By Chandler Eby
Since the 1970s, the United Nations and most of the current world order have refused to recognize the Republic of China, or Taiwan, as its independent state. Only 14 nations hold official diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognize it as a legitimate state. Currently, even the United States, whose politicians on both sides of the aisle claim to be “tough on China,” does not recognize Taiwan and holds formal ties with China instead. President Biden’s recent virtual summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping, while proving to alleviate some tension between the two nations, saw no significant progress on the issue of Taiwan. The time is now for President Biden to recognize Taiwan as an independent state and institute official diplomatic ties with the Republic of China.
The Dutch first colonized the island of Taiwan in the early 1600s before being conquered by the Chinese in the late 1600s. The Chinese would rule Taiwan for two hundred years before losing it to Japan in the First Sino-Japanese War in 1875. Following World War II, Japan was forced to give Taiwan back to China in 1945. At the time, China and Taiwan were governed by the nationalist Republic of China (ROC). However, in 1949, the ROC was overthrown by the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) and was forced off the mainland into Taiwan. The Republic of China maintained that they were the legitimate government of China and were still recognized as such by the world order.
In 1971, however, the United Nations officially recognized China’s communist PRC government as the legitimate government of China instead of the ROC. The PRC had successfully established itself over mainland China in the years after the revolution and the democratic world acquiesced to the PRC’s calls for legitimacy. As a result, the ROC continues to rule the island of Taiwan and claims to still be the legitimate government of China. What makes the ownership of Taiwan so critical to US national security today is the rise of China as a world superpower and the subsequent competition with the US for power and influence.
Tensions with China have been steadily growing for the last few decades, as both the US and China have attempted to assert their dominance in the global economy, foreign affairs, and even domestic affairs of smaller nations. The status of Taiwan provides the US with a significant opportunity when it comes to facing off against China. US politicians from both parties call for a tough stance on China, whether it be in the form of former President Trump’s tariffs or President Biden’s condemnation of human rights violations against the Uyghurs. Ultimately, these condemnations and unsuccessful trade wars have failed to contain an ever growing China. Past administrations have tried to prevent China’s rise but have unfortunately proven to be ineffective at countering Chinese influence in the region. For President Biden to continue in the footsteps of his predecessors means a lack of any meaningful action against China.
If the US continues to perpetuate a lukewarm response to the needs of Taiwan, it will be detrimental to both our national security and our reputation abroad. The stronger China grows, the greater the threat they pose to our security and protection. While outright war is not quite at our doorstep, China has already shown a willingness to resort to violence when it comes to their border dispute with India. Last year, the Washington Post reported that “Chinese troops have also moved to establish a presence in four areas claimed by India near the unofficial border in Ladakh.” If China feels emboldened enough to provoke conflict with India, it is clear statements condemning human rights abuses alone will not be sufficient to stop China.
However, President Biden can still change course and meaningfully challenge China by choosing to recognize Taiwan as a legitimate state independent of Chinese rule. While this measure sounds like a radical proposal, it is indeed a decision of moderation, yet still a bold one. The Taiwanese Republic of China seeks recognition as the legitimate government of all of China, including the mainland. The communist People’s Republic of China desires to reunite Taiwan as a part of their “One-China” policy. By recognizing only the island of Taiwan as legitimately ruled by the Republic of China, President Biden could not feasibly be accused of reversing the United Nations’ 1971 decision to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Yet, this decision is still powerful enough to show China that the US will no longer take the onslaught of foreign and domestic abuses the PRC has perpetuated.
Clearly, there are risks to such a bold course of action. The recognition of Taiwan is a significant red line for China, and one the US has been cautious not to cross, and for good reason. However, the risks of an unencumbered China significantly outweigh the risks of recognizing Taiwan this instant. If China’s actions are not contained, the risks to our national security are even more significant down the line. Taiwan itself is crucial to US national security, beyond just the effect it would have on China. Allying with Taiwan would provide the US with another key democratic partner in the region, an added benefit to stopping China.
In terms of concrete policy, President Biden should move to open an official embassy and appoint an ambassador to Taiwan. President Biden must also reiterate that the US still continues to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate government of mainland China, but not of Taiwan. The Biden Administration must no longer remain ambiguous on the “One-China” policy that violates the right to self-determination and self-government. These changes would signal to China and the rest of the world that the US will not overlook human rights abuses and oppression even if they are committed by one of the world’s strongest economies. Additionally, the recognition of Taiwan by the US would signal to the rest of the democratic world that they too can and should do the same. Recognizing Taiwan would put a check on China’s growing influence, protect US national security as a result, and once again restore the US to the forefront of leadership on the world stage.