The Future of the Pacific: Will America’s Relationship with Taiwan Falter with a Joe Biden Presidency?
- Taiwan has closened its ties with America since the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
- In 2020, the majority of people within Taiwan supported a Trump Presidency.
- Now that Joe Biden is set to become the 46th President of the United States will this relationship worsen or will it flourish under a Democratic party that shows signs of scepticism of China’s activities?
Biden for President?
It looks like it’s going to be Biden. Isn’t this wonderful? The U.S. returning to the Paris Agreement, globalisation and cosmopolitism, nuclear disarmament, racial equality, and an end to the trade war with China – halting the nightmare of the last 4 years and creating a new dream…
While this month is going to be celebrated by the progressive left of the western world – my optimism isn’t high. The economy isn’t in a great shape, the pandemic is far from over, and U.S. foreign policy in the Asian-Pacific will ultimately define the order of the world and the status of capitalism over the next few decades.
Before the pandemic, China’s economy was described to be ‘lacking growth’, ‘losing momentum’, and ‘its world factory status’. The US-China trade war, in which China had to risk the devaluation of its currency (RMB) as a precautionary response, and Protests in Hong Kong, which were almost out of control, had led many to believe that China’s economy was on the verge of a bubble, all while America was on an upward trajectory to reach new heights of economic success. Then the pandemic kicked in and suddenly any form of growth in GDP became a rare occurrence.
And all the while a debate on the handling of the virus would arise; becoming a kitchen-counter drama for a new Cold War. The incompetence of the West in containing the virus would be compared to the strict communist regime of China, their supposed efficiency and effectivity.
But is this true? Most Asian countries without authoritarian governance also handled the pandemic exceptionally well. The Taiwanese authority closed the border immediately after the breakout of Covid-19, utilising big-data and A.I. to tackle the disease, coupled with a comprehensive health insurance system and transparent briefings. The result has been that a locally transmitted case has not occurred for more than 200 days and life has now returned to normal. All of this has been achieved with a free press, free election, no coverups or communist propaganda.
President Tsai, the pro-independence, female President of Taiwan, who tweets almost exclusively in English and Japanese (rather than the national language of Mandarin), would, after a few hours of cable networks confirming Biden’s victory congratulate him. Many of Tsai’s political enemies and even supporters were furious. They condemned her friendly gesture towards Biden and would provide the ever-familiar rhetoric that election fraud had occurred, while the comment section would be overwhelmed by Taiwanese Trump supporters, tweeting that he was the most pro-Taiwan U.S. president in decades.
One of primary reasons for Trump receiving such a high-level of support within this region can be attributed to his firm stance on the World Health Organisation (WHO). WHO’s mixed messaging on the transmission of the virus and the absolute trust placed on Beijing’s claims were already attracting a fair amount of criticism at the beginning of the pandemic. However, relations between Taiwan and WHO would break down even further when its Director-General Tedros Adhanom openly attacked the country, after he claimed that he had been subjected to racist comments and death threats.
President Tsai denied these accusations and would proceed to invite him to the Island to see how well-managed its public health affair really was. However, this would not quell the dispute. But even if those accusations were true, one can hardly sympathise with Tedros. Under his leadership, Taiwan was excluded from the World Health Assembly (WHA) due to China’s pressure and interference. Exclusion from WHA means the deprivation of millions of people within Taiwan to receive WHO’s help when they are in desperate need. It too would prevent Taiwan’s government from documenting their experience through official channels.
According to Dr Chen Shih-chung, Taiwan’s minister of health and welfare:
If you look at the interactions between Taiwan and the U.S. since 2016, it’s not difficult to figure out why Taiwanese people have a love for Trump. We have seen U.S. Congress introducing bill after bill to support the country, in which ‘at least five pro-Taiwan bills have appeared in the U.S. Congress since February 2018’.
This development can be largely attributed to Trump’s firm stance against mainland China, in which the latest appalling human right violation in its northwest region, as well as in Hong Kong, would also bring bipartisan support for the defence of Taiwan, with the U.S. Department of State recently approving $1.8bn in potential arms sales.
While in August, Alex Azar, the U.S. Health Secretary, would arrive in Taiwan and become the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Taiwan since the United States diplomatically recognised Beijing in 1979. He attended the funeral of former President Lee Teng-hui, considered as ‘the father of Taiwan’s democracy’ and the spiritual leader of the Taiwan Independence movement.
The Taiwanese people have taken full notice of these gestures, as a recent YouGov poll, taken before the election, suggests. Taiwanese people have been shown to be some of the biggest fans of Donald Trump outside of the U.S, with 42 per-cent being in support of the current President, while a mere 30 per-cent have placed their trust in Joe Biden.
Trump has undoubtedly emboldened Taiwan’s independence agenda. Even the traditionally mainland-friendly Kuomingtang (KMT), defeated twice now since 2016 because of its pro-China stance, has now dropped Beijing-friendly policy – the 1992 consensus.
The 1992 consensus refers to an agreement between envoys from Beijing and Taipei, inwhich both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to “One China”. This vague claim enabled KMT led governments in the past to build economic and social exchanges with Mainland China while sidestepping the dispute over Taiwan’s sovereignty.
Yet, Taiwan’s stance on China has hardened. And with the Trump Administration seemingly coming to an end there appears to be a great deal of anger and doubt towards Taiwan’s future. It seems unreliable to count Biden, just like any other democrat, on his support in a fully independent Taiwan.
China, China, China.
Would Biden go hard on China? Well, it’s a tricky one. While we are now seeing bipartisan support of arms sales to Taiwan, it was not always this way with past Democrat Administrations. Traditionally, Democrats had always believed that China was ‘shapable’ and that the economic development stemming from international trade would eventually turn China into a more liberal actor. However, now they appear divided.
Democrats have won the election and have managed to ‘unite’ the supporters on both wings; especially with the support of socialist voters who voted for Bernie Sanders in the Primaries.
While the ‘socialist’ component of the Democrat party have often shown their sympathy for the Uyghur’s and have demonstrated their vocal support for punishing the Chinese government on human right violation grounds, this may not be enough of a reason in the times ahead to see a more thorough distancing from the communist state.
Then there is climate change. Biden has confirmed that the U.S. will see a return to the Paris Agreement, which Trump exited for its economic damage to the U.S. A Biden-Harris Administration will need the support of China in the next four years for the further global corporation on climate change.
Previously Susan Rice, who was the National Security Advisor within the Obama administration, has already worked hard on getting China involved. At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit held in Beijing in November 2014, China issued a US-China co-operation declaration on the issue of climate change, clarifying its co-operation stance on this issue for the first time. After that, the United States and China played a leading role in the negotiations on the Paris Agreement at the 21st UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP21) held in Paris in December 2015.
The US-China summit meeting at the G20 meeting in September 2016, announced ratification and conclusion of the Paris Agreement between the United States and China and on 4th of November, that the same year, the Paris Agreement came into effect.
Obama did not get China’s support unconditionally. To prevent China’s withdrawal, the U.S. would not criticise China too heavily on issues surrounding Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Now that Susan Rice is potentially going to be back to the post again, and as Joe Biden presented himself as the ‘Old Normal’, one has to wonder whether the new administration will make the same concessions once again.
A potential route to contain China could be strengthened relationship with Japan. Sino-Japanese relationship in the last few years was stable, and Xi would’ve already visited Japan this year if Coronavirus did not happen. But now with China’s initial coverup of the pandemic, as well as further naval operations around the disputed territory of the Senkaku islands, the relationship could rapidly deteriorate.
However, within the incumbent Liberal Democrats Party of Japan there is a powerful faction of pro-China politicians, residing in senior posts of the party. This includes Party Secretary-General, Toshihiro Nikai, who is a key supporter of Japan’s new Prime Minster Yoshihide Suga.
America’s left wants to simultaneously have defence cuts, to tackle climate change with China, more global trade (which will inevitably include China), while reducing trade with China due to its cruelty to the Uyghur people. We all know this is impossible and I suspect that both Biden and Sanders know this too. The fundamental problem is that the establishment now finds it extremely difficult to explain to their voters the importance of America’s presence in the Pacific and world security in general. Biden’s victory does not guarantee an American commitment at the moment. So often we see, under the Democrats, that no real punishment is manifested beyond vocal condemnation, leaving China to get away with human rights violations every single time. Let us hope this won’t be the case for the next four years; otherwise, western civilisation will be facing the most threatening challenge of all time.
Illustration by Hollie Joiner