February 4: Taiwan in 2021

February 4: Taiwan in 2021

Thursday, February 4, 2021 from 12:00 PM-1:30 PM (EST)
Webcast Only

Event Description:

Experts generally agree that the past four years have been nothing short of momentous for US-Taiwan relations. Amidst growing US-China tensions and mounting instability in the Taiwan Strait, the Trump administration took unprecedented steps to bolster the American relationship with Taipei. As a result of several bipartisan congressional bills, multiple high-level diplomatic visits, and a highly-publicized effort to include Taiwan in international fora, the US-Taiwan relationship is arguably stronger than ever. Now, as the Biden administration steps onto the world stage, the United States faces numerous challenging decisions as it considers its approach to Taiwan, China, and the cross-Strait relationship. Will Biden continue his predecessor’s policies of aggressively challenging China while seeking stronger ties with Taiwan? Or will he take a different course, working to end the ongoing trade war and find common ground with Beijing, potentially at the expense of Taipei? How will Beijing attempt to reframe the Taiwan question with the Biden administration? This virtual panel will address these questions and attempt to forecast developments in Taiwan, China, and cross-Strait relations in 2021.  

Panelists will include: Vincent Chao, director of the Political Division at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States (TECRO); Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation; David Sacks, research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Yun Sun, senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center. The event will be moderated by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

The event webcast will be broadcasted live on our website and YouTube on Thursday, February 4 at 12 PM (EST). Questions for the panel may either be sent by e-mail to contact@globaltaiwan.org or through the chat function on the YouTube page. 

The Panelists:

Vincent Chao is the director of the political division at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States. Prior to this role, he served as the chief of staff to Taiwan’s foreign minister and senior-level positions at the Office of the President and National Security Council. Before joining the government, he was the deputy director of the International Affairs Department in the Democratic Progressive Party and was deeply involved in President Tsai’s 2016 presidential campaign. He has also served as a researcher in the Thinking Taiwan Foundation and as a reporter at the Taipei Times. He holds a B.A. from York University in Canada and an LLM from the University of London.

Derek Grossman is a senior defense analyst at RAND focused on a range of national security policy and Indo-Pacific security issues. Previously, he served over a decade in the intelligence community, where he served as the daily intelligence briefer to the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and to the assistant secretary of defense for Asian & Pacific Security Affairs. Prior to DIA, Grossman served at the National Security Agency (NSA). He also worked at the CIA on the President’s Daily Brief staff. He has interviewed with BBC, Bloomberg, the LA Times, CNN, the Washington Post, NPR, CNBC, South China Morning Post, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and many others. Grossman has also published dozens of commentaries and journal articles, including for Asia PolicyChina BriefChinaFileDefense DossierForeign PolicyGlobal Taiwan BriefInternational SecurityJournal of International Security AffairsNewsweekPacNetStrategic Studies QuarterlyStudies in IntelligenceThe DiplomatThe HillThe National InterestWar on the Rocks, and World Politics Review. Grossman is an adjunct professor at the University of Southern California and a regular contributor to The Diplomat. He holds an M.A. from Georgetown University in U.S. national security policy and a B.A. from the University of Michigan in political science and Asian studies.

David Sacks is a research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, where his work focuses on U.S.-China relations, U.S.-Taiwan relations, Chinese foreign policy, cross-Strait relations, and the political thought of Hans Morgenthau. He was previously the Special Assistant to the President for Research at the Council on Foreign Relations. Prior to joining CFR, Mr. Sacks worked on political military affairs at the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), which handles the full breadth of the United States’ relationship with Taiwan in the absence of diplomatic ties. Mr. Sacks was also a Princeton in Asia fellow in Hangzhou, China. He received his M.A. in International Relations and International Economics, with honors, from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). At SAIS, he was the recipient of the A. Doak Barnett Award, given annually to the most distinguished China Studies graduate. Mr. Sacks received his B.A. in Political Science, Magna Cum Laude, from Carleton College.

Yun Sun is a senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program and director of the China Program at the Stimson Center. Her expertise is in Chinese foreign policy, U.S.-China relations and China’s relations with neighboring countries and authoritarian regimes. From 2011 to early 2014, she was a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, jointly appointed by the Foreign Policy Program and the Global Development Program, where she focused on Chinese national security decision-making processes and China-Africa relations. From 2008 to 2011, Yun was the China analyst for the International Crisis Group based in Beijing, specializing on China’s foreign policy towards conflict countries and the developing world. Prior to ICG, she worked on US-Asia relations in Washington, DC for five years. Yun earned her master’s degree in international policy and practice from George Washington University, as well as an MA in Asia Pacific studies and a BA in international relations from Foreign Affairs College in Beijing.


Russell Hsiao is the executive director of GTI and adjunct fellow at the Pacific Forum. He previously served as a senior research fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, National Security fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Penn Kemble fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy. Prior to those positions he was the editor of China Brief at The Jamestown Foundation from October 2007­ to July 2011 and a special associate in the International Cooperation Department at the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. While in law school, he clerked within the Office of the Chairman at the Federal Communications Commission and the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Mr. Hsiao received his J.D. and certificate from the Law and Technology Institute at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law where he served as the editor-in-chief of the Catholic University Journal of Law and Technology. He received a B.A. in International Studies from the American University’s School of International Service and the University Honors Program.

Event Summary:

On February 4, 2021, the Global Taiwan Institute (GTI) hosted a virtual seminar on the future of US-Taiwan relations. The expert panel included Vincent Chao, director of the Political Division at TECRO; Derek Grossman, senior defense analyst at the RAND Corporation; David Sacks, research fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and Yun Sun, director of the China Program at the Stimson Center. Each speaker presented their predictions for Taiwan in 2021, followed by a Q&A session led by GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao.

Hsiao began the seminar with an overview of Taiwan’s international situation over the past year. Afterwards, David Sacks opened his talk with the assertion that, though tensions remain high, neither Taiwan nor China is likely to make the first move towards any military conflict in 2021. Sacks also suggested that the United States can encourage cross-Strait dialogue and communicate its expectations, which it has done so in the past. Escalation between the two sides seems unlikely, as Xi Jinping seeks another term. To this end, he will be prioritizing the Winter Olympics, the CCP Centenary, and the 20th Party Congress. To close, Sacks asked: can Taiwan and China collaborate on practical matters without a cross-Strait consensus?

Derek Grossman followed with a discussion of the Biden administration’s priorities and their implications for Taiwan. He highlighted early positive signs, such as the invitation of Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the inauguration. Looking forward, he suggested that there may be opportunities in the form of a Taiwan-US free trade agreement, as well as Biden’s proposed “summit of democracies.” One area of concern is the potential for accidents in Taiwan’s ADIZ, which could initiate an armed conflict, against the wishes of both sides.

Yun Sun then provided a detailed overview of the ongoing heated debate in China on unification by force or by peace. She discussed the idea of a reset in US-China relations, while pointing out that China continues to blame the US for interference in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet. Sun highlighted the statistic that 90 percent of the Chinese public supports unification by force. In her summary of the situation, she stated that China prefers peaceful unification. At the same time, however, China will continue to prepare for forceful unification and to intensify coercion.

The final speaker, Vincent Chao, discussed recent developments in Taiwan-US relations, including the US Department of State press statement condemning PRC military exercises in Taiwan’s vicinity and expressing a “rock-solid” support for Taiwan. He focused on areas of economic engagement, such as semiconductors, supply chain security, and trade. In addition, Chao stated that climate change innovation in Taiwan could serve as a basis for new soft power initiatives.

The Q&A session kicked off with a question from Hsiao on the perception gap between US leaders and the public on military support for Taiwan. The panelists cited fatigue with military intervention and a general lack of awareness about Taiwan as contributing factors. Audience members also asked questions on strategic clarity, Taiwan’s influence in Latin America, CPTPP membership, and the ability of the US to influence China’s debate on unification.

This summary was written by GTI Spring 2021 Intern Sophia Knight.

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