Democrat or Republican: Taiwan's choice in 2020 US presidential election

Taiwan benefits from US being in full-on mode against China, but which US party will carry on this mode in future?

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The battle between the Republican and Democratic parties will have spillover on Taiwan (Taiwan News/Chris Chang image)

The battle between the Republican and Democratic parties will have spillover on Taiwan (Taiwan News/Chris Chang image)

Editor's note: During his presidency, Barack Obama in fact signed several pieces of legislation pertaining to Taiwan into law, including the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017, A bill to direct the Secretary of State to develop a strategy to obtain observer status for Taiwan in the International Criminal Police Organization, and for other purposes (2016), the Consolidated Appropriations Act (2016), and A bill to provide for the transfer of naval vessels to certain foreign recipients, and for other purposes (2014).

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After Taiwan's elections this past January, the 2020 U.S. presidential contest will be the next political turning point to impact the island nation's economy and relations with its gigantic neighbor.

The direct benefits to Taiwan from the U.S. under the Trump administration are substantial: the trade war between the U.S. and China is bringing back supply chains and investment to Taiwan. In addition, the Taiwan Travel Act and the TAIPEI Act were both passed, while no bill concerning Taiwan became law in the eight years under Obama.

Republican supportive of Taiwan are increasingly visible. Right after Taiwan's presidential election, 44 percent more Congressional Republicans than Democrats tweeted congratulations to President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on her re-election.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reaffirmed Taiwan as a key business partner and a friend of the U.S. on Feb. 8, while Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) with six other Republicans signed a letter calling for Taiwan's participation in the WHO. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced the Taiwan Symbols of Sovereignty Act (Taiwan SOS), which allows Taiwan's national flag to be shown during official visits to the U.S. by the nation's representatives.

The call between Tsai and U.S. President Donald Trump after his election in 2016 was even interpreted by some to mean Trump was fostering a special attachment to Taiwan.

On the other hand, despite the Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's statement congratulating Tsai on her re-election, Democrats seem to be less active on Taiwan-related issues. The difference in number of Democratic co-sponsors of the aforementioned Act reflects this assumption.

As the Democratic presidential candidates campaign for their party's nomination, most have made clear their attitudes towards U.S.-China relations during the debates.

Nevertheless, where Taiwan stands between these two superpowers remains unclear. Would a GOP victory in the upcoming election hold a brighter future for Taiwan?

Not necessarily.

"Democrats have always been strong about human rights and Republicans are always about anti-communism. From a principle point of view, both parties have reasons to like Taiwan and not like China so much," said William Stanton, former director of American Institute in Taiwan (AIT).

"I would not put too much interpretation on the number of congratulations sent from both parties to Tsai's re-election," he said, "because when you looked into the voting on the Acts about Taiwan passed in 2019, it was bipartisan. Americans are less susceptible to the view that the U.S. should maintain great relations with China nowadays."

In a 2019 Pew Research Center survey, 60 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of China, with 24 percent of them believing China poses the greatest threat to the U.S. in the future.

Stanton pointed out America's view of China as a whole has changed: "It is probably more advantageous for Taiwan if the relations between the U.S. and China are not great. Based on this increasingly unfavorable view, every candidate knows if they say something positive about China, it will not help them get elected."

This view is also supported by I-wei Jennifer Chang, Research Fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute in Washington, DC.

"The current atmosphere in Washington is that the United States needs to beat China and counter Chinese influence around the world. Whoever gets elected as president would have to contend with an aggressive, rising China that flouts international norms, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. Taiwan benefits from a stronger U.S. military and diplomatic presence in the region," she explained.

This trend indicates that positive U.S.-Taiwan relations will not simply fade away even if the GOP loses power for the next four years.

But as Stanton has said, the forging of a tighter bond between the U.S. and Taiwan still depends on whether the former ultimately puts an end to the obsolete "one-China" policy and bury the institutes that served as a cut-out between the U.S. and Taiwanese officials.