The US presidential election is complete but the result has not yet been finalized. The next administration of the US government will not have a honeymoon period as there are many urgent difficulties ahead. In addition to reconciling with a highly polarized society and regaining the support and trust from the American people, the new administration has to effectively tackle an increasingly severe global pandemic—which have become key issues for domestic stability and safety. In terms of foreign policy, there are critical issues such as formulating a new strategic guideline for the US-China trade war and redirecting China policy—either towards confrontation or cooperation—that will serve as a crux to the debate of whether there will be an outbreak of a so-called “new Cold War.” In either case, it is imperative for the next administration to also earn the trust of America’s allies and regional partners to secure its international leadership role in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond—including with Taiwan.
Three Pillars: Values, Trust, and Prosperity
The people in Taiwan are concerned about how a new US administration may handle cross-Strait relations differently from the current administration. In order to assure allies and partners in the region, we believe that the new US administration should prioritize efforts to maintain the rules-based order in the Indo-Pacific region. This is not only in the interests of the United States but also the needs of regional stakeholders. In terms of dealing with cross-Strait relations for the incoming administration, we suggest that the new administration consider rebuilding a regional strategy that triangularize values, trust, and prosperity as the three pillars to show its concrete and clear commitments to enhance US presence and deepen its contribution to the rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific region.
First, the values-based pillar should focus on deepening democratic values and promoting freedom, liberal democracy, good governance, and human rights in the region. Second, the trust-centered pillar should prioritize and reassure existing partnerships. In doing so, in addition to strengthening mutual trusts between the United States and its allies and partners, it will also consolidate US leadership to promote regional stability and international peace. Third, the prosperity-targeted pillar needs to prioritize and confirm regional development with sustainability and progress for the purpose of aligning US interests with regional and global interests. If Taiwan, a thriving democracy, is annexed and loses its autonomy, it will definitely become a major breach for the US-led rule-based regional order in the Indo-Pacific region. That is why the majority of Taiwanese people appreciate what Secretary Michael Pompeo said in the interview on November 12, 2020, stating that our [US] commitments to Taiwan are clear and they will be maintained,” and “Taiwan has not been a part of China.”
In the past few years, the US Senate and the House of Representatives have demonstrated a strong political consensus for supporting Taiwan and resisting China’s aggression. A slight majority of the public in the United States also seems to believe that China should take responsibility for the outbreak of COVID-19. Under the current context, we believe that resisting China’s aggressive behaviors will remain a key feature of the next US government’s foreign policy. However, the approach will probably differ from the one of the previous administration and shift from unilateral confrontation to multilateral joint restraint—and the speed and means may also be slightly slower and different.
In terms of US-Taiwan-China relations, the above-mentioned three pillars should serve as a reference point for the next US administration as it frames its policy towards Taiwan and China. First, consolidating a solid partnership with like-minded countries should be imperative. The US partnership with Taiwan is not only based on similar values of global liberal democracy but also respect for human rights. Moreover, Taiwan exists as a vivid reference for protecting universal rights of public health during the global pandemic of COVID-19. On the contrary, as China has always been reluctant to democratize and increasingly disregards human rights, in particular in the case of Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the next administration needs to continue strengthening the values-laden partnership with democratic Taiwan and continue the meaningful support to Taiwan through institutional efforts and acts endorsed by the previous administration and the Congress and other innovative and constructive policies envisioned in the near future.
Although decoupling between the two biggest global economies will unlikely be the key focus of the next US administration, the next president can no longer have an unrealistic illusion about how engagement policy through various exchanges will gradually make China behave better. Under a grand strategy of jointly resisting China’s malign behaviors, the United States should attach importance to the position that Taiwan—as a pivotal middle power—within an “island chain strategy” that can contribute to the emerging security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region.
It is perhaps no coincidence that China aggressively showed its military muscles in Taiwan’s southwestern airspace and waters during the US presidential election, disrupting cross-Strait peace and undermining regional stability. The international community has clearly witnessed China’s bullying of Taiwan. The United States should take note that even during such a difficult time—during the trade war between China and the United States—Beijing’s external expansionist behavior has never abated. This is a clear sign that Taiwan is not the only target of China’s aggression. Its imperialist expansion extends to the South China Sea and neighboring countries in the Indo-Pacific. If the means in the next administration are slightly different, the pace of China’s military disturbance to Taiwan may also be slowed to cater to the new US countermeasures, which in turn may relieve some strategic and military pressure for Taiwan with observable aftereffects.
Over the years, Taiwan has repeatedly demonstrated to the United States and the broader region that the island democracy—not China—embodies the values that should guide the future development of the Indo-Pacific. The next US administration should also recognize and appreciate this fact. The mutual trust between Taiwan and the United States has consolidated and deepened as a consequence of President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文）steadfast diplomacy and Taiwan hopes that the next US administration can follow its own values-based foreign policy and further consolidate mutual trust between two countries.
Regarding the prosperity pillar, the next US administration should attach more importance to Taiwan’s economic vitality and facilitate its contribution to the making of greater regional integration in the midst of the US-China trade war and the consolidation of the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Especially in the face of the recent signing of RCEP, China’s influence over the region will be reinforced. The United States needs to actively promote a free and open regional trade structure and facilitate Taiwan’s participation in the CPTPP and ASEAN regional networks by advocating for Taiwan as a strong regional stakeholder with shared values and similar commitment to contribute to the economic growth and regional prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. In particular, Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy (NSP), which has been in implementation for the past four years, has proven to have made significant contributions to the economic development, social innovation, technology, medical and public health, education, agriculture, and social stability of Southeast and South Asian countries.
Rebuilding a regional strategy will not be easy. However, if the new administration is able to triangularize values, trust, and prosperity as the three pillars of this new approach, it will help contribute to the perception of a more committed and thus stronger United States in the Indo-Pacific.
It is critical that the international community does not let the Taiwan Strait become a colosseum where the strong do what they want and the weak suffer what they must. We therefore strongly call upon the next US administration to consider moving towards a posture of strategic clarity with regards to cross-Strait relations. In the meanwhile, Taiwan will equally try its best to assure the United States that it will make its best efforts to ensure peace, stability, and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. With these principles in mind, the future Taiwan-US relations is expected to be a win-win situation.
The main point: The next US administration should promote values, trust, and prosperity as the main pillars of its approach to Taiwan and the Indo-Pacific region.