Last week, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a historic four-day visit to Taiwan. He met President Tsai Ing-Wen, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu, and many other politicians and leading Taiwanese personalities. While giving a speech at a prominent Taiwanese think tank, Pompeo called for the United States to acknowledge reality and recognize the Republic of China, Taiwan, as an independent and sovereign country. Pompeo is right. Taiwan deserves to be recognized as an independent country. How the United States goes about that process is critical. To better ensure Taiwan’s integration in the international community and avoid a war with China, the United States government should take the following steps before establishing official relations with Taiwan.
First, the United States should indicate that it will defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack. The current policy has American commitments to Taiwan purposefully vague and ambiguous. This approach is no longer sustainable. To avoid war with China and protect Taiwanese sovereignty, the United States should clarify to Beijing that it holds Taiwan’s security sacrosanct and will tolerate zero incursions. This step also means fully funding the military. Currently, the United States spends only 3.7 percent of its GDP on defense. However, due to the confluence of threats posed by China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and various terrorist organizations, the U.S. should be spending at least 5 percent of its GDP on the military. The United States must couple a change in declaratory policy and funding priorities. The United States must not only say it will defend Taiwan but also be capable of defending Taiwan.
Secondly, before establishing official relations with Taiwan, the United States should first encourage other smaller countries to do so. For decades, China has pressured nations to break off ties with Taiwan and establish relations with Beijing. Today, only 13 countries recognize Taiwan over China, down from 21 in 2017. It is only a matter of time before more countries pick China and abandon Taiwan. To help Taiwan, the U.S. should urge governments to establish official diplomatic relations with both Taiwan and China. However, any such declaration will undoubtedly see retaliation from China. The United States needs to offer economic, political, and military incentives to countries recognizing both Taiwan and China. Urging smaller countries to make these steps first normalizes Taiwan’s national status and creates momentum in the international community. If the United States recognizes Taiwan unilaterally, it could risk war. However, by encouraging and supporting allies and partners to do so, the United States would strengthen American leadership, protect Taiwan from an extemporized Chinese attack, and push back against China’s global influence.
Finally, the United States must pressure international organizations to grant Taiwan full member status. Despite Beijing’s protests, some institutions have already taken these steps. For example, the World Trade Organization, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and Asia Development Bank have given Taiwan some form of full membership. Other organizations are more recalcitrant. When Secretary of State Anthony Blinken called on the World Health Organization to take the modest step of granting Taiwan observer status, the WHO capitulated to China and rejected the request. Other major associations like International Labor Organization, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, International Energy Agency, and the World Bank have failed to grant Taiwan member status. If the United States can successfully get these organizations to grant Taiwan member status, it will make the United States’ diplomatic recognition of Taiwan much less controversial and therefore safer for the Taiwanese and American people.
Many have already criticized Pompeo for his remarks. They argue that such a move is dangerous and could incite a Chinese attack on Taiwan. It is important to note that Pompeo does not call for Taiwan to declare independence, a clear red line for China. In his view, and the view of Taiwan’s president, there is no need for such an action because Taiwan is already an independent country that safeguards its citizens’ freedom, provides for its own defense, and engages peacefully and productively with the world. Pompeo calls on the United States simply to embrace the reality of Taiwan’s status.
Taiwan deserves the dignity of international recognition. The political and economic advancements it has made over the decades are a model for the world. Since becoming democratic, it has provided economic prosperity to its people without the grotesque human rights abuses we see in China. While Beijing’s totalitarian rule facilitated a global pandemic, Taiwan has been one of the most successful countries at fighting it. As China inches closer and closer to annexing Taiwan, the world must stand united and tell Beijing it will not tolerate any violation of Taiwan’s security. The first step is recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign country. By implementing the above strategy, the United States has the best chance of helping Taiwan while avoiding the catastrophic consequences of enticing a war with China.