During a presidential news conference in August of 1986, Ronald Reagan reminded Americans of the nine most terrifying words in the English language: "I’m from the Government and I’m here to help."
Well, Speaker Pelosi has uttered four words more terrifying than Reagan’s nine: "America stands with Taiwan."
Pelosi’s statement has been broadcast from nearly every news outlet on the planet, and everyone assumes they know what she meant, but experience would suggest her words should not be taken at face value. So, what do her words actually mean? When an American politician says "We will stand with you," it’s usually code for "We’re going to give you just enough help to let you be defeated by your enemy."
In addition to the current war in Ukraine, there is historical evidence directly related to the history of Taiwan to back-up this thesis.
A case in point is the way America undermined Chang Kai-shek, the founder of modern Taiwan, during the Chinese Civil War. America turned its back on Chang after promising to support him in his fight to defeat the Chinese Communist Party and its leader Mao Zedong.
In 1947, President Harry Truman dispatched George C. Marshall to negotiate a cease fire, and form a coalition government between the Communists and the Nationalists. Marshall’s plan failed miserably, US support for the Nationalists dwindled, and Chang was forced to retreat to the island that was known then as Formosa. Today, we call it Taiwan.
Chang established the Republic of China on the island and laid the foundation that enabled it to become the economic powerhouse it is today. The history lesson for Taiwan is when America says it stands with you it usually means the opposite. Chiang found out the hard way, and it looks as if Taiwan is about to repeat the same mistake.
Another historical example is when President Richard Nixon pursued the policy of Rapprochement with China. He secretly sent Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to China in 1971 to negotiate restoring diplomatic relations between the two countries. While Kissinger was busy in talks with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the US was working hard to convince the member states of the UN to seat the PRC. The government of Taiwan already had member status at the UN, and were also one of five permanent members of the Security Council. The US wanted the UN to seat delegations from both Communist China and Taiwan.
Conversely, the UN responded with resolution 2758 which stated that the People’s Republic of China was the only legitimate government of China. The resolution also stipulated that Taiwan be replaced by the PRC as a permanent member of the Security Council. Taiwan, and the government of Chiang Kai-shek, were summarily expelled from the United Nations and all other organizations related to it.
Keep in mind, while the US proposed keeping both delegations at the UN, and voted "No" on Resolution 2758, it failed to put up much of a fight when the UN expelled Taiwan. Apparently, this is what it means for "America to stand with Taiwan."
In case there was ever any doubt about exactly where America stood, in 1978 the Carter administration made it crystal clear. In a speech that year President Carter stated, "…there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China." The US has officially supported the "One China" policy ever since even while offering rhetoric to the contrary.
In light of this history, Taiwan should be extremely cautious in dealing with the United States at present. Beyond rhetoric, and sending defensive arms, the US will likely not fight very hard in Taiwan’s defense going forward in spite of Speaker Pelosi’s words. Taiwan, like Ukraine, is caught in the middle of a struggle between two great power countries. It can only win by staying neutral.
Jim Fitzgerald is a Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and a missionary serving in the Middle East and North Africa.