Why the US Doesn't Support Taiwanese Independence

On July 5th, the White House posted this seemingly uncontroversial and unremarkable Tweet —a list of places it had donated vaccines. It seemed like a banal government press release few would give much thought to. That is until it was suddenly deleted — and for fear of causing an international incident, no less. See if you can find why. The problem was not the actual donation. Nor was it the mere reference to “Taiwan”— a word the U.S. government uses all the time.And nowhere in the Tweet were the words “country "or “nation". No, the concern was about this tiny flag, which the White House called an “Honest Mistake”.So fragile is this issue that merely tweeting an icon of a flag might be interpreted as a change in policy or even a recognition of statehood — something that could trigger a military response by China. And yet so too could deleting the Tweet cause confusion. Afterward, the Taiwanese Foreign Ministry asked the U.S. not to “cause unnecessary speculation” after its president and DeFacto ambassador were left retweeting a message now deleted. This was not the first such diplomatic mishap, nor, surely, will it be the last. The U.S. government practices a strategy of deliberate ambiguity, leading much of the public, many in the media, and even a few politicians to misunderstand its position. Despite what China would have you believe, the U.S. does not, in fact, adhere to the "One-China” Principle. Neither does it support Taiwanese independence, though it does have “unofficial” relations with its government. The reality is much more complicated When Mao Zedong founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and promised to quote “liberate "Taiwan, the U.S. initially decided not to intervene.Only after the invasion of South Korea in the summer of 1950 did the Truman administration begin recognizing the strategic value of Taiwan. Four years later, in 1954, the U.S. signed a defense treaty, promising to protect Taiwan if attacked. This, along with America’s refusal to recognize the PRC, lasted for another 25 years, until it discovered a bigger threat: The SovietUnionLargely in response to the Communists up North, America finally recognized the People's Republic in 1979 as the, quote, “sole legal Government of China. "It promised not to pursue a “two Chinas "or “One China, one Taiwan” solution, which meant ending official relations with Taiwan. It also stated, in a communiqué, “...the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China "Upon hearing this, you, like many people, might conclude that the U.S. acquiesced to the People’s Republic. But if so, you’re not paying close enough attention.It recognizes the PRC as the “sole legal government of China” but doesn’t define what China is.Remember, Taiwan is formally known as the "Republic of China, and both claimed to be “China". On the other hand, it merely acknowledges “...the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China". The keyword here being “acknowledge”— which is not the same as “accept "or “recognize". It does, however, give a similar impression— at least on a cursory reading. And this is certainly no accident. The American position then and now is to obfuscate— to narrowly satisfy China’s stringent demands while giving up as little as possible in the process. The U.S. could argue it fulfilled its obligations, while China could argue the U.S. fully agreed to its position. A mutually enforced facade of resolution. IN reality, nothing said or done back in ‘79truly resolved the issue. Both sides only kicked the can further down the road. And far worse than simply delaying that ugly conversation, the talks created the superficial illusion of agreement, leading to hurt feeling sand accusations later on. In other words: America spoke as vaguely as possible, which China gladly exploited. The Chinese translation of the document, for example, uses a word closer in meaning to "recognize, despite there being an accurate translation of “acknowledge” available. It's quite possible that many in China and even Taiwan, most of whom read the document in Chinese, believe the U.S. promised more than it actually did. That was, after all, kind of the point. There's another, similar linguistic misconception. The “One-China Principle” is the term for China’s position — that Taiwan is a part of the People’s Republic. This is not the same as generic, lower-case "One-China policies” — which every country has a different version of. When China accuses another country of violating the “One-China Principle, it’s really only saying that it disagrees with the action, not that the other country has broken a promise. Make no mistake: The U.S. does not adhere to the principle, only to its own policy — one which has gone unchanged for over forty years. The People’s Republic, the U.S. ended its defense treaty with Taiwan, replacing it instead with the Taiwan Relations Act. The TRA was designed to reassume Taiwan by providing it with the weapons it needs to defend itself. And while it states an expectation that the issue will be resolved peacefully, it does not guarantee military support, only that the President will inform Congress of any potential threat, and then take “appropriate action”.Still, all parties operated under the assumption of eventual unification. All that changed in the 90s, as Taiwan transitioned from brutal authoritarian rule to what is today one of the strongest and most vibrant democracies on earth. The process was neither smooth nor easy and made advocating for independence legal, complicating the situation. favor closer economic ties to China. China buys nearly half of Taiwan’s exports, which they see as a critical relationship to maintain. To them, China is less an adversary and Morea, business partner. The dominant party in this camp is the Kuomintang or KMT.On the other side are the “Greens, led economic coercion. Hey prefer the term “Taiwan” to “The Republic of China. the KMT is sometimes sloppily labeled “pro-unification, and the DPP “pro-independence", this is simply not true. In reality, both sides agree that maintaining the status quo is the best short-to-medium-term strategy, and neither side, except for a few radicals, advocates unification or independence. The Greens argue Taiwan is already an independent, sovereign state, and thus has no reason to declare independence — something which would surely start a war.None of this is meant to discount the ferocity of Taiwanese politics — healthy democracy is fierce and messy — but to highlight how subtle their differences. This graph helps put things in perspective. When asked their preferences, the Taiwanese public has answered remarkably consistently for twenty years. The top three responses are all maintain the status quo, and only differ in the long term.28% prefer to “decide at a later date”,27% wish to maintain the status quo indefinitely, and one quarter wish to maintain the status Quo but move toward independence". Only a small minority wish to unify immediately, move toward unification, or declare independence as soon as possible. Ironically, it’s most often Americans, halfway across the globe, who panic when China flies fighter jets through Taiwanese airspace, not the Taiwanese public, for whom such shows of intimidation have become mundane. Most are content simply keeping things as they are. As is the United States. Officially, it “does not support” independence. But remember: American diplomats are precise in their meaning. The U.S. does not say it opposes independence, which would mean taking a position. But while it does not take a stance on the outcome, it does advocate for the process. Not only does it oppose a forceful unification by China, but so too does it oppose a unilateral declaration of independence by Taiwan — something which would also destabilize the region. When Taiwan’s president proposed a public referendum on independence in 2003, the Uswa's caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, it did not support what it perceived as dangerous antagonizing. On the other, it did not want to publicly oppose a legal, democratic process. Instead, it reiterated indirectly, but unequivocally, that it did not support independence — sending the message that the president had crossed a line. Since then, Taiwanese officials have gone out of their way to prove they don’t plan on rocking the boat. In 2018, current President Tsai Ing-Wen stayed silent on a referendum calling for its Olympic name to be changed from “Chinese-Taipei "to “Taiwan". And she’s in the green camp. Every major politician today understands the need to proceed with caution — repeating, sometimes monotonously, that they won't pursue independence. That doesn’t stop China from claiming the support independence, however, which engenders Nationalism at home and helps narrow the boundaries of what’s “acceptable". But things can’t continue like this forever. While America and Taiwan support the Status Quo, for now, everyone agrees it’s untenable in the long term. One of three red lines China says the crossing of which would trigger an attack, is if Taiwan refuses to ever consider negotiating unification. The possibility of change — however minuscule— is thus imperative to maintaining the peaceful Status Quo. The question is: in what direction does imperator in terms of public opinion, the answer is clear.When broken down by age, it’s evident that younger generations feel an increasingly strong Taiwanese identity distinct from China. The 2014 Sunflower Movement demonstrated how determined young people are, which recent developments in Hong Kong will surely only convince them of more so.And yet, every day China’s military and economy grow stronger. It may believe time is on its side — that the balance of power will only shift in its favor.Likewise, does it surely notice America's growing disinterest in acting as the world's police force. China may doubt the will of Americans to fight war so distant at a time when it’s so preoccupied at home. In the meantime, Taiwan is stuck in a historically unprecedented limbo. A weird in-between state in which it can enjoy freedom only if it pretends not to, A status quo that has somehow survived eight American administrations, forty years, and yet can suddenly be called into question with a mere icon of flag in a Tweet.