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A New Year's Taiwan wish list for President Biden: William Stanton

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater on Dec. 28, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.  

President-elect Joe Biden speaks at The Queen theater on Dec. 28, 2020, in Wilmington, Del.   (AP photo)

With only a few weeks to go before Joseph Biden becomes president of the United States, Taiwan’s American friends need to press hard for the policies we want to see the new administration pursue toward Taiwan.

Most important, we must continue to strengthen Taiwan’s security

As Randall Schriver, chairman of the Project 2049 Institute, and Ian Easton, senior director at the same institute, have recently reiterated, we must counter the enormous military threat the People’s Republic of China (PRC) poses to Taiwan, Asia, the United States, and the world.

Like President Trump or not, his administration and the U.S. Congress have done more to strengthen Taiwan’s security over the past four years than any previous American administration.

For this and other reasons — including increased visits by high-level American officials, more frequent military passages in the areas around Taiwan, and strong U.S. policy statements in response to PRC bullying — a majority of Taiwanese understandably appreciate President Trump. A poll conducted in Taiwan a week before the U.S. presidential election on Nov. 3 showed that 53 percent of Taiwanese wanted Trump to win, presumably the highest proportion of support for him of any democratic country in the world.

During the four years of the Trump administration, the U.S. approved US$18.28 billion in arms sales to Taiwan, surpassing the previous record set during the eight years of the Obama administration, which reached US$13.98 billion.

Moreover, the weapons systems sold to Taiwan have been increasingly advanced.

For instance, in April 2018, the U.S. government announced it had approved licenses for American defense contractors to sell sensitive submarine technology to Taiwan. In August 2020, the U.S. announced the sale of 66 F-16Vs, estimating that Taiwan would receive all of the jets by 2023.

In contrast, while I was at AIT during President Obama’s first term, his administration decided only to refurbish Taiwan's existing fleet instead of selling the country the more advanced edition of the F-16 that it wanted. The argument Washington made was that the refurbishment would produce the same results, but I believed the real reason was concern over the possible reaction from the PRC.

Those were the days when some Washington officials still hoped we could persuade Beijing to behave in a more benign and equitable manner. It is not surprising that U.S. support for Taiwan has increased, as concern has justifiably intensified over the PRC’s oppressive domestic crackdowns, aggressive foreign policy, and irresponsible handling of the Wuhan virus.

U.S. public opinion toward the PRC has never been lower, with 73 percent of Americans having an “unfavorable” view of it, according to a Pew survey done this summer. The median unfavorability rating of the PRC in 14 democratic countries is also 73 percent.

At the same time, another Pew survey showed that 77 percent of Americans have “no confidence” that Xi Jinping would do “the right thing in world affairs.” Meanwhile, bipartisan congressional support for Taiwan has never been stronger, as shown by a series of legislative acts in recent years aimed at fostering the bilateral relationship.

Given the threats posed by the PRC, U.S. security assistance for Taiwan must continue and should be increased. This is the most important agenda item on our wish list for President Biden.

The National Defense Authorization Acts of 2018, 2019, and 2020 all called for strengthening the defense partnership with Taiwan. In consultation with Taipei, Washington should also consider further measures, including joint military exercises, ship visits, and Randall Schriver’s call to integrate Taiwan into the U.S.' Indo-Pacific security architecture.

We should consider the Israeli model for Taiwan

Taiwan, like Israel, is a democracy and enjoys a thriving economy, but both live under an existential threat. Taiwan arguably faces the greater threat. Taiwan, moreover, is geostrategically vital to U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region, just as Israel has been viewed as a key partner in the Middle East.

Since 1985, the U.S. has given Israel nearly US$3 billion in annual grants, according to the U.S. Congressional Research Service. In fiscal year 2019, the U.S. provided US$3.8 billion in foreign military aid to Israel. Israel is in fact the largest cumulative recipient of aid ($142.3 billion) in the world since World War II.

Given the overwhelming importance of the Indo-Pacific region to the U.S.' future and the relative decline in the significance of American interests in the Middle East, it is time to consider adjusting military aid to support Taiwan as well.

We must reach a trade agreement with Taiwan

Despite Taiwan’s efforts under President Tsai Ing-wen to diversify its markets, it remains heavily dependent on trade with the PRC.

The PRC, including Hong Kong, still accounted for roughly 40 percent of Taiwan’s exports in 2019, twice that of the New Southbound Policy countries, which collectively made up almost 20 percent of exports. China remained Taiwan’s top export destination, with the U.S. in second place with 14 percent and Hong Kong in third place.

As I have argued before, the U.S. needs to reach a bilateral trade agreement with Taiwan not just because it would be good for Taiwan, but even more so because it is in the U.S.' best strategic interest in the Asia-Pacific.

A common misperception about U.S. trade agreements is that they are solely, or at least principally, motivated by trade considerations. It is nonetheless a fact that most of the nation's free trade agreements have been driven far more by strategic and political considerations than by a desire to expand trade or correct trade imbalances.

A dozen of the 20 countries with which the U.S. has negotiated trade agreements over the last 35 years are relatively insignificant as trading partners. In contrast, Taiwan was the ninth-largest two-way trading partner of the U.S. as of this October, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Overcoming a principal obstacle to bilateral trade negotiations, President Tsai Ing-wen has taken the politically courageous step of lifting restrictions on imports of U.S. pork in accordance with the scientific standards the Codex Alimentarius Commission adopted during its session on July 2-7, 2012, setting maximum limits on residues of the feed additive ractopamine in beef and pork. Former President Ma Ying-jeou thereafter lifted the restrictions on some American beef cuts, but Taiwan never acted on the bilateral understanding that this would later apply to pork.

The Codex's maximum residue limit is set at 10 parts per billion (ppb) for muscle cuts of beef and pork. In 2012, Taiwan's then-KMT administration passed legislation on ractopamine in imported beef, also stipulating a maximum residue level of 10 ppb.

On Dec. 24 this year, Taiwanese lawmakers led by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) approved legislation to permit imports of U.S. pork with the same level. (The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s limit is higher: 30 ppb for beef and 50 ppb for pork.)

Following this decision, President Biden must now task the U.S. Trade Representative with undertaking negotiations with Taiwan on a trade agreement. The U.S. government cannot be seen to ignore an important positive and difficult step by a friend. Trade is always a matter of quid pro quo.

Meanwhile, KMT representatives should halt their cynical political efforts to reverse the Taiwanese government's decision. I say “cynical” because when I served at AIT, key KMT government leaders often told me they and their families enjoyed eating U.S. beef and knew it was safe, but they had to take into account the DPP’s strong political opposition.

We must expand Taiwan’s participation in international organizations

The U.S. should alter its policy of not supporting Taiwan’s membership in international organizations for which statehood is a requirement. This policy, first enunciated publicly by President Clinton on July 1, 1998, in Shanghai on his state visit to the PRC, was one of three ill-conceived “no’s” intended to please — or at least placate — Beijing.

It contradicted, however, the legally binding Taiwan Relations Act passed on January 1, 1979, which specifies in Section 4.d. that “Nothing in this Act may be construed as a basis for supporting the exclusion or expulsion of Taiwan from continued membership in any international financial institution or any other international organization.” This law must take precedence.

Moreover, in international organizations where most countries have so little to contribute, whether financially or intellectually, it makes no sense to exclude a country like Taiwan, which has so much to offer, as we have most recently seen in its exceptional handling of the Wuhan virus. This is all the more true on matters affecting the health, safety, or security of the Taiwanese people.

The PRC’s hold on the administration of the United Nations and its derivative agencies nonetheless long ago reached the point that even Taiwanese students wishing to participate in the annual Model UN program — theoretically open to all who embrace the UN vision of international peace and cooperation — cannot enter the UN Headquarters in New York absent some form of PRC identification!

Most importantly, as an initial step to rein in the PRC's domination of the UN and its agencies, President Biden should refuse to have the U.S. rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO) until Taiwan is permitted to participate, at the very least as an observer. As Claudia Rosett wrote in a commentary in The Wall Street Journal last month, the U.S. should require the WHO:

“to meet two conditions before resuming the lavish flow of funds, expertise, and credibility that U.S. membership has long conferred. First, Director-General Tedros …, the organization’s China-pandering chief, needs to resign. His deference to China’s Communist Party, at the expense of world health, has produced the WHO’s most catastrophic failure since its founding in 1948.

Second, the WHO should invite Taiwan to its proceedings, despite Beijing’s objections. Unlike Communist China, with its coverups and totalitarian lockdowns, Taiwan has done an exemplary job of combining the rights of a free society with the rigors of disease control. While Taiwan might have little to learn from the WHO, it has plenty to offer.”

In a similar commentary on Dec. 7 in The Hill, Yang Jianli and Aaron Rhodes also called for Taiwan to be allowed to take part in the WHO. While acknowledging that Chinese financial support for the organization is important, they pointed out:

“It is only about a tenth of the size of America’s most recent contribution of $893 million for the WHO’s 2018-19 budget of $5.6 billion. If China can block Taiwan’s participation, why can’t the United States — which gives 10 times more money to the WHO than China — unblock Taiwan? This should be a condition for restored U.S. cooperation.”

In addition, the authors called on “the WHO to undertake a credible, transparent investigation into the origin of the virus and China’s responsibility.”

President-elect Biden has indicated that rejoining the WHO will be among his first acts as president. But as Yang and Rhodes argue, to do so “unconditionally would be to pass up opportunities to reform the organization and help it escape from the grip of China’s communist government.”

Given Taiwan’s globally recognized success — the best in the world — in controlling and countering the Wuhan virus, its inability to participate in the WHO is not only self-defeating for the WHO, it is also a travesty for the agency’s global health mission.

Continue to remove self-imposed limitations on U.S. relations with Taiwan

In connection with the 1979 establishment of formal diplomatic relations with the PRC, White House and State Department lawyers devised a series of self-imposed restrictions on dealings with Taiwan. Over time, some of these have fortunately disappeared.

For example, as a result of congressional action, U.S. military officers since 2002 have no longer had to be retired before being allowed to work at AIT, and diplomats no longer have to go through the charade of resigning temporarily from government employment before being assigned there.

While I was at AIT, we introduced elements of the American flag into our logo and for the first time, we proudly flew the flag at the entrance to the institute. Since then, we have built a beautiful chancery befitting the importance of the U.S. relationship with Taiwan.

In a similar vein, the Coordination Council for North American Affairs in Taiwan has been renamed the Taiwan Council for US Affairs. And on December 17, 78 members of the House Representatives sent a joint letter to the secretary of state calling for the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Washington D.C. to be renamed the "Taiwan Representative Office." President Biden should support such initiatives.

The U.S. needs more high-level contacts with Taiwan

Breaking with precedent, on Dec. 2, 2016, President Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from President Tsai after his election victory. When President Tsai was reelected on Jan. 11, 2020, President-elect Biden was the first Democratic presidential candidate to extend congratulations to her and express support for strengthening U.S.-Taiwan ties.

When the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Keith Krach visited Taiwan from Sept. 17-19, it was the highest-level State Department visit to Taiwan in decades. It followed the Aug. 9-12 trip to Taiwan by U.S. Health Secretary Alex Azar, the highest-level U.S. Cabinet official to visit since 2014.

Given the importance of the U.S. relationship with Taiwan, more high-level exchanges are needed, both in Taiwan and in the U.S. In the case of Washington, any restrictions on where Taiwanese representatives can meet with the American government should be lifted.

Many countries in the world do not set such limitations on their meetings. The U.S. should abandon all restrictions that do not accord with the dignity and respect Taiwan deserves.

In fact, the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020, which President Trump signed into law on Dec. 27, requires the State Department to review guidelines for exchanges with Taiwan and would require the secretary of state to submit a report on the review to Congress within 180 days of the enactment of the bill. Earlier, on Dec. 21, Congress passed an appropriations bill for FY2021 that would cover the cost of the Taiwan Assurance Act of 2020.

This proposal shows significant support in Congress for revising how we treat Taiwan, a process that is already underway. Moreover, many longstanding guidelines are ludicrous and often ignored. It is simply absurd, for example, not to refer to Taiwan as a country.

President Biden should always remember what kind of country the PRC is

We must always be mindful of possible PRC reactions, and for this reason the U.S. government should regularly consult with its Taiwanese counterpart about any actions with possible implications for Taiwan. History teaches us, however, that try as we might, our efforts to appease the PRC have never succeeded in altering its policies or behavior.

Whether the issue is human rights, intellectual property theft, unfair trading practices, the militarization of the South China Sea, the status of Hong Kong, the taking of foreign hostages, or the overall lack of reciprocity in bilateral relations, the PRC has never lived up to its commitments, much less the fundamental principles of justice. President Biden, as good-hearted as he apparently is, should bear this in mind when he takes office.

William A. Stanton is vice president of National Yang-Ming University. He previously served from August 2017 to July 2019 as a professor at the Center for General Education at National Taiwan University. Dr. Stanton previously worked for four years as the George K.C. Yeh Distinguished Chair Professor and founding director of the Center for Asia Policy at National Tsing Hua University (NTHU). From October 2014 through January 2016, he was also NTHU’s senior vice president for Global Affairs. Dr. Stanton previously served for 34 years as a U.S. diplomat. His final posting was as director of the American Institute in Taiwan (2009-2012).