Taking advantage of a split opposition, Taiwan’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party won an unprecedented third straight presidential victory in Saturday’s elections.
President-elect William Lai and his vice-presidential running mate, Bi-khim Hsiao, are savvy and experienced, capable of leading Taiwan through potentially perilous times ahead.
On domestic issues, the DPP is generally to the left of its largest opponent, the Kuomintang, once led by Chiang Kai-shek, who brought the Republic of China government to Taiwan in 1949 after repeated defeats by Mao Zedong’s Communists.
nternationally, however, the DPP view of Taipei’s place in the world is comfortable with Reagan-style Republicanism.
Given the threats Lai’s incoming administration will face, it needs full support from its American friends and across the global West.
Chinese President Xi Jinping is undoubtedly outraged that Beijing’s latest effort to subvert free elections failed once more, likely again backfiring and increasing DPP support.
Through political and military threats and intimidation, media influence operations and outright efforts at subversion and corruption, China worked hard to prevent another DPP presidential victory.
Thwarted by the voters, Xi will undoubtedly turn to far more dangerous methods to gain control over Taiwan.
He has already stressed to President Biden that’s his objective.
He is serious.
And since the opposition holds a small majority in Taiwan’s incoming Legislative Yuan, the Lai administration will face political constraints that outgoing DPP President Tsai Ing-wen did not.
Beijing and its Western sympathizers endlessly argue — they continue after the campaign — that Lai and the DPP are reckless, risking war across the Taiwan Strait, and, in any case, America long ago agreed that Taiwan is part of China.
This is entirely wrong, but even many Americans, including the Biden administration, accept this disingenuous rendering of the “One-China” policy.
In the 1972 Shanghai Communiqué, President Richard Nixon agreed that America “acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China.”
Translated from diplo-speak, this means we recognized the reality that, in 1972, Chiang and Mao each still believed in ultimately prevailing over the other in China’s civil war.
Those days are gone. Also gone are any ideas of what “all Chinese” in Taiwan believe.
Its citizens have come to see themselves as a different people, not unlike Americans transitioning from seeing themselves as English, pointedly so in 1776.
After 30-plus years of Taiwan opinion surveys, the latest results are that only 2.5% consider themselves Chinese; 62.8% Taiwanese; and 30.5% Taiwanese-Chinese.
Taiwan meets the key tests of international “state” status: defined territory and population and a fully functioning government.
This reality constitutes de facto Taiwanese independence, whether China likes it or not.
President-elect Lai doesn’t have to declare independence since Taiwan already has it. Only if China succeeds in conquest will that change.
Standing firm for Taiwan’s freedoms is provocative only to Beijing’s Communist authoritarians, who fear the spread of ideas totally antithetical to the autocracy they desperately hope to preserve.
The right policy for America here is to recognize reality: Taiwan is independent.
I recommended as far back as 2000 that Washington extend full diplomatic relations to Taipei, unsuccessfully so far.
Unfortunately, we already have Biden’s knee-jerk reaction to Saturday’s elections: “We do not support independence.”
Making Xi’s day, that Biden, a real democracy advocate!
Whatever Taiwan’s abstract political status, it is critical to American national security for many reasons, from geopolitics (the “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in Douglas MacArthur’s words) to economics, as a key American trading partner, particularly in vital semiconductor chips.
These US national interests have been consistently reaffirmed ever since the guarantees embodied in the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act.
Today, Taiwan is more threatened by China than ever.
Following Russia’s unprovoked assault on Ukraine in February 2022, many rightly saw Taiwan’s increased precariousness.
With the Iranian-backed aggression in the Middle East now consuming Washington decision-makers, Beijing may be irresistibly tempted to take advantage of Taipei’s incoming government.
What Biden should do, with allies like Japan, South Korea and Australia, is make clear that we expect China to keep hands off, period.
America’s November elections are also problematic because Taiwan may be at greater risk in a second Trump term.
Donald Trump never said he fell in love with Xi, as he did with Kim Jong Un, but it’s close.
Trump’s view of national security focuses invariably on what brings the greatest attention to himself, not US national interests.
This will not be an easy year for Taiwan’s new government.
This article was first published in New York Post on January 16, 2024. Click here to read the original article.