Upgrading TECRO's name to include "Taiwan" isn't the threat many fear it to be -- nor is it the strategic win others hope it could be.

🧵 1/x
Per @Dimi @FT, the Biden Administration is actively considering this step - specifically, changing the name of Taiwan's de facto embassy from “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office” to “Taiwan Representative Office." 2/x ft.com/content/07810e…
This change is significant for two reasons: the removal of "economic & cultural," and the substitution of "Taiwan" for "Taipei."

In 1979, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act after Jimmy Carter abruptly cut off diplomatic relations with Taiwan and, in turn, recognized the People's Republic of China.

Initially, the TRA was an administration bill. Congress just gave it a heavy HEAVY rewrite. 4/x
Good history on that backstory ⤵️

Specifically: the admin's version "was designed to sole the day-to-day problems of maintaining commercial & cultural ties in the absence of formal diplomatic relations..." 5/x amazon.com/Taiwan-Relatio…
[continued] "...Narrowly focused & highly technical, the draft bill had been carefully vetted by policy levels in the State Dept & by NSC staff to make sure it did not include features likely to be offensive to the PRC. As such, it was entirely w/o political content." 6/x
Enter: Congress. Congress had the following concerns:

1) Keep Taiwan secure
2) Give Taiwan room to chart its own course
3) Clearly spell out econ & cultural links w/ US
4) Reassure friends/allies that US won't drop commitments

(again, citing amazon.com/Taiwan-Relatio…) 7/x
The policy portion of the TRA, Sec.2(b), captures all these concerns.

It's also important to note how the TRA defines "Taiwan." It isn't just "the islands of Taiwan and the Pescadores, the people on those islands" ... it also includes "the governing authorities on Taiwan"

All that to say...the TRA is certainly concerned w/ the words in TECRO's name - economic and cultural relations.

But its scope exceeds economic and cultural relations. 9/x
Now, with that backdrop in place, let's examine the concerns some analysts have with changing the name.

Here's a piece from @DavidMSacks1 @CFR_org

10/x cfr.org/blog/why-letti…
Sacks has three objections to changing TECRO's name:

1) it would undermine America's "One China" policy
2) it wouldn't advance US interests
3) it wouldn't improve US-Taiwan ties

Let's start w/ his final objection: it wouldn't improve US-Taiwan ties.

"Instead of spending energy on symbolic issues, 🇺🇸 & 🇹🇼 should be working toward a bilateral trade agreement, collaborating on supply chain security, and improving deterrence in the Taiwan Strait."

Symbolism over substance. I'm sympathetic to this objection. A trade agreement w/ Taiwan is long, long overdue (paging @WalterLohman & @WalteRiley). And yes, cross-straits deterrence signaling & posturing is crucial.

But those aren't arguments to not do something symbolic. 13/x
If it's a zero-sum choice between symbolism and substance, then of course, substance should win. But to take a symbolic action doesn't necessarily foreclose other decisions.

To Sack's credit, he doesn't make that argument. He argues that it could destabilize the Strait. 14/x
"while Beijing should not have a veto over U.S. policy toward Taiwan, it would be diplomatic malpractice to not take into consideration how China is likely to react"

Sacks fears emboldening Taiwanese independence and backing Beijing into a corner.

This is where the TRA backstory comes in handy.

Sacks argues that including "Taiwan" in TECRO's name could embolden support for Taiwanese independence. He also argues that the "TECRO" formulation intentionally limited relations to econ & cultural exchange to constrain... 16/x
...those forces. But - remember - the "only econ & cultural relations" concept came from the Carter administration!

Congress expanded the TRA's scope to the political/strategic realm. AND the bill's definition of "Taiwan" includes governing authorities.

The name change isn't the monstrous shift that many fear/claim it to be.

It also doesn't violate America's "One China" policy.

Check the 1972 Shanghai Communique.

What constitutes the "One China" policy?

1) The US side acknowledged the commonly-held belief in the PRC and Taiwan (at the time) that there was one China, and that Taiwan was part of it.

2) The US communicated that it cared deeply about *how* the Taiwan issue was resolved. It needed to be resolved "by the Chinese themselves" - meaning, by the PRC and ROC (Republic of China, aka Taiwan).

Process over outcome.

3) The US said that it didn't want to keep troops in Taiwan forever. Nixon committed to reduce troops & deployments in Taiwan "as the tension in the area diminishes."

That qualification is key - and was expanded under President Reagan.

If you examine subsequent documents (the 1982 Communique, Six Assurances, and recently declassified docs from that time), you come away with a distinct impression: the US will not reduce its "One China" policy to a one-sided commitment.


Washington knew Beijing expected the US to stop selling arms to Taiwan. Under Beijing's "One China" *principle*, that makes total sense.

Under America's "One China" *policy*...not so clear.

Our policy doesn't just depend on us - or Taiwan. It depends on Beijing. 23/x
This is where I have issues with Sachs and CFR.

Not once do they mention how China has sought to box out Taiwan diplomatically - from the WHO, from its allies and partners. They don't even mention the fighter jet incursions.

24/x cfr.org/blog/why-letti…
They only mention "an increasingly assertive China & a military balance that is rapidly shifting in Beijing’s favor"

So what- we're supposed to sit back and do what Beijing wants?

The "One China" Policy is a highly flexible diplomatic arrangement. It isn't a straitjacket.

Yes, the Global Times is talking a big game and threatening us. What else is new?

The whole point of Great Power Competition is to test your adversary. Let's test Beijing w/ a policy change consistent w/in our own framework - and see what they do.

That isn't blasé. We need to look for ways to bolster Taiwan politically & diplomatically - and make it easier for other nations to do the same. This is a symbolic but easy way to do that.

If Beijing gets angry, let them get angry. We aren't recognizing independence.

BUT - changing TECRO's name won't fix the biggest problem we have right now with Taiwan.

Biden is bungling great power competition with China - badly. This cooperate/compete simultaneously idea is hamstringing our ability to land real punches.

Biden flubbing Great Power Competition w/ China, Exhibit 1.

29/x thehill.com/opinion/intern…
Biden flubbing Great Power Competition w/ China, Exhibit 2.

30/x newsweek.com/will-bidens-re…
Biden flubbing Great Power Competition w/ China, Exhibit 3.

31/x thehill.com/opinion/intern…
And that doesn't even include Afghanistan.

We can and should bolster Taiwan - but we can't silo Taiwan from the broader competition w/ Beijing. We are currently slipping in that competition. That's where Biden's focus should be.


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More from @michaelsobolik

1 Sep
In 2018, 🇺🇸 got serious about 🇨🇳 influence campaigns in America - particularly in our universities.

But Beijing has begun pushing back, in ways policymakers have yet to address. @Joshua_Eisenman & I explain in @ForeignPolicy.

🧵1/x foreignpolicy.com/2021/08/31/chi…
For the past three years, Congress has had a three-part response to CCP influence campaigns:

(1) singling out complicit institutions

See UT-Austin and the LBJ School's attempt to take $$ from CCP-backed China-US Exchange Foundation $2 million

2/x washingtonpost.com/opinions/globa…
(2) leveraging federal funds

See 2019 NDAA provision that pressured colleges w/ DOD-funded foreign language programs to shutter their Confucius Institutes.

3/x washingtonpost.com/news/josh-rogi…
Read 10 tweets
30 Aug
Good competitive strategies flow from net assessments. If we want to compete effectively against the CCP, we need to identify their weaknesses first.

A particular (and peculiar) weakness for Xi Jinping: Maoism.

My latest, in @TheNatlInterest nationalinterest.org/feature/mao%E2…
True, Xi literally copy-pasted Mao’s cult-of-personality playbook to secure his hold on power.

But Maoism is also giving voice to millions of Chinese who increasingly wonder whether Xi’s “China Dream” applies to them.
Even as China’s economy has boomed over the past three decades, income inequality has bedeviled the nation. Today, roughly six hundred million Chinese—nearly double America’s population—live off a monthly income of $140. (@LiYuan6 ⤵️) nytimes.com/2020/06/11/bus…
Read 11 tweets

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