September 17, 2020 | Washington Examiner

Trump can upend the status quo again by recognizing Taiwan in international organizations

September 17, 2020 | Washington Examiner

Trump can upend the status quo again by recognizing Taiwan in international organizations

The United Nations General Assembly, currently gathering virtually in New York, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the U.N. this year. The meeting comes amid an unprecedented global health emergency and accelerating environmental crises as well as rising tensions among great powers. It also comes as China carries out genocide in Xinjiang, topples a democracy in Hong Kong, and projects technology-enabled authoritarianism globally.

The number is less neat, but this fall also marks the 49th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China being admitted to the U.N. and the expulsion of the Republic of China, more commonly known as Taiwan. In that time, the PRC has gone from a desperately poor country without a system for measuring GDP to the second-largest economy in the world (by some measures, in fact, the largest); from the throes of the Cultural Revolution to success achieving its first centennial goal of creating “a moderately prosperous society”; from an insignificant force at the U.N. to the leader of 4 times as many U.N. specialized agencies as any other country.

As China has grown on the world stage, so has the brazenness of the authoritarian agenda that its influence at the U.N. serves. Taiwan used its U.N. Security Council veto only once during the 26 years it was a U.N. member. Beijing has used its veto 15 times, sometimes to punish governments that have relations with Taiwan but mostly to protect the most repressive dictatorships from accountability for their actions. In conjunction with Russia, China has vetoed resolutions targeting MyanmarZimbabwe, and Venezuela and issued seven vetoes on behalf of Syria.

Beijing also uses its leadership role in specialized U.N. organizations to advance its authoritarian agenda. Fang Liu, former director and deputy director of China’s General Administration of Civil Aviation, was appointed secretary-general of the U.N.’s International Civil Aviation Organization in 2015. The next year, Vietnam protested that the ICAO had amended the flight map of contested islands to reflect only China’s territorial claims. Zhao Houlin, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union since 2014 and a former official at China’s Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications, has been a vocal defender of Huawei, the Chinese state-backed telecommunications giant that the U.S. Department of Defense has determined to be military-affiliated. Zhao has also overseen Huawei-sponsored ITU events and facilitated ITU approval of Huawei-sponsored technical standards.

This is not to mention Beijing’s gross violations of international norms that, thanks in part to Chinese influence over the U.N., go unaddressed by the global community. China’s Uighur minority has urged the U.N. to investigate Beijing’s genocide. This call will likely go unanswered. At a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2020, 53 countries backed China’s draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong. Only 26 opposed it.

Beijing has gamed the international system to subvert the U.N.’s founding principles and to promote authoritarian norms. The United States has failed to respond systematically and strategically. Washington either misses the nature of Beijing’s offensive entirely or attempts to fight it through precisely those institutions, such as the U.N., that China has subverted. For example, Washington expects Beijing, in accordance with international law, to obey a 2016 ruling by the international court of The Hague on China’s territorial encroachments in the South China Sea. The PRC not only ignored the judgment but also won a judicial post for one of its diplomats on the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in 2020.

Beijing competes asymmetrically by shaping the battlefield before the battle has begun. This poses a question for Washington: Where can the U.S. adopt low-cost measures that would target Chinese sensitivities and spur Beijing to change its behavior?

In the context of international organizations, one simple opportunity would hit the mark: The U.S. should recognize Taiwan. Having done so, the U.S. should push for Taiwan’s readmission to the U.N., then for Taiwan’s membership across the full range of international organizations.

In parallel, the U.S. should take moves to protect the stability of the region. The State Department should work with regional allies to establish a NATO-like multilateral security mechanism in East Asia. Taiwan should serve as a lead pillar in a revitalized entity drawing on the framework and legacy of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO. Under such a framework, the U.S. Department of Defense should work with Taiwanese counterparts to reestablish the U.S. Taiwan Defense Command. U.S. forces should be stationed on the Penghu Islands in the Taiwan Strait. The U.S. should provide more arms to Taiwan and coordinate military training and joint exercises.

Recognition of Taiwan would trigger a PRC sensitivity while taking an ideological stance aligned with democratic norms and basic human rights. It would put China on the defensive in a new competitive environment for which it is not prepared. The U.S. would be able to do all of this at low cost.

That would be a fitting mission in advance of the 50th anniversary of China’s recognition in the U.N. next year.

Emily de La Bruyère and Nathan Picarsic are senior fellows at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and co-founders of Horizon Advisory, a strategy consulting group focused on the implications of China’s competitive approach to geopolitics.

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