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Joe Biden famously swore, “Diplomacy is back.” Until he stops treating this as a throwaway line and instead integrates it into a real strategy, democracies will continue to be vulnerable to Chinese pressure. It is time for a club of democracies with Taiwan at its center.

By Michael Rubin

Hargeisa, Somaliland — It has now been almost 18 months since President Muse Bihi of Somaliland met Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu to sign protocols establishing formal ties between the two countries.

It was a natural match. Both countries suffer international isolation. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sacrificed Taiwan’s international status as a concession to build relations with Communist China. Today, no country formally recognizes Somaliland, even though it has existed as an independent country for longer than it was in union with Somalia. Both nations are also democratic. Taiwan disproves Beijing’s argument that democracy is alien to Chinese culture. Somaliland, meanwhile, is among Africa’s most democratic countries. It secures elections with biometric iris scans, and power often shifts among its three political parties.

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Today, the honeymoon continues. The Taiwanese flag flutters atop a villa in central Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland, next to Horn TV’s compound and across the street from restaurants and other shops. The office is Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Somaliland. A few kilometers further north, just opposite the Maan-Soor Hotel, is the Taiwanese agricultural mission. In Taipei, meanwhile, the Somaliland mission actively arranges academic fellowships and facilitates commercial opportunities.

As democracy falters worldwide, democracies recognize they cannot take each other and freedom for granted. Unfortunately, when it comes to democracy, the Biden administration too often promotes symbolism over substance. That was the case with Biden’s flagship democracy summit. In a shameful episode, the summit cut the feed on Taiwan’s speech in an apparent effort to assuage China; the State Department’s assurance that it was unintentional error beggars belief.

Other nations have set a better example.


Both Taiwan and the United States should, for example, encourage Lithuania to establish ties with Somaliland in order to win investment opportunities in East Africa


Lithuania is a country that knows tyranny’s trauma. Lithuania may have ties with China but, in November 2021, it also established a representative office with Taiwan to foster trade with East Asia’s third-largest democracy. Chinese Communist authorities responded the only way they know how: with intimidation and pressure.

Lithuania, however, is not Germany; it values democracy and has principles. Taipei meanwhile promised to support Lithuania in the face of Beijing’s intimidation. Not only should the U.S. do so as well, but also both countries should go further. A network of countries with proven willingness to stand up to China would be stronger and less susceptible to China’s intimidation than simply a series of bilateral relations that Beijing might seek to pry loose one by one.

Both Taiwan and the United States should, for example, encourage Lithuania to establish ties with Somaliland in order to win investment opportunities in East Africa. Ditto Honduras, Guatemala, St. Lucia, Belize, Palau, Tuvalu, and other countries who have defied China to host embassies in Taiwan. Still, other countries — Israel, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and France, for example — have diplomatic offices in Taipei and might be included.

Not every country with ties to Taiwan is democratic, but a willingness to turn a diplomatic shoulder to Beijing is as good a sign as any for hope. Big countries — India and Indonesia, for example — are more immune by virtue of their size from China’s blackmail, but smaller countries operating in tandem can lessen their vulnerability.

Joe Biden famously swore, “Diplomacy is back.” Until he stops treating this as a throwaway line and instead integrates it into a real strategy, democracies will continue to be vulnerable to Chinese pressure. It is time for a club of democracies with Taiwan at its center.


About Michael Rubin

Michael RubinMichael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, where he researches Arab politics, the Gulf Cooperation Council, Iran, Iraq, the Kurds, terrorism, and Turkey. He concurrently teaches classes on terrorism for the FBI and on security, politics, religion, and history for US and NATO military units.

A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre-and postwar Iraq, and he spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of several books exploring Iranian history, American diplomacy, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016), “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Dr. Rubin has a Ph.D. and an M.A. in history from Yale University, where he also obtained a B.S. in biology.

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