Taiwan

Jimmy Lai sparks White House debate

Jimmy Lai sparks White House debate


  • By Lin Tzu-yao and Cathy Fang

Democratic Progressive Party presidential candidate and Vice President Lai Ching-te expressed the hope that the future president of Taiwan will visit the White House, which caused an uproar. Shortly after, the Financial Times, a reliable source with first-hand knowledge of senior officials, reported that Lai’s comments had raised concerns in Washington, sparked debate in Taiwan’s political circles and boosted morale among skeptics in the United States.

For decades, the United States has been cautious in its interactions with Taipei, allowing only Taiwan’s president and vice president to transit. This practice, which both parties call “tacit understanding”, seems outdated and should be re-examined.

Washington’s choice not to invite Taiwan’s leaders or top cabinet officials to visit the White House is an act of self-restraint, not prohibited by law. Therefore, this incident may become a turning point for US President Biden to reconsider opening the door to Taiwan’s No. 2 and giving him the dignified reception he deserves.

By doing so, the United States can effectively demonstrate its commitment to support the beacon of democracy and set a precedent for other countries to break the unspoken rules of self-limitation.

A visit by a Taiwanese vice president to the White House is not unprecedented. In the 1960s, the then Vice President Chen Cheng visited the White House and was personally received by the then US President John F. Kennedy. Similarly, in the 1970s, Vice President Yan Jiakan visited the White House to congratulate the then US President Richard Nixon on his inauguration and had formal bilateral meetings with him.

However, the Taiwanese vice president has not been received at the White House since the United States severed diplomatic relations with the Republic of China in 1979.

At the time, the United States had formal diplomatic relations with the Republic of China, while Taiwan was under the one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). Ironically, after Taiwan completed its transition to democracy in the 1990s, no Taiwanese president or vice president has been hosted by the White House since then. Isn’t this a double standard for democracy and authoritarianism? We should now consider whether it is appropriate for the United States, a staunch believer in democracy, to demonstrate its commitment to this principle to its democratic allies in this way.

In 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which allows “senior Taiwanese officials to enter the United States and meet with U.S. officials, including those of the State Department and Defense Department, under respectful conditions.”

In addition, former U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo abolished the State Department’s 2021 travel guide to Taiwan and strongly supported contacts between officials from both sides, with the aim of changing the nature of U.S.-Taiwan interactions.

Unfortunately, under the Biden administration, progress in high-level interactions appears to have stalled and self-limitation has reemerged.

Is this self-restraint consistent with a government that prioritizes the promotion of democratic values ​​on its policy agenda? If this is not convincing enough, the United States, as a country ruled by law, should abide by the legal authorization passed by the Senate and the House of Representatives and signed by the President.

Given Beijing’s continued disregard for the “status quo” in the Taiwan Strait, Washington may need to re-examine not only its policy toward the People’s Republic of China, but also whether provoking China should remain an unwritten rule. Manage the interaction between two democracies.

Past experience has shown that Beijing does not reciprocate kindness. The mutually agreed rescheduling of U.S. House Speaker McCarthy’s visit to Taiwan has raised questions about whether such a rescheduling would improve U.S.-China relations or ease cross-strait tensions by avoiding crossing Beijing’s red lines.

Chinese military aircraft and warships continue to carry out provocative actions in the Taiwan Strait, showing no sign of retreating, strategically and effectively establishing a new normal.

In addition to the external military pressure that threatens Taiwan’s security, there are also some domestic voices that are expanding their inclinations against the CCP regime, sowing the seeds of tearing society apart and eroding trust between Taiwan and the only country. Security Guarantee, United States.

If the U.S. took a clearer stance on the idea of ​​Jimmy Lai visiting the White House, those who are skeptical of U.S. intentions may have fewer resources to sow discord between the U.S. and Taiwan. Conversely, if Washington takes an ambiguous stance on establishing more direct, higher-level channels with Taipei, it will only greatly fuel pro-China sentiment and increase the risk of Taiwan leaning more toward China.

To sum up, the United States is undoubtedly a sovereign democracy. The decision of the President of the United States to invite guests to his home should not be influenced by the views of other countries. On Aug. 2, then-Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi defended her controversial decision to visit Taiwan last year. She said the People’s Republic of China’s aggression against Taiwan meant the United States could not be weak and silent. Perhaps instead of being defensive on this sensitive issue, Washington should think creatively and push back against prevailing sentiment.

Lin Ziyao currently lives in Kaohsiung. He graduated from the National Development Institute of National Taiwan University with a master’s degree, majoring in Chinese studies and cross-strait relations. Cathy Fang is a master student majoring in International Affairs at George Washington University in the United States. Previously, she served as a legislative assistant in the Legislative Yuan.

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