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Opinion

Beijing won’t back off on Taiwan and neither should the democratic world

The White House must speak with clarity that aggression will not be tolerated.

As it has done countless times before, including in the early days of the Biden administration, Beijing is testing the will of the United States and Pacific allies to stand behind Taiwan. Just days ago, China flew scores of military aircraft over Taiwan and warned that “war may be triggered at any time.”

In essence, China’s authoritarian leadership under the aegis of President Xi Jinping continues to test international resolve with a proverbial line in the strait that separates Taiwan from the mainland. China’s provocations are designed to push the United States and Taiwan’s democratic allies onto their heels. So far, the U.S. response has been a lukewarm diplomatic missive decrying China for “provocative military activity” that “risks miscalculations and undermines regional peace and stability.”

That is true but hardly persuasive to a communist regime that will always have Taiwan in its sights. There are no good answers, just bad responses and less worse responses. The Biden administration can’t draw a redline that it can’t or won’t defend. Nor can the White House or democratic governments around the globe pretend that China is just blowing off steam. And arguably the worst response is continued ambiguity.

The White House has a responsibility to speak with clarity that aggression will not be tolerated. Beijing considers democratic Taiwan to be part of China; Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign state and U.S. policy has been diplomatically ambiguous. Biden now must make it clear that the United States is not trying to change Taiwan’s status, but will stand firm with democratic allies such as Japan, the European Union, India and Australia if China moves militarily against Taiwan. That message can’t be ambiguous and open to Chinese miscalculation.

China played a similar game with both the Trump and Biden administrations over Hong Kong and arguably emerged with a victory. Beijing imposed an onerous national security law to rein in Hong Kong’s political and economic freedoms and continues to tighten its vise on everyday life in Hong Kong. At the time of Britain’s turnover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, Beijing promised considerable political autonomy for 50 years, a promise we now see was false. In recent months, Hong Kong residents opposed to Beijing’s repression and political requirements are fleeing to seek freedom in other nations.

Beijing sees Taiwan as an affront to its authoritarian values, and the stakes are higher than Hong Kong. Taiwan holds democratic elections, has a free media, its own military and currency and has never come under the boot of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Biden administration really has just one option — to build a strategic global commitment to preserve Taiwan’s political and economic autonomy.

The path forward is unclear but it can be made less treacherous through deeper engagement with democratic allies and clear principles supporting Taiwan’s self-determined future.

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Dallas Morning News Editorial. Dallas Morning News editorials are written by the paper's Editorial Board and serve as the voice and view of the paper. The board considers a broad range of topics and is overseen by the Editorial Page Editor.

editorialboard@dallasnews.com @dmnopinion
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