The Taiwanese Have A Right to Their Own Future

by WILLIAM R. HAWKINS December 9, 2016

The uproar in the liberal media over the telephone conversation between President-elect Donald Trump and the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, has died down, but not gone away. The New York Times reports (Dec. 7) former Senator and 1996 Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole has worked for six months to put the Trump transition team in contact with the new administration in Taiwan, which was elected last January. So the Trump-Tsai call was not a "gaffe" but part of a new policy towards China which was part of Trump's campaign stump speech if anyone in the media had bothered to get their minds out of the gutter and actually consider the issues at stake in the presidential race.

The hostile reaction on the left to enhanced ties with Taiwan doesn't just reflect a reactive disdain for anything Trump does. It also demonstrates the continuing theme of appeasement among liberal pundits; a theme that runs from a desire to coddle terrorists to the "normalization" of Iran to the avoidance of confrontation with China. Not considered in any of this reporting is the larger strategic situation in Asia regarding two critical points. First, the views of the Taiwanese people and second, the views of the rest of the region to Beijing's dangerous "rise."

On the first matter, the landslide victory of Tsai's Democratic Progressive Party seems to be a true turning point in the island's history. The DPP's female leader handily defeated candidate Eric Chu of the Kuomintang (KMT), which has been the dominant party since Chiang Kai-shek led the remnants of the Nationalists to Taiwan after their defeat by the Communists in the civil war. Outgoing KMT President Ma Ying-jeou, though he served two terms, became increasingly unpopular for trying to pull Taiwan closer to China through trade and tourism favored by the big business interests who fund his party. The KMT suffered major losses in the 2014 local elections and only won about 31% of the presidential vote this year. It also won only 35 seats in the 113 seat Legislative Yuan compared to 68 for the DPP.

Beijing favored the KMT, hoping that closer economic ties would erode Taiwan's de facto independence and lead to a political reunion. After all, Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, reported that the main support for reunification of that majestic city with the mainland dictatorship came from the business sector looking for opportunities in the booming Chinese economy. They were willing to trade independence for the community to gain profits for themselves. There used to be an often used term for such behavior: treason. It should be noted that the first reaction of the KMT was to denounce the Trump call; but when the people of Taiwan responded overwhelmingly with joy over the call, the KMT took down their statement and shifted to praising Trump for supporting the Republic of China (the KMT never refers to Taiwan, only to the ROC which is their version of a "one China" policy).

The DPP embraces a Taiwanese identity. It is considered to be he pro-independence party, but is prudent enough to simply maintain de facto freedom out of fear of provoking a Chinese attack. Beijing has never renounced the use of force against what it considers a "rogue province" and deploys strong military formations across the Taiwan Strait that frequently practice amphibious operations. The DPP victory reflects popular opinion. A poll conducted last summer showed 66.4% of responders oppose unification with China with only 18.5% in favor. The poll found that the younger generations are more likely to favor Taiwan independence. So China's "rise" is not attracting support on the island pointing towards a unified future. There is a pro-unification party in Taiwan, but its candidate won less than 13% of the vote.

Having visited Taiwan several times, I can vouch for the pro-American sentiment of its people. How a free, democratic people with long and strong ties to the U.S. feel about the "one China" policy should count for a great deal. And not just among Americans. Taiwan also has close ties with Japan which has substantial investments on the island. I have ridden Taiwan's "bullet" train that runs 217 miles down the west coast of the island. It was built by a consortium led by Japan's Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Japan captured Taiwan in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1895 and held it (as Formosa) until 1945. The island had long been neglected by Beijing and Tokyo's colonial development was a boon to its people, who remain friendly towards the Japanese. This is similar to the favorable impact of the British Empire on the development of Hong Kong. Imperialism moved both colonies centuries forward and made their people far more prosperous (and free) than those on the mainland.

The Taiwanese are looking with alarm at how Beijing is slowly crushing freedom in Hong Kong. And all the countries along the "first island chain" are in fear of China's claim to control the South China Sea; a claim Beijing is backing with new island bases and a military buildup. In July, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled that Beijing's claims have no basis in history or law; but the Chinese regime rejected the ruling as a conspiracy against the "peace and stability" of the region; which can only be protected by Communist domination.

Before the phone call, Chinese media were complaining loudly against plans by South Korea and Japan to deploy the U.S.-designed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Though North Korea's nuclear program is the proximate cause, Beijing understands its offensive actions are also prompting counter-actions. As the Communist Party's media voice Global Times editorialized November 28,

Deploying THAAD will enable Japan to not only guard against missiles from North Korea, but enhance its strategic deterrence against China. South Korea and Japan...just inked an intelligence-sharing agreement last week, they can form a fully-fledged missile defense system in Northeast Asia with the THAAD adoption, which will weaken China's missile deterrence and add to the US' leverage against China.

This would be a defensive response to Beijing's large arsenal of ballistic missiles which can strike anywhere along the "first island chain." Neither South Korea nor Japan have comparable capabilities to attack China, so their THAAD response is purely defensive and truly supportive of stability in the region. Incorporating Taiwan into a regional defense grid would be even more effective. Beijing, however, believes their power depends on keeping their neighbors vulnerable to attack. The same editorial called on the regime to "launch more [ballistic missile nuclear] submarines to circumvent the THAAD system." Anther recent editorial denounced Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a  "rightist politician" promoting an alliance that is "a Cold-War product, that shouldn't have lasted till today."

Yet, none of these overt statements show up in the liberal media to put events into perspective. The theme of appeasers is always that wars are not started by aggressors, but by those who oppose them. It takes two to tangle, so our side should refuse to become involved. We should just let the brutes run wild and try to stay out of their way. The Communists understand the weakness of liberalism and have become adept at using them to cover Beijing's "rise" to power. 

William R. Hawkins is a consultant specializing in international economic and national security issues. He is a former economics professor and Republican Congressional staff member.

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