Equally important, Taiwan and the global geopolitical environment have changed substantially since 1979. As Congressman Ted Yoho unequivocally stated in a recent op-ed:
"Taiwan exists today as a sovereign state, a status it has earned through the mandate of its people, its democratic institutions and its stewardship of personal freedoms and human rights… Taiwan has risen from a backwater controlled by an authoritarian, exiled military regime to become a model democracy. After 40 years, it is time we updated our policy—making it consistent with present-day reality would be a good place to start."
Reflecting in her new year speech, President Tsai stated:
"I am calling on China that it must face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan); it must respect the commitment of the 23 million people of Taiwan to freedom and democracy; it must handle cross-strait differences peacefully, on a basis of equality; and it must be governments or government-authorized agencies that engage in negotiations. These "four musts" are the most basic and crucial foundations that will determine whether cross-strait relations develop in a positive direction."
Senior officials in the U.S. government seem to get the importance of Taiwan's democracy. Most notably, Vice President Mike Pence made explicitly clear that preserving Taiwan's democracy is an interest of the United States. As he stated in the Trump administration's first major policy speech on China, "America will always believe Taiwan's embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people." On the one hand, the vice president's statement reflects the enduring and evolving relationship between the United States and Taiwan. On the other hand, Xi's speech reflects a growing disconnect with the people of Taiwan. Specifically, Xi's pledge that the "one-country, two-systems" framework would respect the Taiwanese social system and way of life and guarantee their property rights, religious beliefs and other rights belies the repression of people's rights playing out in Hong Kong under that formula. When Xi's vision and the TRA are juxtaposed, they paint two very different pictures for Taiwan's future.
Beijing's ruse of associating the "1992 consensus" with the "one country, two systems" will make cross-Strait dialogue more difficult for both the major political parties in Taiwan. A Taiwanese version of "one country, two systems" will be politically restrictive, even for the Nationalist Party, since there is no public support for "one country, two systems" in Taiwan. As President Tsai noted: "Taiwan absolutely will not accept 'one country, two systems.' The vast majority of Taiwanese also resolutely oppose 'one country, two systems,' and this opposition is also a 'Taiwan consensus.'"
Xi's statement not renouncing the use of force against Taiwan coupled by China's destabilizing actions over the past three years, which are unilaterally changing the status quo, plainly show the international community that Beijing is now the provocateur in the Taiwan Strait. As the Taiwan Relations Act makes clear, it is U.S. policy "to consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States."
After forty years, U.S. policy towards Taiwan should be recalibrated to better reflect objective reality. At the very least, a recalibrated policy must extend greater legitimacy to democracy and not support an outcome that does not enjoy the support among the majority of the free people of Taiwan. As several U.S. senators, concerned over China's alleged interference in Taiwan's elections, noted: "CCP attempts to erode democratic processes and norms around the world threaten U.S. partnerships and prosperity." When the TRA was enacted in 1979, the United States and Taiwan could have afforded to give Beijing the benefit of the doubt, continuing to do so would militate against the mounting evidence of Beijing's apparent intent to change the existing order and ignore the remarkable achievements and importance of Taiwan's democracy for the United States.
Russell Hsiao is the executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute and current a Penn Kemble Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. The opinions expressed in this article are his own.