Taiwan’s loss of one more diplomatic ally to China: my thoughts on how Taiwan can strengthen its ties with the outside world

By Jerome A. Cohen

Solomon Islands has shifted recognition from Taiwan to China. At a time when the PRC is aggressively luring away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, Taiwan more than ever needs the support of the U.S. Government and non-governmental institutions as well as other countries. Much more can be done, starting with a U.S. Presidential speech that recognizes not the R.O.C. government but the achievements that the people of Taiwan have made toward the rule of law, democracy and protection of human rights in cooperation with the many governments that have continued to foster cooperation with the island in the absence of formal diplomatic relations.

Some observers have also suggested that U.S. arm sales to Taiwan should be boosted but I would not unduly emphasize further arms sales, which are reportedly under way and which in any event feature the sale of high prestige weapons that are not well adapted to Taiwan’s actual defense needs.

Some have also proposed that an invitation should be extended to President Tsai to speak at a Washington think tank on the same program as a prominent U.S. official. I don’t know whether the current U.S. Government can either arrange for her to have an exceptional “stopover” in DC or to lift the obnoxious ban against having Taiwan’s president visit any American city on a normal basis. I have suggested that Tsai speak, either in person or via Skype, at the Council on Foreign Relations in NY both before and after she ascended to the presidency but she has never given a positive response. But I have never tried the idea of a companion presentation from a leading American foreign policy official. That idea is worth pursuing both in DC and elsewhere in the United States and in a way that could not be seen to imply official U.S. Government “recognition”. On several occasions the Council on Foreign Relations has used electronic means to interview Taiwan’s leaders, including President Chen Shui-bian and President Ma Ying-jeou as well as Vice President Annette Lu.

Any restriction on the appearance of Taiwan leaders in person before American think tank or other audiences is a restriction on Americans’ freedoms of expression and assembly that seems unwise from the viewpoint of American constitutionalism as well as foreign policy.

Finally, Xi Jinping has talked about the PRC developing a new model of diplomatic relations. Actually, the PRC has inadvertently begun to do so by denying Taiwan the possibility of formal diplomatic relations, thus requiring it and the major powers of the liberal world to interact and cooperate on a new basis. This process is already underway and should be built upon, as the U.S. Government has recently been doing. Many bilateral actions can be taken relatively easily, if discreetly. Much more difficult will be the process of integrating unrecognized Taiwan into multilateral organizations that limit full participation to recognized “states”. But much greater efforts must be made to do so by the democratic powers.