Vol. 2, Issue 15
The Global Taiwan Brief Volume 2, Issue 15
Assessing Implications of the Trump-Xi Summit on the Taiwan Issue
By: Russell Hsiao
Leveraging Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy for US-Taiwan Cooperation
By: David An
Japan’s Taiwan Policy: A Flexible Approach for a Practical Cause
By: Emily S. Chen
Taiwan’s Demographic Trends: Low Birthrate
By: Sinclaire Prowse
Assessing Implications of the Trump-Xi Summit on the Taiwan Issue
Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute and the Editor-in-Chief of the Global Taiwan Brief.
The widely-anticipated summit between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping ended last Friday with little media fanfare. According to multiple sources covering the summit—which lasted for 21 hours—the meeting focused more on form than substance. The two leaders were reportedly “cordial” and “businesslike,” which stood in stark contrast with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s visit to the “Southern White House” just two months ago.
Yet, President Trump’s post-summit comments to the press highlighted that the two sides made “tremendous progress” over a wide-range of issues. Most notably, the summit produced a commitment by the two leaders to hold the US-China Comprehensive Dialogue, formulation of a 100-day action plan on trade, and a promise by Trump to visit China at a later date. Despite speculations that Beijing may be pressing the Trump administration for a Fourth Communiqué in the lead-up to the summit, the meeting between the two leaders produced no apparent deliverables directly related to Taiwan.
It was no secret—or perhaps a badly kept one—that Beijing wanted more assurances on Taiwan from the first Trump-Xi summit, especially after the roller coaster ride that began last December when Trump accepted a congratulatory phone call from the president of Taiwan.
However, the Trump-Xi summit produced no joint statement, much less a Fourth Communiqué, or any statements mentioning Taiwan at all, for that matter. At a cursory glance, the summit would appear to have had little to no implications for Taiwan. To be sure, Taiwan’s Presidential Office noted that there were no surprises in the results of the Trump-Xi summit. However, the absence of any direct statements concerning Taiwan does not mean that the summit was void of signals as to how both Trump and Xi treat the issue of Taiwan within the bilateral relationship.
Indeed, the signals from the summit came not from what was said or not said. Rather, the two sides’ approach to Taiwan may be inferred by their treatment of issues seemingly unrelated to Taiwan. The first factor is the timing of the summit itself. By previous standards, the summit between the current leaders of the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) happened much faster than under the previous three US presidents. The second factor is the political effects of President Trump’s decision to order military strikes against a Syrian air base in response, at least in part, to the “horrible” and “awful” images of gassed children in Syria.
Indeed, the Trump-Xi summit had been arranged faster between Trump and Xi than for the previous three US presidents. In his administration, Barack Obama had his first face-to-face meeting with his counterpart, Hu Jintao, in Beijing in November 2009, eight months after his inauguration (all US presidential inaugurations are held on January 20). Similarly, George W. Bush met Jiang Zemin for the first time in October 2001, and Bill Clinton had his first summit with Jiang in November 1993.
Interestingly, while it is clearly conceivable that Beijing wanted the summit more than Trump, Xi walked away from the summit with little to show for himself, in terms of assurances on Taiwan. The Chinese state-run media, however, did not hesitate to wax lyrical about the successes of the summit. The situation raises the question: why the apparent haste? Of course, the definition of success is in the eyes of the beholder. While a Fourth Communiqué never materialized, that the meeting was seen as a success back home may be more important for Xi than additional assurances on Taiwan.
Chris Johnson, a former senior China analyst at the CIA, now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, suggested that Beijing’s objectives for a potential Fourth Communiqué and the meeting may have little to do with Taiwan and much more to do with other political considerations.
According to Johnson, “If there was a Fourth Communiqué, it [Taiwan] would be a relatively small part of the equation,” and would have more to do with the desire to update the standing communiqués in order to, “take into account Beijing’s stronger global position” and elicit official US acknowledgement of the existing Chinese political system. The primary motivations for the summit, according to Johnson, were entirely rooted in Xi’s domestic agenda for the 19th Party Congress. He enumerated the four factors constituting Beijing’s agenda and motivations: 1) show that Xi can manage the bilateral relationship with the United States; 2) burnish Xi’s international credentials; 3) reflect Xi’s confidence; and 4) signal the strength of Xi’s domestic political position.
Clearly also looming in the background on day two of the summit were the effects of Trump’s decision to deploy several dozen tomahawk missiles against the Syrian air base responsible for deploying the chemical weapons. Trump’s order demonstrated, at least in part, that he may be persuaded by moral imperatives. Indeed, the US President called out the attack by the Assad regime for its killing of “innocent children, innocent babies,” which “crossed a lot of lines for me.” When Trump notified Xi of the strike near the end of their dinner, the signal could not have been more clear. While President Trump has repeatedly emphasized that the United States will not seek to impose its way of life on others, other countries should not assume that the United States will not exercise moral leadership if and when it is required.
Given President Trump’s penchant for unpredictability, one of Xi’s biggest concerns was that he not lose face in the meeting. According to a Chinese official cited by Reuters, “Ensuring President Xi does not lose face is a top priority for China.” While hindsight is often 20/20, with the political jockeying for power going on in the lead-up to 19th Party Congress, which typically takes place in October or November, it is plausible that Xi wanted to quiet any doubts about his leadership sooner rather than later.
The main point: The broad contours of the new US-PRC relationship are slowly being formed. While the Trump-Xi meeting made no mention of Taiwan, Xi’s apparent desire for political stability on the homefront likely points towards continuity in his approach towards the Taiwan issue.
Leveraging Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy for US-Taiwan Cooperation
David An is a Senior Research Fellow at the Global Taiwan Institute and was previously a political military officer at the US Department of State.
When President Donald Trump and PRC President Xi Jinping met last week, the White House said it was important for them to “discuss global, regional, and bilateral issues of mutual concern.” Likewise, when a country like Australia meets with the US, the two discuss global security issues such as Iraq and Afghanistan, regional issues such as the Indian Ocean region, China, and the South China Sea, and bilateral issues. When Taiwan talks with the United States, for the most part, they talk just about Taiwan.
A key feature of diplomacy is that major powers want to work with others beyond bilateral issues. These major powers want to enhance a mutual network of geopolitical linkages and to combine efforts in third countries. Essentially, they learn from one another and help one another in distant regions. In this way, the standard format for any US bilateral dialogue—especially the State Department’s strategic dialogues in East Asia—is for both sides to first share one another’s views on global issues, then move to regional topics, and finally to bilateral concerns.
Along these lines, Taiwan’s approach in its New Southbound Policy is inherently a broad regional strategy for Southeast Asia. Therefore, a potential benefit of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy that has not been mentioned to date is how it can strengthen US-Taiwan collaboration in the greater Asia region. This alone should be an important focus of the New Southbound Policy office.
Far too often, Taiwan’s diplomacy with the United States narrowly focuses on each side’s interests, devoid of a regional or global discussion. For Taiwan, these economic and security interests include prospects for US arms sales and Taiwan’s prospects of joining regional or bilateral trade agreements. For the United States, interests include arms sales to Taiwan to ensure Taiwan’s security in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act and opening up trade in beef and pork.
There are many possible reasons as to why Taiwan’s diplomacy might be overly focused on narrow bilateral trade and security issues. Perhaps Taiwanese officials want to devote valuable and limited time in meetings with US officials to raise key bilateral points and so they do not want to crowd the agenda with other issues. In international security terms, perhaps Taiwan plays less of a role since it does not provide troops in the Middle East, participate in UN peacekeeping missions, or send naval vessels to the Gulf of Aden for counter-piracy operations. Therefore, there is less to discuss in the arena of global security. No matter the reason, Taiwan should still try to broaden the discussion, especially since it desires greater international space and a more mutually beneficial relationship with the United States.
In the US’ diplomatic dealings with many other countries, it is typical to cover much beyond narrow bilateral issues. The standard formula for the US State Department’s “strategic dialogues” include global and regional issues and are typically led at the Assistant Secretary level at the US State Department. They include the US-India Strategic Dialogue, the US-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, the US-New Zealand Strategic Dialogue, and more. The example earlier about US cooperation with Australia refers to the regular Australia Ministerial (AUSMIN), which is a meeting between the US Secretary of State and US Secretary of Defense and their Australian counterparts on a range of global, regional, and bilateral matters.
To be sure, Taiwan does have a global reach and it is already a close partner with the United States in some ways. In 2010, immediately after the disastrous earthquake in Haiti, Taiwan sent search-and-rescue teams and humanitarian supplies to Port-au-Prince. In 2015, Taiwan delivered 350 prefabricated homes to displaced families in Northern Iraq as a member of the counter-ISIL coalition. In the same year, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and TECRO signed an MOU creating the Global Cooperation and Training Framework for Taiwan to assist Asian countries with issues such as women’s empowerment, public health, and e-commerce. However, Taiwan can do more in the region and around the world, and Taiwan’s new plans for trade in Southeast Asia present good opportunities for such cooperation.
The possibility that the United States and Taiwan can improve cooperation in the Southeast Asia region should be rightly seen in a proper context among the main priorities of the New Southbound Policy. President Tsai has mentioned that these top regional economic priorities include high level exchanges with foreign countries, cooperation with foreign think tanks to research industrial sectors, renewing bilateral investment and tax agreements, and hosting exhibitions. Many of these are compatible with US activity in the region. Taiwan can hold exchanges with Southeast Asian countries and can also discuss Southeast Asia with the United States. As Taiwan’s engagement in Southeast Asia grows, it will open up new opportunities to exchange its perspectives with the White House, State Department, and Commerce Department.
One question is: what is the right level on which to hold a dialogue on regional and global issues? The most effective engagement will be with offices that have broader geographical responsibilities or officials at mid-to-senior levels of government. Working-level officials can be narrowly focused, so an official covering Taiwan issues might not have any responsibility or interest in Southeast Asia, and vice versa. Instead, it would be promising to approach functional offices that cover an entire region or the world. In addition, discussing matters with the heads of regional bureau, such as the Assistant Secretary of the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific Bureau, and even higher at the Under Secretary or Deputy Secretary levels—as well as their equivalents in other agencies—would be more appropriate to raise regional or global issues.
Exchanging regional and global views during bilateral dialogues is a first step toward working together in the region. Indeed, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy can open up opportunities to have dialogues about issues more far-reaching than just Taiwan’s trade with the region, especially since it is a new way to partner with the United States in the region. Doing so will demonstrate Taiwan’s importance for more than its own sake, and demonstrate its greater value in a regional or global role.
The main point: Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy is a new opportunity to improve US-Taiwan diplomacy and economic cooperation in the Southeast Asia region.
Japan’s Taiwan Policy: A Flexible Approach for a Practical Cause
Emily S. Chen is an incoming Ph.D. student at The University of Tokyo. Previously, she was a fellow with the Hoover Institution and the Center for the National Interest. She holds a Master’s degree in East Asian Studies with a focus on international relations from Stanford University.
While still a presidential candidate in October 2015, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen showed her determination to promote Taiwan-Japan relations by taking a four-day trip to Japan dubbed a tour of “Taiwan-Japan friendship” (台日友好). While the phrase “Taiwan-Japan friendship” may not always appear in official remarks, President Tsai has brought alive its substance by listing Taiwan-Japan relations as high on her diplomatic agenda since taking office. Recently, Tsai’s Japan policy seems to have borne fruit with several moves from Japan. Japan’s decision to rename its de facto embassy, the “Interchange Association, Japan” (公益財團法人交流協會), to the “Japan-Taiwan Exchange Association” (公益財團法人日本台灣交流協會), for example, came into effect in January 2017.
Japanese State Minister for Internal Affairs and Communications Jiro Akama’s visit last month to Taiwan for tourism promotion marked the highest-level government official to visit the island since Taiwan and Japan broke formal diplomatic ties in 1972. China has expressed dissatisfaction and has urged Japan to respect its promises regarding the Taiwan situation. Considering the motive behind Japan’s seemingly forward-leaning moves to Taiwan, some media played up the possibility that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe looks to strengthen strategic relations with Taiwan in the face of a changing security environment marked by an increasingly assertive China. In a recent remark, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe recently referred to Taiwan as “an important partner that shares Japan’s values and interests.” But will a value-sharing partner be so important that it drives Tokyo to embrace Taipei at the expense of relations with Beijing?
A Practical Aspect of Japan’s Taiwan Policy
The recent developments in Taiwan-Japan relations may give the impression that the Abe Cabinet, compared to its previous administrations, is adopting a more active approach to engaging Taiwan. Abe visited Taiwan 2010 and 2011 as a Diet member and as former prime minister (2006-2007). During Tsai’s tour of “Taiwan-Japan friendship” in 2015, Abe’s younger brother, Nobuo Kishi, a member of Japan’s House of Councillors, hosted Tsai in Abe’s hometown in Yamaguchi prefecture. Allegedly, Tsai also secretly met with Abe in Tokyo during her trip as a presidential candidate.
However, not all the moves Japan has made toward Taiwan in the past three months were driven by Abe’s personal connection with Tsai or by geopolitical concerns. Perhaps to a greater extent, Abe’s Taiwan policy has a practical aspect: it is less about an attempt to get cozy with Taiwan in spite of China’s warning, and more about confronting the issues that stand between Japan and Taiwan. To address the differences between the two sides, the Abe Cabinet is open to different policy options, and this flexibility creates an opportunity for a policy approach that looks to be unprecedentedly friendly to Taipei.
For instance, renaming Japan’s de facto embassy in Taiwan has a practical motivating factor: to point out the organization’s substantive functions in Taiwan. The previous name is said to have created confusion because it failed to indicate the entity with which Japan was interchanging, whereas its new name includes the word “Taiwan.”
Furthermore, when Akama visited Taiwan, he did so in an official capacity as an attendee of the opening ceremony of an event promoting Japanese culture and tourism. While the visit was made under the banner of tourism promotion, it was more than that. During his brief visit to Taiwan, Akama repeatedly emphasized the safety of food imports from Japanese radiation zones, hoping to gain understanding from the Taiwan public. By sending a high-ranking official, Japan sought to restore public confidence in food imports from five Japanese prefectures exposed to radiation, which were banned by Taiwan’s government in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. Although several scientific studies have shown that food exposed to radiation in 2011 is safe to eat, people’s anxiety over food contamination put pressure on Taiwan’s government to continue a ban on food imports from the five affected regions in Japan. The controversy over the safety of Japanese radiation-tainted food imports has posed a major obstacle in Taiwan-Japan economic relations for years, hurting Japan’s farming industry that suffered considerable damage from the 2011 disaster. Therefore, despite Beijing’s warnings, Akama’s visit was a decision made to tackle the long-standing economic issues between Japan and Taiwan.
What is Behind a Flexible Policy?
The flexibility of Abe’s policy toward Taiwan is possible because of certain internal and external situations. Domestically, high approval ratings give Abe both a stronger hand to adopt the policy that he wants and also leverage over opposition parties. Although Abe and his wife are currently involved in a power abuse scandal that caused Abe’s approval rating to drop by 10 percentage points in a month, Abe’s approval ratings remain a robust 56 percent, well above disapproval ratings. Pro-Taiwan momentum in Japanese society also forms a power base for Abe to engage with Taiwan. Latest polling has shown that a predominance of Japanese people holds positive views toward Taiwan: 66.5 percent of the Japanese people surveyed “feel close” to Taiwan, and 55.9 percent think Taiwan is “reliable.”
Some Things Do Not Change
Despite an ever-warming relationship between Japan and Taiwan—or an “upgrading of Taiwan-Japan relations,” as some media like to call it—it would be far-fetched to assume that Tokyo is ready to provoke Beijing by moving away from the “One-China” policy. Tokyo certainly understands the risks of approaching Taiwan. When asked whether he received any pressure from China on the recent trip to Taiwan, Akama discreetly answered that it is a “very hard decision” and that he had to “factor in many international situations before making the final decision,” adding that “Japan-China relations are undoubtedly important.”
The main point: Japan’s seemingly forward-leaning moves to Taiwan are less about an attempt to get cozy with Taiwan despite China’s warning, and more about confronting the issues that stand between Japan and Taiwan with a flexible policy approach.
Taiwan’s Demographic Trends: Low Birthrate
Sinclaire Prowse is a Resident Vasey Fellow at Pacific Forum CSIS.
There are at least two well-documented trends that inform Taiwan’s demographic problems. First, the country is aging rapidly. The proportion of the population aged 65 and above is forecast to rise from 12 percent in 2015 to 40 percent in 2060. Second, the overall population is forecast to shrink. By 2060, the overall population will reduce by 5.3 million. The challenges that come with this dual-natured problem are numerous, but one of the most significant factors contributing to the demographic challenges in Taiwan is its low birthrate.
Taiwan made global headlines when its total fertility rate hit an all-time low of 0.89 in 2010. The total fertility rate is the measure of the average number of births per women in a country. In recent years that number has increased to 1.17, but serious challenges remain. Taiwan currently has the third lowest fertility rate in the world. If the situation does not improve, the projected overall fertility rate will drop back down to 0.9 by 2060 (see Figure 1). This is an unsustainable drop that could have potentially devastating economic and security implications for Taiwan.
A low birthrate leads to population aging, which challenges the healthcare and pension systems and places a burden of care on young people. Population decline slows down the economy and leads to a reduction in national wealth. It also puts a huge strain on the education system. Former President of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou, noted the importance of this problem when he said that “the low birthrate is a serious national security threat.”
The main explanations for sustained low fertility rates in Taiwan are the high cost of childbearing (cost of living and educational expenses) and the social cost to women, who have to balance a career and family. In the 1970s, an effective family planning program, focusing primarily on increasing the use of contraception, was influential in the gradual fertility decline in Taiwan. More recently, there has been a demographic trend towards later childbirth and the postponement of marriage due to high levels of female tertiary education, greater female workforce participation, and more financial independence for women. But these reasons mirror the situation in much of the developed world. So why is the situation in Taiwan so much worse than in other countries?
A number of explanations have been offered for this phenomenon. Basten and Verropoulou suggest that “working hours, limited welfare provision, [and] the burden of caring for aged parents (and in-laws)” are important issues affecting the birthrate, and are issues that are specific to Taiwan. In addition to this, the changing nature of the labor market in Taiwan has caused a stark generational shift in working patterns. Taiwan has experienced a steady and continuous decline in the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, alongside continued growth in the commerce and financial services sectors. This shift, alongside the percentage of tertiary-educated women now exceeding that of men, means that more women are working in the formal service sector than ever in Taiwan. Yu explains that highly educated, young Taiwanese women are being forced to choose between career and family in the formal labor market, whereas previous generations were able to balance families with informal work.
The cost of living, and availability of childcare in Taiwan is also often cited as a serious challenge for couples wanting to have children. It has also been suggested that the traditional nature of Taiwanese society does not encourage women to have children outside of marriage. In France, as is common among European countries, 53 percent of births occur outside of marriage—in Taiwan this number is just 4 percent.
The Taiwanese government is aware of this problem. In her presidency’s inaugural address, President Tsai Ing-wen spoke to this, suggesting that, “our birthrate remains low, while a sound childcare system seems a distant prospect.” Speaking at an International Women’s Day event in March 2017, President Tsai said, “supporting and removing barriers to female employment is an important government policy.”
National measures to encourage fertility and childbearing exist in Taiwan. These range from childcare subsidies and improvements in reproductive care, to partially free education for preschoolers and maternity benefits. The incentives offered by the Taiwanese government include a monthly subsidy of NT $2,500 to NT $4,000 (US $81 – US $130) for families raising a child, a subsidy of NT $2,000 (US $65) each month for child minding and free tuition for children aged 5. Families can also obtain benefits from their local governments. President Tsai is working to instill concepts of gender equality in Taiwan’s policy. Steps have also been taken to amend the Gender Equality in Employment Act that requires companies with over 100 employees to set up childcare centers. The government is additionally aiming to provide women with subsidies, job training and employment advice to help them return to the workforce after a period of maternity leave.
Much discussion on this topic suggests that societal change is also needed. President Tsai has said that raising children is not just the responsibility of parents, but needs the support of society. Frejka et al. also explain that sufficient attention is not being paid to generating broad social change that is supportive of parenting. Fertility patterns will not change unless child- and family-friendly environments are fostered, including the equal participation of men and women in the household, and improved attitudes of employers towards parental leave. The labor participation rate among married people in Taiwan is illustrative of the enduring social divide—labor participation for married men is 70 percent, but only 49 percent for women.
Studies looking at fertility intentions in Taiwan have found that two children is the ideal number of children that Taiwanese women would like to bear. It has been argued that Taiwan’s fertility preference rate can be used to understand potential future directions of fertility. This paints a positive picture for the future, but requires the right governmental support and societal change.
If the Tsai government can adjust policy to better encourage childbirth and initiate a level of societal change, Taiwan can increase its fertility rate from its current downward projection towards 0.9. It is a good sign that President Tsai has publicly stated the need for societal change, but the course towards this will be long and laborious.
The main point: Fertility and demography are inextricably linked. Sufficient attention is not being devoted in Taiwan to developing social change that leads to increased fertility.
 G. Cernada, T.H. Sun, M.C. Chang, and J.F. Tsai, “Taiwan’s Population and Family Planning Efforts: An Historical Perspective,” International Quarterly of Community Health Education 27, no. 2 (2007): 99-120, doi: https://doi.org/10.2190/IQ.27.2.b.
 Wei-hsin Yu, Gendered Trajectories: Women, Work, and Social Change in Japan and Taiwan (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009), 119, 199.