What Should US Policy toward Taiwan be under the Trump Administration?

What Should US Policy toward Taiwan be under the Trump Administration?

What Should US Policy toward Taiwan be under the Trump Administration?

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.