Vol. 1, Issue 11
Global Taiwan Brief – Volume 1, Issue 11
What President-Elect Trump’s Taiwan Policy Should Not Be
By: Russell Hsiao
Prospects and Challenges for Taiwan Policy under President-Elect Trump
By: Christopher Griffin
What Should US Policy toward Taiwan be under the Trump Administration?
By: William Stanton
Policy Memorandum for the President-Elect Regarding Taiwan
By: John J. Tkacik
Continued Vitality of America’s Ties to Taiwan under President-Elect Trump
By: Stephen M. Young
What President-Elect Trump’s Taiwan Policy Should Not Be
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and Chief Editor of the Global Taiwan Brief.
In a surprising upset that defied most mainstream expectations, President-elect Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States of America. A successful businessman turned world’s most powerful politician, President-elect Trump’s vision of the United States’ role in the world and his “America First” policy will have immense influence on the complex foreign policy challenges facing the world today.
All transitions elicit a degree of uncertainty, so allies and partners are reasonably concerned about what a President Trump will mean for their relations with Washington. Yet, given President-elect Trump’s authentic “outsider” personality, there is also a historic opportunity for the next president to ignore or uproot entrenched interests that have dictated the assumptions underlying US policies; ultimately, this could have the effect of better serving US values and interests.
In this special issue of the Global Taiwan Brief, we asked four of the Global Taiwan Institute’s advisory board members for their opinions on what the Trump administration’s Taiwan policy should be. Writing here, in their personal capacity, two advisers previously served as directors of the United States’ de facto embassy in Taiwan, another as a career State Department intelligence official, and another as a legislative director to a former senior member of Congress. The opinions expressed in these articles are the author’s own.
There are, however, sharply contrasting views on what the United States should do in the Taiwan Strait. Short of outright abandoning Taiwan, an alternative approach was highlighted in a just-released report entitled “Creating a Stable Asia,” in which Michael Swaine, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, recommended (beginning at 35:10) that Washington should retract the Six Assurances to Taiwan in order to come to a modus vivendi with China.
In what Swaine framed as a “long-term” strategy, he argues that to avoid a conflict with China there must be mutual assurances between Washington and Beijing that “require a dialogue between United State and China about military deployments and capabilities relevant to Taiwan.” Swaine acknowledged that his recommendation is currently limited by the Six Assurances, which states among many other important principles of US policy towards Taiwan, that “the August 17 Communiqué, ‘should not be read to imply that we have agreed to engage in prior consultations with Beijing on arms sales to Taiwan.’” In his public remarks, Swaine pointed out that the Six Assurances are “not law, not treaty; it’s statement of a policy, it’s not cast in concrete.”
Swaine is correct in noting that the Six Assurances is not law. Nevertheless, the Six Assurances represent a long-standing statement of Washington’s policy towards Taiwan for over 34 years. To turn its back on these assurances would not only be destabilizing but also damage US credibility. Furthermore, the Taiwan Relations Act is the law of the land. All statements of policy must be based on authority created by law. In this case, the Taiwan Relations Act, passed in 1979, prescribes that the executive branch must pursue policies that, among other things, “provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character; and [must] maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” Given the proximity of the issuance of the Six Assurances to the TRA, one could argue that this interpretation of law is closest to the Act’s original meaning. Yet, successive interpretation of the TRA have also led policy farther astray.
It has been over two years since a major policy address by a senior US official on US-Taiwan Relations affirmed the Six Assurances. Indeed, at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on April 3, 2014, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel R. Russel stated that the Six Assurances “continue to play an important part as an element of our approach to Taiwan and the situation across the strait.” Noting its intermittent absence in official policy statements, the House of Representatives introduced H. Con. Res. 88 – Reaffirming the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances as cornerstones of United States-Taiwan relations, which stated that the Congress “(1) affirms that the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances are both cornerstones of United States relations with Taiwan; and (2) urges the President and Department of State to affirm the Six Assurances publicly, proactively, and consistently as a cornerstone of United States-Taiwan relations.”
Thirty-four years have passed since then-President Ronald Reagan conveyed the Six Assurances to preserve the “status quo.” President-elect Trump has a historic opportunity to issue new assurances that better reflect the changes that have occurred on both sides of the Taiwan Strait. The objective of such new assurances would be to maintain the baseline policy enunciated in the TRA, as stated earlier, as well as, “[t]he preservation and enhancement of the human rights of all the people on Taiwan” and a guarantee that the “future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” At the very least, President-elect Trump should not turn his back on Reagan’s Six Assurances, which has been critical for maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
 For a detailed list of what a potential set of new assurances could say, refer to former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Randy Schriver’s Taipei Times op-ed from 2007, “Taiwan Needs a New Six Assurances,” available at http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/editorials/archives/2007/08/22/2003375330/2
Prospects and Challenges for Taiwan Policy under President-Elect Trump
Christopher Griffin is the Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). Previously, he served as legislative director to Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (ID-CT), advising the senator on the full range of legislative proposals and key votes. Mr. Griffin is a member of GTI’s advisory board.
Although Donald Trump’s inauguration is just weeks away, there are precious few indications as to how he will manage American foreign policy, and the president-elect has said essentially nothing about his views on Taiwan. As one Taiwan-based scholar commented shortly after the US election, “Our consensus is that we have no idea what he is thinking.” In the absence of some utterance or action that indicates Mr. Trump’s agenda, the best we can do is to anticipate what opportunities may be in store for the United States and Taiwan, as well as the considerable risks.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump clearly favored iconoclastic rhetoric toward both America’s allies and its adversaries—to the point that his administration will either be marked by a reversal of many of the candidate’s pronouncements or a fundamental reorientation of American foreign policy. President Trump’s views are likely to be tested from his first days in office, as governments like the People’s Republic of China, with their growing military capabilities and territorial ambitions, test his will to maintain American commitments to allies in the Asia Pacific.
This dilemma will create an opportunity for Congress to reassert itself on foreign policy in order to smooth the transition period. This likelihood reflects both a bipartisan wariness toward Mr. Trump and an opportunity to move beyond the pre-election gridlock that prevented almost any legislation from moving over the past two years. In light of Congress’s long tradition of stewarding the US-Taiwan relationship since the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act, this issue will naturally receive attention from the Hill.
Congress is well positioned to continue its activism on such issues as arms sales, Taiwan’s status at international organizations, and bilateral security cooperation. While these issues have been the subject of stand-alone legislative initiatives in recent years, they may benefit from being packaged into a single effort to modernize US-Taiwan ties. Even if such a package is unsuccessful, it could raise the profile of the issue and set the agenda for years to come, as did the Taiwan Security Enhancement Act following its debate in 1999-2000.
The legislative branch can also work to set the tone for America’s role by pursuing a more expansive democracy promotion agenda. Swift passage of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act and the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act would create sanctions tools for targeting Chinese officials who violate human rights. This would place Beijing on notice that the Hill is pushing these issues, reaffirm American support for Taiwan’s democratic system, and provide a focus for hearings and the work of the congressional commissions that report on China’s human rights record.
Another significant opportunity for Congress to shape the relationship with Taiwan will be through a significant increase in the US defense budget. Adopting an emergency defense supplemental or a long-term fix to the Budget Control Act will require bipartisan deal-making, and will be a precondition for Trump’s proposed naval build-up. Even if the Trump administration muddles through its initial foreign policy forays, this type of investment will make it possible to grow America’s presence and credibility in the region.
President Trump would do well to pursue the opportunities that an eager partner in Taipei and an engaged Congress will offer. Although there is much to debate in his mercantilist rhetoric, it suggests that he will be eager to expand arms sales to a willing partner like Taiwan. This may provide his administration an opportunity to expand the scope of bilateral arms talks to better address the growing threat that China’s military modernization poses to Taiwan, especially if the Tsai Ing-wen government chooses to increase its own investments in Taiwan’s defense.
In light of Mr. Trump’s penchant for iconoclasm, it is also possible that his administration will review with a skeptical eye the catechisms that have long governed American policy toward Taiwan and the cross-Strait relationship. As Elbridge Colby and Walter Slocombe recently argued, one question Trump should ask is whether American ambiguity regarding the defense of Taiwan remains advisable in light of Beijing’s growing power and its eagerness to test American will in the East and South China Seas.
If Mr. Trump chooses to revisit an American commitment Taiwan’s security, he would do well to remember the experience of George W. Bush, who declared in April 2001 that he would do “whatever it took” to defend Taiwan. Although this statement was quickly walked back at the time, it is worth noting that it was a position that Bush had campaigned on, and not a simple gaffe. Rather, President Bush learned the price of failing to socialize his views within the bureaucracy and larger policy community in Washington. Trump should avoid similar missteps and make certain that any new policy is well crafted and executed.
The great risk surrounding Mr. Trump’s election is that he may simply not value the world order that Americans have built and sustained since World War II. His comment during first presidential debate that “we cannot protect countries all over the world where they’re not paying us what we need,” captures the dangers of this approach to foreign policy, describing American security commitments as though they were protection rackets. If this view dominates his administration, Taiwan and other security partners could find themselves left in the cold in favor of new “deals” with adversaries like Beijing.
The uncertainty surrounding Mr. Trump’s detailed foreign policy views, and whether he can push as radical a change as he described on the campaign trail through the American national security bureaucracy will be a great drama, which will play itself out in the years ahead. Taiwan’s friends should work with traditional partners, particularly on Capitol Hill, to identify a path that can advance the interests of each party, grasping the discrete opportunities that lay before us and avoiding potentially catastrophic mistakes.
What Should US Policy toward Taiwan be under the Trump Administration?
Dr. William Stanton is the founding Director of the Center for Asia Policy (CAP) at National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) in Taiwan and the University’s first George K.C. Yeh Distinguished Chair Professor of General Studies. Dr. Stanton previously served for 34 years as a US diplomat, and his final posting was as Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (2009-2012). Dr. Stanton’s other senior assignments included Deputy Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Seoul, Korea (2006-09) and at the US Embassy in Canberra, Australia (2003-06). Dr. Stanton is a member of GTI’s Advisory Board.
Everyone is speculating about what President-elect Trump’s foreign policies will be. Taiwan and friends of Taiwan, however, should not stand passively on the sidelines and only speculate. Instead, we need to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by the election of a new and very unorthodox President, elected to bring change to the United States, to change US policy toward Taiwan.
One of the aspects of candidate Trump’s comments about international relations that troubled me most was his lack of attention to Asia. While he railed against our trade deficits with China and Japan, and expressed skepticism about our alliances with Japan and Korea, most of his attention seemed focused on ongoing wars in the Middle East, the threat of terrorism and ISIS, and our relationship with Russia.
Whatever one may think of the Obama presidency overall, surely the precedence he gave to Asia strategically, economically, and politically in his “Pivot” was correct. By 2014, Asia’s share of world GDP in real US$ purchasing power parity terms approached 39 percent, more than the shares of either the United States or the European Union. If this trend continues, Oxford Economics estimates that Asia’s global GDP share will increase to nearly 45 percent by 2025. With 60 percent of the world’s population, the second and third largest economies in the world, and an increasingly militarized and aggressive China, Asia needs to remain at the top of the US’s foreign policy agenda.
The Middle East is increasingly a side show. With fracking and the discovery of vast oil deposits in Texas, the United States is no longer dependent on Middle East oil. Terrorism, as Fareed Zakaria observed on his CNN program, is scary but not as deadly as other threats to American lives. Between 2001 and 2013, Zakaria pointed out, 406,496 Americans died on American soil from violence with firearms, while worldwide 3,380 Americans were killed in terrorist attacks, a figure that includes the nearly 3,000 people who died on 9/11.
Unfortunately, Trump’s candidates for National Security Advisor and CIA Director appear to have no experience or interest in Asia. This continues the long tradition of US presidents whose appointed foreign policy officials—going back to Henry Kissinger—knew nothing about Asia, China, or Taiwan. (Henry Kissinger has never visited Taiwan although he played a key role in abandoning it.) The risk is that once again our President will be largely focused on Russia, Europe, the Middle East, and terrorism—an orientation China certainly would welcome. Although Trump reportedly had initially positive contacts with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, his apparent view of these alliances as largely financial transactions, his abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his lack of attention to the South China Sea dispute, and his failure to mention on any occasion concerns over human rights are not positive omens for Taiwan. Most important, Trump has said nothing at all about Taiwan.
Taiwan is, of course, a critical geo-strategic component of any US policy toward Asia. US military leaders going back to General MacArthur have recognized that Taiwan lies at the geo-strategic center of the Asian Pacific Rim. Along with the South China Sea, if Taiwan falls under PRC domination, China will control most of the lines of communication and commerce and the flow of fuel to all of East Asia. China’s neighbors will then have to choose between being tributary states to a new Chinese dynasty—Xi Jinping’s “Chinese dream” (中國夢)—or else, as Trump has suggested for Japan and Korea, they will have to develop nuclear weapons.
Taiwan and its friends in the United States should therefore first, and as soon as possible, start educating the new US Administration about Taiwan’s geo-strategic importance. Ideally, Trump and his key Cabinet members should also understand Taiwan’s achievement as a model of democratic transformation and prosperity, and should know the history of close ties between the United States and Taiwan, including the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) and the Six Assurances. They should also recognize that Taiwan is America’s 9th largest trading partner, 8th largest agricultural market, and 14th largest overall export market. They should also appreciate Taiwan’s close military relations with the United States and that Taiwan ranked 6th in the world from 2011 to 2015 as a purchaser of US arms. It would be an enormous positive change if the new US President did not allow China once again to totally eclipse Taiwan.
Second, we would ideally not only see a Trump Administration more knowledgeable about Taiwan, but also one that exercises much greater care in enunciating US policy toward Taiwan. This means, in particular, avoiding the frequent, misleading shorthand references to the US’s “One-China policy,” which is usually misinterpreted to mean—much to the PRC’s satisfaction—China’s sovereignty over Taiwan. (Recently Professor Peter Navarro also suggested abandoning the phrase “One-China policy” in his July essay, “America Can’t Dump Taiwan,” in The National Interest. His possible inclusion in the Trump Administration is a very positive sign.)
Instead, the new US Administration should—like a theologian or a CCP official reciting dogma—simply repeat the carefully crafted language in the 1979 Communiqué: “The Government of the United States of America acknowledges the Chinese position that there is but one China and Taiwan is part of China” (emphasis added). It should also, however, reiterate key points from the July 1982 Six Assurances, which stipulated that:
5. The United States would not alter its position about the sovereignty of Taiwan which was, that the question was one to be decided peacefully by the Chinese themselves, and would not pressure Taiwan to enter into negotiations with China.
6. The United States would not formally recognize Chinese sovereignty over Taiwan.
The US Government also needs frequently to repeat, as it never does, some of the actual language in the Taiwan Relations Act, for example that “…the United States decision to establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined by peaceful means.” Further, that the US intends to “consider any effort to determine the future of Taiwan by other than peaceful means, including by boycotts or embargoes, a threat to the peace and security of the Western Pacific area and of grave concern to the United States.”
It would also be useful to play back to the Chinese, as we never seem to do, their own language from the 1972 Communiqué:
Wherever there is oppression, there is resistance. Countries want independence, nations want liberation and the people want revolution–this has become the irresistible trend of history. All nations, big or small, should be equal: big nations should not bully the small and strong nations should not bully the weak. China will never be a superpower and it opposes hegemony and power politics of any kind. The Chinese side stated that it firmly supports the struggles of all the oppressed people and nations for freedom and liberation and that the people of all countries have the right to choose their social systems according their own wishes and the right to safeguard the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of their own countries and oppose foreign aggression, interference, control and subversion.
The US Government should, however, avoid repeating the 1972 Communiqué’s formulation that “The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part or of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position.” The reason is that it is historically and factually inaccurate. In 1972 neither Mao Zedong nor Chiang Kai-shek asked “all Chinese” on either side of the Strait what they thought and clearly did not care to. In any event, it is certainly not true now, as the majority of people in Taiwan identify themselves as “Taiwanese.’’
Third, the Trump Administration should show greater openness and flexibility in allowing Taiwan’s representatives to meet with US officials on a more regular basis and at a higher level. Washington lawyers created most of the self-imposed restrictions on official Taiwan travel and contact in an overly zealous effort to show that we had indeed broken diplomatic relations with the Republic of China. The most significant change to such restrictions came in 2002 when Congress passed legislation allowing US government officials and active duty military personnel to be assigned to AIT without having to retire first or go through the charade of a temporary resignation. Some silly and insulting restrictions, like not flying the US flag over AIT in Taiwan, have been discarded over time. But many prohibitions continue that serve only to impede contact between the United States and Taiwan, including restrictions on Taiwanese officials travelling to the United States and where and when they can meet with US counterparts. A survey of other countries with unofficial relations with Taiwan would show a far more liberal interpretation of how relations with Taiwan may be conducted, including visits by Cabinet-level officials. (The only such US visit in the past 16 years was a two-day stop in Taipei, in 2014, by US Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Administrator Gina McCarthy.)
Fourth, the Trump Administration should more aggressively pursue support for Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. It is simply astonishing that, although the US Government provides 25 percent of ICAO’s budget and provides additional funding in areas such as international civil aviation security, we nonetheless do not have enough influence on that organization to get Taiwan admitted as an observer. Similarly, the United States is assessed fees equivalent to 22 percent of the World Health Organization budget but we don’t have sufficient leverage to ensure Taiwan’s participation in yet another organization devoted to global health, safety, or welfare. Moreover, although the United States is also a permanent member of the Security Council and will pay 28.5 percent in assessed contributions to UN peacekeeping operations for 2016, and pays 22 percent of the regular UN annual budget, we are unable to change the UN requirement that a Taiwan citizen may only enter the United Nations Office at Geneva with PRC identification.
Furthermore, the Trump Administration should re-visit President Clinton’s June 30, 1998 declaration in Shanghai that “we don’t believe that Taiwan should be a member of any organization for which statehood is a requirement.” This is clearly inconsistent with US law in the Taiwan Relations Act which states 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 organization.” It is time to correct a policy that contradicts US law.
Fifth, assuming Taiwan can meet the “high standards” set forth in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Trump Administration should welcome negotiations with Taiwan on a bilateral free trade agreement. President-elect Trump has previously stated that, while he opposes multilateral trade agreements, he is open to bilateral treaties. Democratic Taiwan is an ideal partner for both economic and strategic reasons, and as a country that will keep its word and abides by the rule of law. Moreover, Taiwan has already made significant progress. In early September the Executive Yuan issued a directive extending the public notice and comment period for proposed government regulations from the current 14 to 60 days. The American Chamber of Commerce, Taipei applauded the move as bringing Taiwan “closer to world class practices for regulatory transparency” and said it “signals Taiwan’s readiness to make significant reforms to prepare its bid to join the TPP.”
Sixth, a Trump Administration should reiterate and then act on the 1979 US commitments in the Taiwan Relations Act to “make available to Taiwan such defense articles and defense services in such quantity as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability” and “to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people on Taiwan.” The best way to do this is to further strengthen military cooperation with Taiwan and to provide technical assistance to Taiwan’s indigenous weapons development programs, especially those working to develop submarines and missiles.
It is a challenging agenda, and China would protest any positive measures we adopt toward Taiwan. But if Taiwan ever hoped to see a shift in US policies, with the arrival of Donald Trump, now may be the time.
Policy Memorandum for the President-Elect Regarding Taiwan
John J. Tkacik is Director of the Future Asia Project at the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Alexandria, Virginia. He is a retired US foreign service officer with tours in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China as well as chief of China Analysis at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the Department of State. The opinions expressed in this article are Mr. Tkacik’s own views. Any similarity to the views of other scholars or advisors to the President-elect, except as otherwise noted, is purely coincidental. Mr. Tkacik is a member of GTI’s advisory board.
East Asian Overview
In large part because all previous US presidents have insisted on Washington’s control of our East Asian and Pacific allies’ foreign and defense policies, the United States is now dangerously overstretched in the region. Washington demands that regional allies and partners for which we have assumed defense commitments (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines) subordinate their judgments of defense needs to Washington’s perception of the need to accommodate China. The understandable reaction in Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei and Manila has been to shrug their collective shoulders and say, “if you pay for it and promise to defend us, do what you want.”
By the end of 2016, the unfortunate results are a surprise to no one: 1) both Japan and South Korea are threatened by a nuclear-armed, Chinese-backed North Korea with an alarmingly advanced ICBM and sea-launched missile capability; 2) Taiwan is denied advanced fighter aircraft, submarines and adequate missile defenses, and the Taiwan Strait faces the gravest military imbalance since World War II; 3) The Philippines endures ever-expanding Chinese military and naval power inside their own legally-defined seas.
Fearing some reemergence of a new cold war with Beijing, Washington has not trusted its allies to address these Beijing-endorsed challengers. Beijing, by contrast, is perfectly comfortable letting its client states engage in dangerous provocations of America’s partners. Meanwhile, America’s friends and allies in the region find themselves unable to defend their interests by themselves, nor are they confident that a cash-strapped United States can maintain the capacity to help them defend themselves.
As of today, America, alone and by itself, no longer has either the defense budget or the manufacturing/industrial resources to withstand determined challenges to our allies’ interests, and soon our own interests in the Asia-Pacific region will be indefensible.
In contrast, China’s relentless quest in the 21st Century to re-attain an ancient strategic preeminence in Asia that it lost nearly 600 years ago has become the driving force in Beijing’s new nationalism, a nationalism with which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks popular legitimacy. Beijing sees the United States as its primary adversary despite four decades of America’s crucial economic friendship and two decades of strategic partnership with America against the Soviet Union, once the greatest threat to China’s existence.
America’s Interest in Taiwan’s Survival
As Peter Navarro pointed out in his July 2016 essay on Taiwan, Taiwan is not only an economic powerhouse in East Asia with a population larger than Australia, but it is also a global advanced technology hub, geographically situated on major maritime transportation routes that are of vital importance to the United States and all its Asian allies and partners. Taiwan’s military and coast guard occupy two of the largest islands in the South China Sea (Pratas and Itu Aba), making Taiwan the key regional player protecting freedom of navigation from Chinese encroachment. Navarro also underscored Taiwan’s geographic weight in managing China’s surface naval and submarine expansion into the Western Pacific.
Just last month at a conference on US-Taiwan defense industry issues, no less an authority on the topic, acting US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense David Helvey disclosed the surprising and little-known fact that “Taiwan is the United States’ largest security cooperation partner in Asia. Since 2010, we have notified Congress of more than $14 billion in arms sales (emphasis added).”
You should note that, because Taiwan is a wealthy nation, US security assistance is strictly cash-and-carry; and because no other nation will sell weapons to Taiwan, the United States is their sole source of defense articles and services.
At the conference, Mr. Helvey went on to elaborate a broad spectrum of US security and defense cooperation measures with Taiwan, the full extent of which is not appropriate for this unclassified memorandum. That cooperation includes, among other things, intelligence sharing, cyber espionage countermeasures, maritime and airspace surveillance, and telecommunications.
Core Policies toward Taiwan
I agree with Peter Navarro’s July assessment that US policies toward Taiwan in the coming year must not be “needlessly” provocative to Beijing, and with his observation that Beijing will see provocation whatever the new administration does.
The core principle of the coming year therefore should be to adhere fully to what Peter describes as the two main pillars of America’s Taiwan Policy:
1) The Taiwan Relations Act (the “TRA,” P.L. 96-8, signed by President Carter on April 10, 1979); and
2) President Reagan’s Six Assurances of July 14, 1982.
The TRA mandates that the President make available to Taiwan such defense articles and services “as may be necessary to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” Only Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush took this mandate to heart, providing Taiwan with advanced jet fighters to counter China’s growing air threat. Since then, however, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama approved for sale only weapons systems that were obsolescent, or upgrades of old systems. Previous administrations rationalized this by assuring both the Congress and Taiwan that the US would retain the costly responsibility to defend the island against China, and therefore Taiwan did not need advanced weapons itself.
Policy Recommendations for 2017
1) The new Administration should review the future costs of the US commitment to defend Taiwan, as well as the credibility of that commitment, in light of the ever-increasing strain on US forces in the Pacific Command. Taiwan is in a position to assume the costs of its own defense if only the US would provide it with the necessary equipment. For over a decade, Pentagon studies have identified Taiwan’s requirements for several wings of F-35 type fighters, affordable diesel-electric submarine systems and technologies for at least 8 but up to 24 boats, and expanded numbers of theater missile defense (TMD) units. Total revenues from these sales would be on the order of several tens of billions of dollars over the next decade or two.
2) In President Reagan’s “Six Assurances” to Taiwan the United States pledged not to allow Beijing to dictate the terms of arms supplies to the island; nor would the United States push Taiwan to negotiate with China, much less mediate between Taipei and Beijing. The fifth and sixth assurances were that the United States would not change a longstanding policy regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty; that is, under the terms of the September 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which ended the Second World War with Japan, it was the “longstanding” policy of the United States that: “As Taiwan [is] not covered by any existing international disposition, sovereignty over the area is an unsettled question subject to future international resolution.”
President Reagan’s sixth assurance read: “the United States would not formally recognize China’s sovereignty over Taiwan.”
All administrations since have reaffirmed the assurances. Under unrelenting Chinese negotiating pressure, however, US diplomats have downplayed our commitments to the Reagan assurances. I recommend that General Flynn’s staff familiarize themselves with President Reagan’s “secret” directive to the Secretaries of State and Defense which related to the conditions of the US “Third Communiqué” with China of August 17, 1982. Under present circumstances, it is clear that China is not meeting the requirements under which arms sales to Taiwan would be curtailed; rather than downplay the US commitment to Taiwan outlined in the Six Assurances, the New Administration should reassert this commitment with renewed vigor.
Conclusion: Taiwan as a Strategic Asset
The new administration’s policy toward Taiwan must be guided by the principle that all US policy is “America First”. A strong, self-sufficient, US-oriented Taiwan which contributes to America’s industrial, manufacturing, technology, R&D, growth and prosperity will continue to be an integral part of America’s capacity to defend its core interests in East Asia. By the same token, a Taiwan that is dominated or absorbed by China will erode America’s economic and security interests in the region.
Defending America’s core interests in East Asia requires that Taiwan be treated as a virtual ally in the region with the same care, and that Taiwan be obliged to undertake the same responsibilities as our other allies (particularly Japan and South Korea) share. Your new Administration should give Taiwan access to the full range of self-defense capacities that you would grant Japan and South Korea, to ensure that the United States can maintain its Asian presence in an affordable and strategically sound way.
 David Helvey, “Prepared Remarks of David Helvey, Senior Advisor, performing the duties of the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs, to the US-Taiwan Business Council Defense Industry Conference, October 3, 2016 – Williamsburg, Virginia,” (speech, Williamsburg, Virginia, October 3, 2016).
 For a dated, but still useful catalog of US interests in Taiwan see John J. Tkacik, “America’s Stake in Taiwan,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder 1996 (January 11, 2007), at http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2007/01/executive-summary-americas-stake-in-taiwan.
 President George W. Bush did approve the sale of diesel-electric submarines to Taiwan, neglecting to consider that the United States has not made D/E submarines for 60 years and had no industrial or regulatory infrastructure to make new ones solely for export. Nor has any other US ally been willing to sell Taiwan D/E submarines (Germany, France, The Netherlands, Italy, Japan or Australia). The United States did provide advanced anti-ballistic missiles to Taiwan, but in limited quantities—roughly one-fifth the number of Chinese missiles targeted on Taiwan.
 For the full text, declassified, of this short memorandum, see James R. Lilley and Jeff Lilley, China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia (New York: PublicAffairs Books, 2004), 248. See also Jim Mann, About Face: A History of America’s Curious Relationship with China, From Nixon to Clinton (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1999), 127.
Continued Vitality of America’s Ties to Taiwan under President-Elect Trump
Stephen M. Young had a 33 year career as an American diplomat, during which he served as Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, and Consul General to Hong Kong. He is currently retired and living in New Hampshire. Ambassador Young is a member of GTI’s Advisory Board.
Donald Trump’s election as the next American President is naturally stimulating much discussion about his policy in general. That he is coming into arguably the most important job in the world with a remarkable lack of experience makes it even more difficult for analysts to anticipate what his administration will do. That goes in spades for foreign policy, where his experience abroad is primarily as a developer and businessman.
Trump follows eight years of President Obama, a man who came to the job with little foreign policy experience but an international background. After assuming the presidency, Obama surrounded himself with experts and proved a quick study. Looking back to 1981, Ronald Reagan also entered the White House with little foreign policy background, but quickly recruited good advisors (George Shultz, his Secretary of State from 1982 to 1988, was one of the best bosses I ever worked for in my 33 years in the Foreign Service). Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, similarly lacked much background in foreign affairs, but grew quickly on the job.
Judging from the campaign, Mr. Trump has a steep learning curve ahead of him. As a candidate, he has threatened a trade war with China and suggested our Korean and Japanese allies need to assume greater responsibility for their own security, or at least pay a heftier share of the cost of their alliance with America. Perhaps most alarming was a proposal that Seoul and Tokyo acquire nuclear weapons.
Thankfully president-elect Trump now has two months to study up, and draw a circle of advisors around him to assist in crafting policies in an increasingly troubled global environment. A key question will be those he chooses as his Secretaries of State and Defense, his intelligence chief and National Security Advisor (retired General Flynn has already been named to this post). One would hope he reaches out to people with relevant background. John Bolton, whose name has been mentioned as possible Secretary of State, is an old friend of Taiwan’s, and could be expected to pursue close unofficial ties with the island if appointed to the top diplomatic job in President Trump’s cabinet. The views on Taiwan of other possible choices, from Rudy Giuliani and Bob Corker to Mitt Romney, are less clear.
Mr. Trump inherits a focus on the Asia-Pacific by his predecessor that was encapsulated in President Obama’s “Asia Pivot” of the past six years. The principle behind this policy was that the US needed to pay greater attention to the fastest growing economic region in the world, and pull away from the previous 12 years’ focus on the Middle East. Of course that muddied the choice, as no modern American leader can ignore instability in the Middle East, given our energy ties and support for Israel. Still, Obama’s launching of the pivot, with considerable early support from then Secretary of State Clinton, was generally welcomed in the region.
The pivot included economic, military and political elements, and served as much as a reaffirmation of the robust, post-World War II American presence in the region as anything dramatically new. It was viewed in no small part as a response to China’s dramatic rise of the previous 30 years, and addressed concerns by many of our traditional friends in the region over the revitalized Middle Kingdom.
Now we face the transfer of power in two months to a new President, whose party will enjoy nearly complete control over Washington’s political heights. This will include Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, a sympathetic Supreme Court (once he fills the Scalia vacancy), and a dispirited opposition party. So what can we expect from this political outsider, about to be thrust into the single most important job there is? And what does it mean for Taiwan?
As Mr. Trump prepares to take office on January 20, 2017, some of his more incendiary policy pronouncements during the campaign have unsettled allies both in Europe and Asia. He has promised to apply steep tariffs on Chinese goods, which he claims are benefiting from an artificially devalued RMB. Most financial analysts dismiss this claim, pointing to years of controlled weakening of the currency by the Beijing government. The President elect has not said much about the rest of the relationship, or Taiwan, in his campaign remarks.
But based upon over 40 years of engagement with China, and a continuing strong commitment by every US President during that period to stand with Taiwan in the face of any threat from the mainland, I seriously doubt the basic thrust of US policy will change under a President Trump. Congress has played a leading role in all of this, and the Taiwan caucus within the Congress has been an active voice supporting close ties with the island nation.
While China’s rise is the marquee story of the past 30 years, Taiwan’s simultaneous emergence as a high-tech economy and a vibrant young democracy is equally impressive. Fears since the 1980’s that the US might abandon the island in its new focus on Sino-American relations have not been borne out. In fact, American pledges to support and maintain the security and prosperity of Taiwan have become strongly bipartisan, with solid support in the Congress as well as in the Executive branch of government.
Recommendations for the next administration:
- An early reaffirmation of the US commitment to the three joint communiqués of 1972, 1978 and 1982, and to the “one China policy;”
- An insistence that cross-Strait differences be addressed solely by peaceful means;
- Maintain the determination of the United States, under the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), to continue providing defensive weapons to Taiwan. The volume of such sales has reached several billion USD in recent years, though Taiwan’s wish-list for submarines, cutting edge fighter planes, and other items has been turned aside by US decision-makers. Future focus should be placed on anti-missile defense and enhanced command and control capabilities. An early approval of additional weapons sales would bolster confidence in Taiwan as it continues to face a serious threat from across the Taiwan Strait.
- Just as important as weapons sales has been the maintenance of a robust US military presence in the western Pacific Ocean, aimed at defending our friends and allies from any threat, be it from North Korea, China or other parties. I know the Pacific Command, with its headquarters in Hawaii, takes this mission very seriously.
- Mr. Trump has spoken of increased defense spending under his administration. This would reassure our friends and allies in the Far East of our determination to continue to maintain our ability to project power in that vital region.
- I would encourage the incoming President, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and National Security Advisor to reinforce this message to both friends and foes in their public statements as they prepare to assume office.
- Befitting the close trade and investment relationship that we enjoy with Taiwan, I recommend the new administration send a cabinet level official to Taipei to review our bilateral economic relationship. The new USTR head, Secretary of Commerce, or Secretary of Agriculture would make the best sense.
- We should also employ existing mechanisms with the Trade and Investment Agreement (TIFA) to keep the dialogue going on the range of bilateral trade issues of mutual concern.
Taiwan’s leaders have been quite adept in continuing to cultivate a range of friends in American policy, legislative and public circles. The success of Taiwan’s emerging democratic system over the past 30 years has reinforced traditional US attachments to the island and its 23 million citizens. President Tsai Ing-wen, who studied in the US, has continued that tradition. She should be treated with dignity when she transits the US, and can count on robust support from friends within the administration, the Congress, and the states.
The large Taiwanese American community in the US buttresses those ties. Taiwan is the source of tens of thousands of students enrolled in the best American universities. Those that choose to stay and pursue American citizenship further strengthen the close people-to-people relations that underpin our bilateral ties.
There is no contradiction between our pursuit of constructive relations with the PRC and our lasting friendship with the people of Taiwan. Many of our friends around Asia, particularly in Japan, have welcomed America’s strong but unofficial links to Taiwan and the guarantees of continued security and prosperity for Taiwan that come with these historic ties. Moving into a Trump Administration in early 2017, I remain confident in the continued vitality of America’s ties—and its commitments—to Taiwan and its citizens.