‘Taiwan only needs help to defend itself’
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
In August, Speaker Nancy Pelosi met with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, the most senior U.S. politician to visit China’s former province in more than two decades.
Drawing China’s fury, Pelosi said her delegation had come to make it "unequivocally clear" that the U.S. would not "abandon" the island. Beijing warned that the U.S. would "pay the price" for Pelosi's visit.
Taiwan is a self-ruled jurisdiction, with its own constitution and democratically-elected leaders. But Beijing sees it as a breakaway province. Chinese President Xi Jinping maintains that "reunification must be fulfilled.”
Pelosi’s visit has sparked new threats, prompting China to hold a more aggressive display of military force in the air and seas, firing ballistic missiles over the Taiwan Strait.
Amid escalating tensions between Washington and Beijing, Taiwan has become yet another breaking point.
In an interview with CBS on Sept. 19, U.S. President Joe Biden said the U.S. would defend Taiwan “if, in fact, there was an unprecedented attack."
The presidential statement has prompted the White House to clarify that the U.S. doesn't commit to military action on Taiwan and that such policy hasn’t changed.
Paul Chen, director general of the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office on Guam, said Taipei is not asking Washington to take any action on its behalf. The Taiwanese government, he said, only expects the U.S. to abide by the principles of the Taiwan Relations Act, which declares the U.S. policy “to preserve and promote extensive, close, and friendly commercial, cultural and other relations” with Taiwan.
“The key is to help Taiwan’s self-defense and nothing more. The TRA is meant to help Taiwan defend itself against Communist China,” Chen said.
In September, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the Taiwan Policy Act of 2022, a bipartisan proposal to expand U.S. efforts to promote the security of Taiwan, ensure regional stability, and block China’s further aggression against Taiwan.
“The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee backs the Taiwan Policy Act. It’s going to help Taiwan with more military weapons to help Taiwan defend itself. So, we buy weapons from the U.S.,” Chen said.
Does Taiwan have the capacity to defend itself right now?
“It’s an assumption. As a diplomat, I cannot answer assumptions,” Chen said. “I will say that Taiwan will appreciate assistance from the U.S. and we are not looking for more. We just expect the U.S. to follow the policy to offer enough weapons to defend ourselves.”
The U.S., which follows a one-China policy, has been skating on thin ice with its diplomatic ties with Beijing.
“One-China policy is a very vague idea; it’s different from the one-China principle. The China government’s one-China principle means there is only one China and it considers Taiwan part of China,” Chen said.
But as far as Taiwan is concerned, the deal is clear.
“The U.S.’s one-China policy doesn’t say Taiwan is part of China. The relationship between Taiwan and the U.S. is different. Our relationship with the U.S. is based on several legal documents,” Chen said, citing the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 as an example.
In 1982, the Reagan Administration enhanced the TRA with “Six Assurances,” carrying six key foreign policy principles of the U.S. regarding its relationship with Taiwan. The Six Assurances were intended to reassure that the U.S. would continue to support Taiwan even if it had earlier cut formal diplomatic relations.
Chen enumerated the Six Assurances.
“First, the U.S. promised not to set a date for the termination of arms sales to Taiwan.
“Second, the U.S. will not alter the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act.
“Third, the U.S. will not consult with China in advance before making decisions about U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.
“Fourth, the U.S. will not mediate between Taiwan and China.
"Fifth, the U.S. will not alter the position about the sovereignty of Taiwan, which is a question that has to be decided peacefully between the Chinese themselves.
The U.S. will not pressure Taiwan to enter into any negotiations with China.
“Lastly, the U.S. will not formally recognize China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. So the one-China policy doesn’t mean Taiwan is part of China.”
Currently, only 13 countries and the Vatican recognize Taiwan as a sovereign country. China exerts considerable diplomatic squeeze on other countries not to acknowledge Taiwan.
Taiwan was a founding member of the UN in 1949 until it was replaced by China in 1971 following a resolution that pushed the democratic province to the periphery.
Taiwan has since been the world’s dilemma. Its democratic system of government suits well with many democratic nations, but its status as a sovereign nation remains an unresolved issue. So far, China has been successful in its campaign against its breakaway province, managing to secure the one-China principle in its favor and keep Taiwan in the desert land.
In 2007, the UN rejected Taiwan’s plea for inclusion in the body, maintaining that "Taiwan is part of China."
Taiwan is banking on its allies in the Pacific islands region to back its renewed bid for readmission into the United Nations.
At the 76th session of the UN General Assembly in October last year, Taiwan managed to secure endorsements from Palau, Nauru, Marshall Islands and Tuvalu, which responded to its solicitation for support.
“Taiwan is an island country in this region. We are all in the Pacific Ocean. We face the same challenges, including climate change, fishing, sailing and security issues,” Chen said.
“Security is the most important issue. We face the same challenge from an authoritarian country that wants to change the status quo of this region,” he added.
As a sovereign nation, Chen said, Taiwan only needs help to protect itself.
“We have to defend our freedom and democracy,” he said. “Who will defend Taiwan but ourselves? We are a peace-loving country. We will never start a war, but we have the right to defend ourselves.”