Taiwan should push for more recognition and a stronger international presence while America’s ties with China are at a “new low,” said former US National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Bolton, who served under President Donald Trump between 2018 and 2019, spoke during an online seminar on Thursday. He suggested that the current US administration could be more willing than ever to elevate the status of the self-governed island.
He said the US should exert heavy pressure on China, including by giving full diplomatic recognition to Taiwan, to counter Beijing’s contention that the island is a renegade province pending reunification with the mainland either through negotiation or invasion.
In an online discussion hosted by US Foreign Press Association president Ian Williams, Bolton immediately mentioned Taiwan when asked if there was any tangible pressure point the US could apply on China when it comes to issues such as human rights.
“Well, there is of the Uighurs, and obviously what is going on in Hong Kong, also the repression of religious freedom for many years,” Bolton said.
“When we see this kind of behavior, it provides an opportunity for asymmetric pressure on China. I have believed for quite some time that the US should grant full diplomatic recognition to Taiwan.”
Bolton said US officials from the Pentagon and State Department had to “go to a coffee shop or restaurant across the street from their offices to meet informally with Taiwanese representatives, instead of inside their office buildings, out of fear of upsetting Beijing.”
“That is ridiculous. It inconveniences Americans. We should be able to meet with whoever we want in American government buildings. How is that for a radical thought?
“Frankly, I think if you are not prepared to recognize a freely elected representative government in a democratic country like Taiwan, then what is the purpose of diplomatic recognition to begin with?”
Bolton said this was only one of a number of things the US had done inexplicably over the years to satisfy Beijing, but that do not serve American interests.
The Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office, Taiwan’s de-facto embassy in Washington, does not have any diplomatic status in the US due to Washington’s “one China” pledge. Taiwan’s de facto ambassador Hsiao Bi-khim thus resides in the US on a business rather than diplomatic visa, according to reports.
Bolton is not the only former or incumbent top US official to openly advocate for granting Taiwan full diplomatic recognition.
Bolton said that much of the research and briefings at the National Security Council during his tenure concerned China and Taiwan. He said he had presented many of them directly to the president.
Bolton intended to visit Taiwan earlier this year to meet the island’s President Tsai Ing-wen and attend her inauguration after being elected to a second term. But he had to cancel the trip due to Covid-19.
“There are a series of steps we could take to show Beijing how displeased we are with their treatment of the Uighurs, and their repression in Hong Kong,” Bolton said. “It might not have any effect in discouraging Beijing, but it would signal that business as usual between the two powers had long been gone,” he added.
Asked by a Taiwanese reporter whether the election of Trump or rival Joe Biden would be more beneficial for Taiwan, Bolton said regardless of the outcome Taiwan should double down on its lobbying and interaction with members of the US Congress, where support for the island nation would usually cut across Republican and Democratic party lines.
Bolton previously said he would not vote for Trump or Biden in the upcoming race.
“Hard to say what Trump is going to do [during the remainder of his term] once he is not re-elected. It’s also possible that the Democratic Party will actually be tougher on China,” he said.
Bolton also said he believed there would be “a rethinking going on across the board” with regard to US policy towards China. This was because the long-held US hope that a wealthier China with a growing middle class would eventually make the country more democratic and responsible internationally has not come to fruition.
“From the Taiwanese perspective, I think what that means is, you have to continue the long-standing strategy of working with members of the Congress in both the Democratic and Republican parties, where support for Taiwan remains very, very strong,” he said.
Bolton has made frequent media appearances in recent weeks to promote his revealing memoir entitled “The Room Where It Happened” that recounts his time in Trump’s White House.
The foreign policy hawk said he was not sure if his new book could be sold in Hong Kong after Beijing imposed a sweeping new national security law on the city with vague clauses that threaten to target locals as well as expatriates. Bolton said he would consider selling the copyright to a publisher in Taiwan to translate the book into Chinese.
“The book is number one in the United Kingdom and Canada already. So I’m hoping for foreign sales because I think the purpose of the book is to explain to people mostly in America, but certainly overseas as well, how decisions get made in the Trump administration,” Bolton said.
“And I think that’s useful for people, including those in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, to know.”