By Harold J. Raveché, Ph.D.
April 15, 2017
Two developments became obvious to me over time.
First, a steady increase of tourists from the People’s Republic of China. Upon arrival at Taoyuan Airport, I now have to queue with huge numbers of visitors from the PRC, waiting to clear Taipei Immigration. Last year, in spite of obstructions set up by Beijing, there were 3.5 million tourists from Communist China, anxious to experience the freedom of Taiwan, to shop and mingle with the friendly Taiwanese with whom they can easily converse.
In March 2014, I was fortunate to witness the unprecedented “Sunflower Movement,” when an estimated 400 students peacefully occupied the Congress Building in Taipei, with 10,000 protesters outside, to show the then-president they were serious about protecting Taiwan’s independent economy from Communist China’s interference. In August 2014, leaders of the movement traveled to DC to meet with US Congress members and State Department officials to reiterate their rejection of Beijing’s “One China” policy.
The questionable “1992 Consensus,” arrived at between members of the PRC Communist Party and Taiwan’s then-ruling Kuomintang Party, adds to the popular confusion on the issue. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, it states that “there is only ‘one China,’ but with differing interpretations, allowing both Beijing and Taipei to agree that Taiwan belongs to China, while the two still disagree on which is China’s legitimate governing body.”
J. Michael Cole, writing in May 2015 in The Diplomat, says, “However, one thing that is certain … Washington does not recognize the 1992 Consensus – its official position is that it has ‘no position.’”
Recently-elected Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen does not reference the 1992 Consensus when she speaks about cross-strait relations. Shortly before Tsai’s November 2016 call with President Trump, the PRC sent a message by flying a pair of Xian H-6, nuclear-capable bombers with two recognizance aircraft over Taiwan.
There has been a steady pattern of intimidation, including the 1996 Taiwan Straits Crisis, when the PRC conducted missile tests in the Straits to emphasize its displeasure with Taiwan’s free presidential election. President Clinton invoked the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), wherein the U.S. promised to protect Taiwan from PRC aggression, and sent two aircraft carrier groups to the Straits, which ended the testing.
Recently, Capitol Hill’s depth of commitment to Taiwan was amply demonstrated. In July 2016, a bi-partisan U.S. Senate resolution, introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and James Inhofe (R-Okla.), was unanimously passed, reaffirming the TRA as the “cornerstone” of US-Taiwan relations. A similar resolution had passed the US House of Representatives unanimously two months prior.
For the U.S., it is nonsensical foreign policy and artless diplomacy for Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to have been the only president ever to visit Taiwan. During the past 50 years, Taiwan has averaged USD $250 million per year in Foreign Direct Investment. There are more than 600 Taiwanese companies in the US, employing more than 90,000.
Persistent bullying of Taiwan greatly damages the PRC’s image as a global leader. True leadership from the PRC would acknowledge the benefits that can flow from a constructive engagement with the Taipei government.
Beginning with Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 opening to the West, Taiwan’s successful industrial leaders, banks and corporations have been among the biggest investors in the PRC’s modernization demonstrating their willingness to work in the Communist-governed country.
How to resolve the current dilemma? Rather than attempt to bully democratic Taiwan into submission on “One China,” the PRC should seek to establish, and welcome the world to establish, full diplomatic relations with Taipei. For the PRC this is especially important now, given its threatening military growth in the South China Sea and Hong Kong’s dissatisfaction with lack of full democracy.
As a major accommodation to the PRC, and to underscore Taiwan’s intention to pose no threat whatsoever, Taiwan should agree to limit its spending on what may be construed as offensive weapons, and pledge not to allow any foreign nation to establish a military presence.
Finally, the UN should admit Taiwan as a member, acknowledging its 70 years of economic growth, distinct democracy, and emergence as one of the Four Asian Tigers. To accommodate the PRC, admission would be without a seat as a Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council, which the PRC enjoys. In 2007, Taipei applied for UN admission under the name Taiwan, rather than Republic of China, but was rejected.
Many benefits will accrue to the region and the free world with UN membership and full diplomatic relations. Taiwan’s model of industrial growth, with links to Science Parks, distinct from Japan and South Korea, could be adapted to spur economic growth in Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines, allowing for a possible Fifth Tiger to emerge. The health care system of Taiwan is one of the world’s best. It serves all, including the very poor, with little out-of-pocket expense. Emerging African countries, beleaguered Middle Eastern states and the US would be well served by such a system.
Most important, the PRC’s next phase of economic growth needs to be innovation-centric. Unfettered and open collaboration, including partnerships with Taiwan corporations, will advance the state of innovation in the PRC.
In summation, a seat at the UN table for Taiwan leads to numerous benefits for the world at large. Threats to impose a repressive Hong Kong-style Communist superstructure on the Taiwanese, at this stage, will only further discredit the PRC as a respected global leader.
Harold Raveche, Ph.D., is the president of Innovation Strategies International and former president of the Stevens Institute of Technology.