To send a message to China, President Trump should visit Taiwan

Hong Kong's new China-mandated 'national security' law is a threat to democratic values. The United States should have a strong response.

Communist China has officially taken over Hong Kong. The passage on Tuesday of Beijing’s so-called “national security law” effectively absorbs the formerly autonomous city in the totalitarian system of the Chinese mainland, threatening its freedoms with extinction. Everyone is now looking to the United States — the leader of the free world — for a strong and principled response.

The White House has already restricted some trade with Hong Kong and announced travel resurrections on some Communist officials, while Congress is moving forward with an unprecedented sanctions bill. All these actions are useful, but they’re not nearly enough. Communist China’s unprecedented repression deserves an unprecedented response.

That’s why President Trump should travel to Taiwan.

Show China that the U.S. is serious about its values

No American President has visited Taiwan since 1960. Why? Because U.S. officials have long wanted to maintain good relations with Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the island and its nearly 24 million free citizens. Yet given China’s aggression, the most important consideration for U.S. policy shouldn’t be keeping Beijing happy. The goal should be to show Beijing that America is serious about advancing its interests and upholding its values.

America’s national interests here are clear.

The subjugation of Hong Kong shows that China is ready to fulfill its dreams of domination, America and its allies be damned. Taiwan is at or near the top of the list of Beijing’s next targets, and as a vital U.S. partner, it is on the frontlines of containing Chinese expansionism. It makes sense for the leader of the free world to show support for Taiwan — and reassure the world of America’s commitment to the region — in such a dangerous time.

The stakes for freedom are even more clear.

Until this past month, Hong Kong and Taiwan were both beacons of liberty and democracy, illuminating the communist tyranny on the Chinese mainland. That light is now being extinguished in Hong Kong. Taiwan now stands alone, and China’s communist regime wants to snuff it out, too. They fear the example of free Chinese people more than anything in the world. That’s precisely why President Trump should elevate Taiwan’s example of democracy and liberty.

For President Trump, traveling to Taiwan would fit within his administration’s policies and principles. He has been a strong advocate for closer U.S.-Taiwan ties. Last year, he signed a law to strengthen diplomatic relationships with Taiwan, which the U.S. does not officially recognize, and approved more than $2 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, with the most recent deal in mid-May.

Perhaps most importantly, the president has already shown a willingness to abandon the diplomatic niceties meant to placate Beijing — see his phone call with Taiwan’s president in December 2016. For someone who’s so willing to break the mold and push the boundaries, a Taiwan visit is a logical next step, not an unthinkable leap.

If Trump can’t visit, send Pence

Previous administrations have only sent Cabinet-level officials to Taiwan. If the president won’t go, he could send Vice President Pence, who has taken three lengthy trips to the Indo-Pacific and been a consistent critic of the Chinese Communist Party.

Either way, a visit would reassure Taiwan of U.S. support when it’s most needed and wanted. The Chinese military recently held drills simulating the capture of Taiwanese territory. Communist officials and military officers have also threatened war with Taiwan in recent weeks. So a visit by the Commander-in-Chief would also send a message of unmistakable strength and resolve. It would reaffirm that the United States has no intention of being pushed from the region, which Beijing desperately wants. America’s allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific would take note and take heart.

There has never been a better time for a presidential visit. For that matter, Taiwan has never been more important to American interests. Taiwan is everything that Communist China is not — a responsible global partner, a flourishing democracy, and a land where human rights are respected and protected. With Hong Kong now lost to Beijing’s clutches, President Trump should respond by showing the strongest support yet for the lonely island that represents the best hope for China’s future.

Marion Smith is executive director of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Originally published in USA Today.