Taiwan Weighs Options as Trump Gives Way to Biden
December 23, 2020
By Lauren Toms - The Washington Times
A flashpoint in tensions between China and the U.S. under President Trump, Taiwan is seeking to expand on its relationship with the U.S. under the incoming Biden administration as the island faces an increasingly aggressive Beijing.
Under the Trump administration, Taiwan has enjoyed extraordinary support from the U.S. in the face of heightened Chinese militarization, including a string of diplomatic moves and military arms deals that have challenged the longstanding status quo over the island democracy.
This year alone, several high-level U.S. officials — including Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar — made historic visits to Taiwan, and the U.S. approved a massive, $1.8 billion arms sale to the island. The State Department is also in the process of approving another $2.3 billion weapons sale.
But with Mr. Trump set to exit the White House next month, Taiwanese officials are mobilizing to shore up ties with the incoming administration and make the possibility of a trade deal with the U.S. a reality.
“We’re confident that the trajectory of Taiwan-U.S. relations will continue based on the merits of our partnership, the strong bonds of friendship between our two peoples, as well as our shared view of the strategic challenges we face in the region,” said Bi-khim Hsaio, Taiwan‘s de facto U.S. ambassador, during a virtual conversation hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies this week.
“We have no doubt we will be able to work closely with the future U.S. administration across the board to further develop our relationship in line with our shared values and common interests,” she continued.
Taiwanese press outlets expressed some alarm when Mr. Biden’s victory was confirmed, raising questions of whether he would back off from Mr. Trump’s policies on trade and defense. Many members of Mr. Trump’s national security team, notably Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, have been harshly critical of China‘s ruling Communist Party.
There are signs the new Biden team will retain much of the substance of Mr. Trump’s confrontational approach, even if the rhetoric is more muted.
President-elect Biden’s incoming national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, wrote in May of this year that “so long as Washington retains a strong military position [in the contested areas of the South China Sea], regional powers — from Vietnam to Ta Bi-Khim Hsiao iwan to Japan — will try to resist China‘s rise rather than accommodate it.”
Although Washington does not formally recognize the government in Taipei, the U.S. remains the island’s most important source of weaponry and is legally bound to ensure its armed forces — will try to resist China‘s rise rather than accommodate it.”
Although Washington does not formally recognize the government in Taipei, the U.S. remains the island’s most important source of weaponry and is legally bound to ensure its armed forces can mount an adequate defense.
Some predict Mr. Biden will seek a return to the pre-Trump status quo in a bid to ease tensions, even as Chinese President Xi Jinping escalates his rhetoric over one day claiming Taiwan for the mainland.
“This is reassuring for both the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the Taiwanese people,” wrote Eric Yu-Chua Huang, a nonresident senior fellow for the Brookings Institute.
“After a sense in Taiwan that its fate was left undecided and unattended to, there is a prospect of restored stability — the triad will maneuver carefully around the demarcation set by the status quo.”
Last month, Ms. Hsiao told Anthony Blinken — before he was named as Mr. Biden’s pick for secretary of state — that Taiwan appreciates “bipartisan support for U.S. relations with Taiwan and [hopes] to continue close cooperation with the U.S. in coming years.”
China this year moved to sanction several U.S. weapons manufacturers for their role in the sale of new arms to Taiwan, a deal included air-to-ground missiles and mobile artillery rocket launchers.
Ms. Hsiao said that although China‘s aggressive diplomacy has complicated the future of direct talks, Taiwan is hoping to “engage in dialogue from a position of strength.”
“Having the leverage will help us enter into discussions with confidence,” she continued. “Part of the leverage does involve very strong cooperation with the United States and the support of other democracies in the region as well,” she continued.
After years of criticism that Taipei was unwilling to spend the funds needs to establish a credible defense to a Chinese invasion, Ms. Hsiao said this week there in a “high degree of consensus” in Taiwan on the need for defense.
“We are determined to defend that democracy,” Ms. Hsiao added.
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