Last month as the candidates for the Conservative party leadership became two, the Taiwan Policy Centre wrote an open letter to Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss seeking clarification on their position towards Taiwan.
The island nation, that sits around 100 miles from the Chinese mainland, has been the focus of a sovereignty dispute with China for over seven decades. Taiwan considers itself an independent state but in Beijing, the island, home to 23 million people, is viewed as a Chinese breakaway province.
The dispute was heightened last year when Chinese President Xi Jinping claimed reunification of Taiwan with China “must be fulfilled”. And, while China claims it would seek reconsolidation through peaceful measures, it has not ruled out the use of force if necessary.
Taiwan is a free, prosperous and thriving young democracy, maintaining the fourth strongest economy in the region behind Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Over the last four decades, Taiwan has fruitfully charted the course from authoritarian martial law to a beacon of liberty and democracy in south east Asia.
Of late, Western policy towards the region has been timid and confused. At a press conference last month, US president Joe Biden declared he would deploy US military support should China invade the island. Moments later the White House backtracked and said it would maintain its policy of “strategic ambiguity”.
So far, neither Conservative leadership candidate has offered solid proposals on how they would deter a Chinese invasion, or how they would assist Taiwan in obtaining the military equipment it would require in the event of an attack from the mainland.
In an act of disparity from her western allies, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, visited Taiwan last week vowing not to cower to Chinese aggression. Though her visit reaffirmed America’s commitment to Taiwan, it exposed the harsh reality of the west’s contradictory position toward the island.
It is an unusual situation in which China claims Taiwan as its own, Taiwan claims itself to be sovereign and most Western nations are left claiming Taiwan to be neither but treating it as an ally, nonetheless. This incoherent state of affairs has harboured a seventy-year peace but with cracks beginning to show, the time is now to commit an unwavering support to Taiwan.
An Anglo-American alliance reinforced by other western allies should affirm its commitment to arming Taiwan should China strike in the near future. Though Beijing may profess threats of military conflict, it knows its hollow forces are no match for Washington’s military might.
The United Kingdom and its allies should launch regular ministerial visits to the island, strengthening strategic and diplomatic relations and with a strategy to aid Taiwan in participating in international bodies it has been isolated from for decades.
It is fundamentally immoral that Taiwan, a free and thriving democracy, is isolated from the international community because of intimidation and fear posed by a Communist dictatorship.
China can deescalate. Its leaders can accept Taiwan’s right to self-determination; they can rule out any notion of reclaiming the island by force; they can acknowledge an independent Taiwan, fully active in the international community; they can set out to rekindle relations after a seventy-year stalemate. Of course, they won’t. And, as such the West must proceed accordingly.
Beijing should be put on notice that the age of the dictator is over. As with Putin’s cruel war in Ukraine, aggression will not be tolerated. An economic backlash may be faced in the short-term but the cost of allowing tyranny to succeed will pose far greater risk for the future.