still ongoing.
This request was made after he learned that senior State Department official Alex N. Wong had visited Taipei in March 2018 when the U.S. and China were in the middle of resolving trade disputes. The potential of this complicating the talks with Beijing angered President Trump.
It is ironic that the United States has often expressed its desire to build stronger relations with Taiwan, but has always prioritized other international relations aspects before extending its support. With this, the uncertainty over a recently announced US$2.6 billion arms sale to Taiwan has surfaced.
Since 1979, the United States has been hesitant to define the exact relations with Taiwan. So what exactly is going on?
After losing the Chinese Civil War in 1950, Taiwan became one of the only remaining territories of the Republic of China (ROC). Then in 1979, the United States officially broke diplomatic relations with Taiwan and instead chose to recognize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) as the legitimate government.
However, it then passed the Taiwan's Relation Act (TRA) to sustain the two countries’ de facto diplomatic relations. On one hand, the U.S. became an ally to the PRC, but on the other hand, the TRA allowed the U.S. to trade with Taiwan without maintaining an actual relation.
In 1982, President Ronald Raegan also saw the Six Assurances with the fifth being that the U.S. would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan. The document provides no definitive positive statements, and instead uses the word “not” to avoid definition or clarification.
Furthermore, in 2007, the position of the United States still remained unclear. The Congressional Research Service Report stated that “the U.S. policy has not recognized Taiwan as a sovereign country.” This further captured the convoluted relationship between Taiwan and the U.S.
the U.S. has been making all these schizophrenic statements, not because the government is schizophrenic, nor because President Trump does not know what he is doing. He knew exactly what he was doing when he picked up that phone call from Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016. He knew exactly what he was doing when he passed the Taiwan Travel Act.
These tumultuous statements are because Taiwan has always been treated as a pawn by the U.S. in its national interest instead of an ally. America acts friendly to Taiwan to spite China, but when America is trying to reach a deal with China, it is going to continue to cast Taiwan to the side. This is the political reality.
Therefore, Taiwan needs to stop thinking of America and this toxic relationship as its one aegis against China. America cannot give the island its sovereignty, nor is it willing to do so. Taiwan needs to stop feeding its citizens false hope that it can rely on America for its legal status.
Throughout all the flip-flopping and the wishy-washiness, only one thing remains constant: America is unwilling to see Taiwan as its own sovereignty. We must remember, the only side the U.S. is on its own.