The noise surrounding the possibility of a congressional invitation for Tsai Ying Wen to address a joint session of the US congress has been met with much rancor from both sides of the Pacific. Richard Bush, publishing through the Brookings Institution, wrote a piece last week cautioning against the move as a potentially disruptive step that could damage the relationship between the three parties to the intractable conflict.
His thinking reflects a stream of thought common both in US policy circles, and even amongst Taiwanese themselves, favoring the status quo and a conservative approach to preserve stability in the region and prevent war. The radical nucleus of this approach is that of fundamentally respecting China’s preposterous and illegitimate position on this issue of Taiwan’s right to self-sovereignty, in contravention of American values going back to WWII. What makes this thinking more dangerous is that the CCP has no intention to allow the status quo to persist much longer, and their rhetoric has made such clear already. Those who ignore their words regarding the use of force as communist bluster are making a fatal mistake.
Bush in his previous works has at one point interpreted Xi Jin Ping as focused on “peaceful reunification,” perhaps precluding the use of violence as a strategy amongst high party leaders. However, based on the totality of Xi’s statements, as well as other high ranking party members, this is absolutely not the case. Waiting eternally for peaceful reunification is a fantasy, and China will never will renounce the possibility of using force to seize a territory they mistakenly see as their own, at the time they see fit.
To the CCP, the apparent strength of the authoritarian state apparatus are the only things keeping their legitimacy intact and allowing them to remain in power. For those in control, they would gladly sacrifice the country to maintain their grip, and that could lead to mutual annihilation if the US fails to also approach from a position of strength, cementing the independence of Taiwan before China lacks the conventional means to take on the US in a conflict. It is a critical piece of their legitimacy of the CCP, and looking weak on the issue of Taiwan damages the credibility of the regime. However, it is extremely unlikely that China would go to war over Taiwan at this point in time, in a conflict they know they will lose. They are biding their time, knowing and waiting for the US to weaken.
To be clear: maintenance of the “status quo” past the point in time at which China feels that they can overpower the US in a conflict will inevitably lead to war, to think otherwise ignores reality.
The notion of peaceful reunification is also dangerous and intellectually juvenile. In fact, as the proportion of Taiwanese who do not consider themselves in any part Chinese, as well as the proportion that supports independence increases over time, it becomes increasingly likely that the PRC may see force as the only option, especially as their post-2016 reduction of trade with Taiwan has actually exacerbated this trend rather than increasing feelings of comeraderie even with the small mainlander (外省人) minority on the island. The logic used to justify the maintenance of the status quo results from a conservative viewpoint that only selectively utilizes the facts on the ground, as opposed to conjecture and opinion.
The flaw he also makes in his writing is linking the present state of affairs to the sets of agreements decided between the formerly authoritarian KMT government of the 1970s and 1980s with the current state of affairs. The KMT’s claims of its rightful sovereignty over all of China are as outdated as the notion that the United States should keep from making more forceful moves to indicate its support of Taiwan, yet this is still the basis for the “One China Policy” that some consider an essential part of cross-strait policy. China (the PRC) and Taiwan (the Republic of China) are no longer the same countries as they once were, and these antiquated notions should be reconsidered in favor of a more aggressive and clear stance of American willingness to accept Taiwan, now a liberal democracy, as an independent state, regardless of the consequences of supposedly disturbing a status quo that China threatens to revoke using force at any time they see fit. America must also be willing to back up any independence claims using force to protect Taiwan’s democracy.
It should be noted that the meaning of the word independence is a relative term, and here refers to an international recognition of Taiwan as a politically independent state. There are questions over whether the majority of Taiwanese people support independence versus maintenance of the status quo, but what should be clear is that the overwhelming majority actually oppose reunification with the mainland (Liu, 271). Further, the threat of war and economic costs powerfully affect peoples’ perceptions of the issue, and with some measures to assuage the threat of war, it is likely that the majority would in fact support independence.
Most importantly, there can be no American negotiation over the fate of Taiwan. The fate of Taiwan is up to the Taiwanese and them alone, and this has been the established policy of the United States. The Taiwanese people are clear in their unequivocal rejection of reunification, and Bush takes a dangerous step in advocating backtracking on the US’ decades of foreign policy insistence that Taiwan can not be pressured into an agreement by his suggestions that the US ensure that one China two systems paradigm could be modified or tailored to fit Taiwan. Taiwan is already an independent state in every sense of the word in their own land, excluding the simple issue of international recognition. America and Taiwan should absolutely recognize that there is no middle ground between utter domination by a despotic, authoritarian regime that seeks to erase any semblance of Taiwanese identity off the map, and on the other hand, the continuation of democratic freedom. One need only look at Xinjiang, Tibet, and Hong Kong to see what lies in store for a subjugated Taiwan: repression, cultural suppression, human rights abuses and mass internment, genocide. The shades of grey in between are imagined, and there can be no compromise, nor need there be. The claims that China makes over Taiwan are a fraud.
Taiwan has been a de facto separate state from the PRC since the civil war broke the two off, it is only in terms of international recognition that there is any question whatsoever of their independence. A revocation of the “One China” policy and an acceptance of Taiwan as an independent state would have no practical legal consequences other than in the relationship between Taiwan and the third state. The fact that China threatens war to challenge this shows the precariousness with which the PRC perceive their nonsensical claims of a right to dominate Taiwan: simple gestures of a relationship between two parties outside of the PRC are enough for them to threaten a war that could kill billions and bring about the end the Chinese civilization. China has a history of being irresponsibly bellicose in their threats of nuclear war. This shows how irrational and dangerous the CCP is, and the futility of trying to negotiate with genocidal zealots over the nuance of foreign relations.
Bush argues that congress allowing Tsai Ying Wen to speak would be tantamount to recognizing the president as a formal head of state, itself a false notion that he parrots directly from the mouths of the Chinese. He is an alarmist who follows their idiotic notions that this would threaten to derail the 1992 consensus that has ostensibly served as the basis for tripartite relations for the past several decades. The reality is that the 1992 consensus is nothing more than a farce, and in fact, the CCP itself has already discarded the 1992 consensus. In reality, the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act and the “six assurances” and the threat of using US force to defend the island from the PRC stand as the only things that have prevented Taiwan’s fall up to this point.
Bush seems to miss the crux of the 1992 consensus, the one China policy implied that both sides agreed that there could be an acceptance of the status quo of two separate and distinct conceptions of China without having to explicitly comment on the the legitimacy of the other side. Xi Jin Ping, in his speech last month reiterating the decades-old stale idea that Taiwan be integrated under a Hong Kong-style one country two systems paradigm, which has already essentially failed the people of Hong Kong, paired with a the threat of death should they reject his friendly offer. He has unequivocally rejected the status quo.
In response, the United States should not respond tepidly by dragging its feed and paying lip service to a decrepit and failed consensus that is the basis for nothing except cheap talk, and has already been rejected by one side of this conflict.
Most importantly, and contrary to the Bush’s prioritization of the US relationship with China, the United States should act on its values and support both its allies and democracy before selling out its relationships for the possibility of increased “cooperation.”
The benefits of a better relationship with China are near nil. They include the possibility of some better trade deal to end a conflict that itself was completely manufactured by the American side, or some increase in the already non-existent cooperation with China on North Korea, whom they regularly assist in cheating the international sanctions regime. To be clear, China already maintains most of the responsibility for the fact that North Korea still exists as a state at all. Trusting China, a state that at present face no sanctions for an active campaign of genocide against the Uighurs and Tibetans, aiding North Korea in cheating sanctions and fueling their nuclear program, and increasingly ratcheting up the potential for conflict with their inflammatory and irresponsible actions colonizing the South China Sea, is naive at best.
This strain of thought is tantamount to Chamberlain in the lead up to World War II and appeasement of the Nazis. China is equally evil. Their concentration camps, Mengele-sque cruel medical genocide and organ harvesting, brutal suppression of dissenting speech, and nationalistic fervor driving them towards war with a world who they think has dealt them an unfair hand bear striking similarities to Germany in the 1930s.
In dealing with such a regime, America should remember its values and priorities, and should recognize that the stalwart defense of human rights, and by extension, the independence of Taiwan, is a symbol for the defense of democracy and civil rights around the world. The nations of the world are watching.
Will America stand strong and fight for the freedom of the Taiwanese people by simply recognizing a government who for 23 million, its independence exists as fact? Or will American president Trump sell democracy for better trading terms with China and kowtow in the face of his “friend,” the genocidal autocrat Xi Jin Ping.
Time will tell, but congress will have a large part to play in the dynamics of this relationship and should choose carefully. They, therefore, should absolutely extend the invitation to Tsai Ying Wen to address congress.
Bush’s arguments value stability over progress, economics over freedom, and weakness over a defense of American values.
The 1992 consensus is dead. The sooner the US accepts this reality, the better chance Taiwan has to survive as a free country.
Staff writer: Ari B
Photo: Tiananmen Square, PRC
Liu, F. C.-S., & Li, Y. (2017). Generation matters: Taiwan’s perceptions of mainland China and attitudes towards cross-Strait trade talks. Journal of Contemporary China, 26(104), 263–279. https://doi.org/10.1080/10670564.2016.1223107
Richard Bush’s Works can be found at: brookings.edu/experts/richard-c-bush/