President Biden says he’s likely to talk to Chinese dictator Xi Jinping by phone within a week, and no doubt there’ll be no shortage of advice from both inside and outside his administration about what he should say. Here’s my two cents for the text of a private letter that Mr. Biden should send to Xi in advance of the call. Its purpose would be to prepare Beijing for his agenda:
“Dear Mr. President,
First of all, thank you again for your wishes for my speedy and complete recovery from Covid. I’m glad to report that I’m feeling just fine.
“Second, if we are indeed to converse person-to-person soon, I need to make something clear. If your plan for our call is simply to repeat the kinds of talking points that keep coming out of Beijing, then we might as well call the telephone call off. That kind of approach has gotten us nowhere at best to date, and will get us nowhere now and in the future.
“My main focus, and the reason I wanted to speak with you directly, concerns our differences regarding Taiwan. I believe there’s a clearcut way for us to avoid a war over this issue that would serve no one’s interest, and indeed threaten disaster for all parties concerned.
“My administration has said before that it remains U.S. policy to abide by the Shanghai Communique approved by our two governments in 1972, which states that ‘The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain that there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position.’
“As a result, I can tell you categorically that the United States opposes Taiwan declaring independence, and will continue to do so. The United States has supported increased Taiwanese participation in international organizations and other fora strictly for practical reasons – mainly, the island is undoubtedly a major regional and global economic actor. In fact, that’s of course why the People’s Republic has permitted trade and investment ties between your two economies to grow so robustly.
“For as long as I’m President, the United States will continue to pursue this approach. I also reserve the right, claimed and acted upon by all of my predecessors since Congress’ passage of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979, and consistent with the Shanghai Communique’s reference to America’s support for ‘a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves’ to ‘provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character’ and ‘to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.’
“I also want to emphasize that preserving and enhancing peace and stability in the Taiwan neighborhood has recently become an objective of paramount importance to the United States because of the island’s world leadership in semiconductor manufacturing technology. That is, my country’s commitment to Taiwan now stems from concrete, specific considerations that are absolutely vital to U.S. national security, and I am determined that this prowess will not become available to the People’s Republic.
“This conclusion should come as no surprise to you. For many years, including under my administration, U.S. export control policy has aimed to deny China the ability to make the world’s most advanced microchips. So I’m certainly not going to stand by and see the full suite of advanced semiconductor production technologies, materials, and equipment possessed by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company in particular fall into your country’s hands.
“At the same time, I recognize Taiwan’s special importance to the population of the People’s Republic and to your government. So in the interests of peace and stability, I am willing to declare the United States’ opposition to Taiwanese independence in public, along with its continued opposition to Taiwan joining organizations and arrangements in which its voice lacks any special importance – such as the United Nations. I am also willing to make these points forcefully in private to Taiwan’s leaders.
“In addition, I will privately pressure U.S. legislators not to visit the island. And although I lack the authority to ban those trips, I will publicly announce that executive branch visits to Taiwan will be limited to those needed to address specific issues in bilateral commercial relations and other non-political spheres. Further, I will publicly urge other countries not to take any actions that could encourage Taiwan’s leaders to try to change the political status quo unilaterally. Finally, for now, I will reduce the number of annual U.S. Navy vessel trips through the Taiwan Strait in half, back to 2017 and 2018 levels as well.
“But I will not take any of these new steps unless China immediately reduces flights by its military aircraft over Taiwan’s air defense identification zone back below mid-2020 levels, and halts all effots to interfere with those U.S. Navy transits of the Taiwan Straits.
“Moreover, if China does not agree to this quid pro quo, which will unmistakably shrink the odds of an accidental outbreak of hostilities that I trust you would like to avoid as much as I, I will have no choice but to respond to China’s overflights and other provocations with ever more supplies of increasingly advanced defensive weapons to Taiwan. I will also see to it that any other regional countries alarmed by China’s more aggressive actions toward Taiwan receive all the conventional arms they believe they need to ensure their own security. Further, I will encourage these countries to increase their military cooperation programs with the United States and each other. Finally, I will make sure that the United States military’s regional presence will be sufficient to contribute decisively to Taiwan’s successful defense should I decide such action is needed.
“In other words, Mr. President, I am presenting you with a choice. You can either lower the military temperature in Taiwan’s vicinity, and benefit both from the considerable help I can provide in damping down Taiwan’s independence impulses, and from the maintenance of peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region that has been so crucial to your own country’s impressive economic development and rise to great power status. Or you can keep increasing tensions, and find yourself not only faced with a more militarily powerful Taiwan, but increasingly encircled by much warier but better armed neighbors as well.
“Incidentally, China faces much the same choice due to its recent expansive territorial claims and follow-up actions in the South China Sea more generally. But because the Taiwan situation is currently more dangerous now, my intention is to defuse that situation first if possible.
“As I stated at the outset, if you plan to respond to these positions with longstanding talking points, then our converation will serve no purpose. If, however, you’re willing to respond substantively and constructively, I’ll be all ears, as a popular English expression goes. I look forward to your reply. And please accept my sincere hope that you and those near and dear can stay Covid-free.