What Pompeo’s Visit to Taiwan Indicates

What Pompeo’s Visit to Taiwan Indicates
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

While Mike Pompeo called for formal recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan) on his recent trip, the Biden Administration will remain cautious and keep its options open.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s four-day visit to Taiwan was revealing of the sentiments forming in Washington. Retired politicians and diplomats can serve as an unofficial lobbying force in U.S. politics, especially if they remain active in the business world or offer speaking engagements to private audiences. Pompeo’s visit offers a clear perspective on the foreign policy goals held by the Biden administration and legislators in Washington.

Speaking at a news conference on March 4, Pompeo urged President Biden to formally recognize “the Republic of China (Taiwan)” as a “free and sovereign country” immediately. During his time as Secretary of State for the Trump Administration, Pompeo reduced restrictions on diplomatic engagement with Taiwan based on the principle that the United States should treat Taiwanese diplomats the same way they treat diplomats from other countries. In the meantime, key policymakers in Washington have come to believe that adding new restrictions to the bilateral relationship will appease the Chinese Communist Party. 

The U.S. bureaucracy is slow to change but is a strong force once it moves in a clear direction. The State Department and Congress have continued the process initiated by the Trump Administration of treating Taiwan like other sovereign nations. Recently, the U.S. Congress passed legislation restricting the State Department from issuing maps displaying Taiwan as part of China. U.S. legislation that recognizes a distinction between Taiwan and the PRC echoes Biden’s view that Taiwan’s sovereignty is not up to the U.S. or China to decide, but is rather for the people of Taiwan to decide for themselves. 

Pompeo proposed a significant strategic shift away from economic relations with China. There was a time that the U.S. believed that globalization and trade with authoritarian countries would lead to greater political liberalization due to the demands of the new middle class. But Pompeo notes that political liberalization has not happened in China and Russia. Instead, in Pompeo’s view, the U.S. and Europe have only made authoritarian governments stronger by giving them economic and political leverage over democratic nations. He asserted that a pivot from relying on authoritarian countries to democratic allies is long overdue.

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Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, there is a higher probability that the U.S. and its allies will decrease economic relations with China by possibly imposing sanctions on Chinese companies defying U.S. sanctions on Russia. The U.S. does not rule out the possibility of placing hard-hitting sanctions if the Chinese government is found to be offering material support to Russia material during the war. Taiwan can benefit from U.S. economic disengagement from authoritarian governments by attracting U.S. multinational corporations and investment flowing out of Russia and China.

Pompeo’s visit to Taiwan indicates a strategic shift away from China and building stronger partnerships with allies. While Pompeo calls for formal recognition of the Republic of China (Taiwan), the Biden Administration will remain cautious and keep its options open. Instead, President Biden will stay true to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 by “mak[ing] clear that the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” This support includes reducing diplomatic restrictions on Taiwan, deepening trade relations, increasing intelligence sharing, and supplying Taiwan with the defense provisions it requests, but not establishing formal diplomatic relations with the ROC (Taiwan)  as Pompeo suggests.

One should note that Pompeo began rebranding his political image last year possibly in preparation for a presidential run in 2024. If he does not backtrack, Taiwan could be a hot topic during the 2024 presidential debates.


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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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