Alexa

Biden must follow the precedent the Trump administration set for Taiwan-US relations

Failure to do so will ruin America's reputation as a defender of democracy and exacerbate tensions in the Taiwan Strait

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President-elect Joe Biden.

President-elect Joe Biden. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — After several long days of waiting for election results, it became clear Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States. While many Americans are rejoicing, Taiwanese are still anxious about how the president-elect will respond to an increasingly belligerent China and whether he will bolster relations with the nation.

Though it is hard to predict exactly what the Biden administration's Taiwan policy will be, it is imperative that the president-elect follow in Trump’s footsteps and expand Taiwan-U.S. relations. Failure to do so will allow China to degrade Taiwan’s democratic way of life and could even lead to a military conflict in the Taiwan Strait.

Over the past four years, the Trump administration has exceeded all expectations when it comes to Taiwan. From multiple significant arms sales to high-level exchanges, bilateral ties have reached an all-time high.

Given China’s numerous incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), its unrelenting campaign to isolate Taiwan politically, and its frequent military threats toward the nation of 23 million, it is no surprise that Washington has been willing to provide Taipei with a wave of weapons — including, notably, some with offensive capabilities. Last month, the State Department approved two potential weapons deals within one week, which demonstrates unwavering American commitment to Taiwan’s defense.

Additionally, the Trump administration has encouraged various exchanges, bringing the two countries closer together.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar led a delegation to the nation in early August to promote mutual cooperation on combating the coronavirus pandemic and to learn more about Taiwan’s epidemic prevention efforts. The trip was the highest-level visit by a U.S. Cabinet official since 1979.

In September, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach made a trip to Taiwan to pay respects to the late former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-Hui (李登輝) and prepare for bilateral economic talks, which will commence Nov. 20.

What President Trump has done for the Taiwan-U.S. relationship has been extremely helpful in terms of giving Taiwan space to contribute to the international community and more confidence in maintaining its sovereignty. The outgoing administration has also kept China in check both politically and militarily. Therefore, it is vital that Biden continues this trend.

It is safe to say that Biden will adopt a Taiwan policy that is more tactful than Trump’s. Nevertheless, there are two signs he will more or less continue the new status quo.

The first sign is Biden’s realization of how detrimental China’s behavior has been in recent years. He called Chinese leader Xi Jinping (習近平) a “thug” and promised to lead a global campaign to “pressure, isolate and punish China” for its human rights violations and hegemonic behavior.

In March, Biden was quoted as saying, “The United States does need to get tough with China,” adding that “The most effective way to meet that challenge is to build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.”

As Beijing’s threats and diplomatic pressure persist, Taiwan is an irreplaceable ally that understands the gravity of Chinese aggression. It is absolutely vital that the U.S. maintain close relations with it if Biden wants to successfully confront China.

Another telling indication that Biden will continue to deepen Taiwan-U.S. relations is the former vice president's top choice for secretary of defense, Michele Flournoy, who was the undersecretary of defense for policy under the Obama administration. Flournoy recently published an article in Foreign Affairs Magazine that expresses her hawkish view of China.

In the article, Flourney wrote that China's “strongly held beliefs about the United States as a declining power” could encourage it into taking higher-risk actions, such as attacking or blockading Taiwan.

She stated that Beijing believes it can soon conduct a fast strike that would disable all U.S. defenses in the Indo-Pacific, allowing it to invade Taiwan. As a result, Flourney argues that the U.S. must modernize and strengthen its forces in the region to discourage a Chinese attack.

She argued that if Chinese leaders are forced to contemplate "whether it was worth putting their entire fleet at risk," they would "think twice" before attempting such a blockade or invasion.

If selected as defense secretary, Flourney’s tough stance on China will facilitate closer ties with Taiwan. On her watch, weapons sales would continue unhindered, as would bilateral military cooperation.

The dynamics in the Indo-Pacific have changed so drastically as a result of Beijing's increasingly hegemonic posture that it would be irresponsible and ignorant of the Democratic Party to base Taiwan-U.S. relations on past policies.

China continues to intimidate Taiwan with invasion threats, built military facilities on disputed islands in the South China Sea, and committed countless human rights violations within Tibet, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang. Furthermore, with its “wolf diplomacy” tactics, Beijing is attempting to change the narrative of how China is perceived around the world.

Now that Biden believes China is a major threat to the U.S. and the world, he is seemingly more willing to work with Taiwan and is unlikely to roll back high-level exchanges or block arms sales to the country.

If the Biden administration does not take a resolute stance against China within the Taiwan context, Beijing will see the lack of American support as an opportunity to continue encroaching on Taiwanese sovereignty and expanding its political and military influence further into the South China Sea and possibly beyond the first island chain. Other nations in the region would notice, and their confidence in their alliance with the U.S. would undoubtedly crumble.

Additionally, the U.S.’ reputation as a defender of democracy would be in shambles as countries around the world call into question Washington’s dedication to opposing authoritarianism and oppression. Although Trump has paved the way for deeper Taiwan-U.S. relations, the responsibility lies with Biden to cement the current no-holds-barred policy as standard practice for future administrations.