May 28: US-Taiwan Relations in President Tsai’s Second Term

May 28: US-Taiwan Relations in President Tsai’s Second Term

Thursday, May 28 from 9:00 AM – 10:30 AM
Webcast Only

Event Description

In January of this year, Tsai Ing-wen scored a resounding victory in her reelection campaign as Taiwan’s president. With record high approval ratings, President Tsai enters her second term with a strong electoral mandate. Nevertheless, her administration faces numerous challenges, both domestic and international. Foremost among these, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) presents both opportunities and challenges. While Taiwan has received unprecedented international praise for its successful containment of the virus, China has ratcheted up its political, economic, and military pressure, placing the island democracy in a perilous position. At the same time, Taiwan’s relations with the United States have been trending in a positive direction. As strategic competition between the United States and China intensifies and Beijing increases its pressure campaign against Taipei to isolate the Tsai administration, visible and tangible support by the United States for Taiwan are becoming more apparent. This was clearly reflected by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s official congratulatory message and the video remarks by Assistant Secretary of State David Stilwell and White House Deputy National Secretary Advisor Matt Pottinger at the inauguration ceremony. In her second inaugural address, Tsai emphasized the need for greater defense and security cooperation between the United States and Taiwan. This virtual seminar will discuss the trajectory of US-Taiwan relations and cross-Strait relations as President Tsai enters her second term in an ever more uncertain strategic environment.

Panelists will include: J. Michael Cole, editor in chief of the Taiwan Sentinel and senior non-resident fellow with the Global Taiwan Institute; Lt. Gen. (ret.) Wallace ‘Chip’ Gregson, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs and member of the Global Taiwan Institute’s Advisory Board; Heino Klinck, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia; and Ambassador (ret.) Stephen Young, former US diplomat and Director of the American Institute in Taiwan. The panel will be moderated by Russell Hsiao, executive director of the Global Taiwan Institute. 

The event webcast will be broadcasted live on our website and YouTube on Thursday, May 28 at 9 AM (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.


J. Michael Cole is a Taipei-based policy analyst. He is a senior non-resident fellow with GTI; senior non-resident fellow with the Taiwan Studies Programme at the University of Nottingham, UK; research associate with the French Centre for Research on Contemporary China; chief editor of Taiwan Sentinel; and assistant coordinator for the Forum 2000’s China working group. From 2014-2016, he was an employee of the Thinking Taiwan Foundation, a think tank founded by Tsai Ing-wen where he was chief editor of Thinking Taiwan. He was deputy news chief and a columnist/reporter at the Taipei Times from 2006-2013. Prior to relocating to Taiwan in 2005, he was an intelligence officer with the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) in Ottawa. He has a master’s degree in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. His work has appeared in a variety of publications, including the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Policy, South China Morning Post, Christian Science Monitor, Globe and Mail, Lowy Interpreter, National Interest, China Brief, the Age, Jane’s Defence WeeklyCNN, Brookings Taiwan-US Quarterly, and others. He is a regular commentator on Al JazeeraBBC NewsCNN, and others, and is a consultant for various governments and the defense industry. He is the author of five books about Taiwan. The latest, Convergence or Conflict in the Taiwan Strait, was published by Routledge in late 2016.

Lt. Gen. Wallace ‘Chip’ Gregson (USMC, Ret.) served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense, Asian and Pacific Security Affairs. Previously, he served as Chief Operating Officer for the United States Olympic Committee, then as an independent consultant before entering Government in 2009. From 2003 to 2005, he was Commanding General of the Marine Corps Forces Pacific and Marine Corps Forces Central Command, where he led and managed over 70,000 Marines and Sailors in the Middle East, Afghanistan, East Africa, Asia and the United States. From 2001 to 2003 he served as Commanding General of the III Marine Expeditionary Force in Japan, where he was awarded the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun, the Gold and Silver Star; the Korean Order of National Security Merit, Gukseon Medal; and the Order of Resplendent Banner from the Republic of China. Prior to his time in Japan he was Director of Asia-Pacific Policy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense from 1998 to 2000.

Heino Klinck was sworn in as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for East Asia on August 12, 2019. In this role, he oversees all U.S. defense policy throughout the region, advancing U.S. national security interests through defense strategy development, security cooperation, contingency planning, and program oversight. He brings more than three decades of private sector and military experience to this position including 8 years living and working in the Indo-Pacific Region. 

Ambassador (ret.) Stephen M. Young served as a U.S. diplomat for over 33 years, with assignments in Washington, Taipei, Moscow, Beijing, Kyrgyzstan and Hong Kong. He earned a BA at Wesleyan University and a PhD in history at the University of Chicago. Young was Ambassador to the Kyrgyz Republic, Director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) and Consul General to Hong Kong. Young first lived in Taiwan as a teen in the 1960’s, when his father was a MAAG Advisor to the Taiwan military. He has lived a total of 11 years in Taiwan.  Since retiring to his family home in New Hampshire in 2013, Young has been writing and speaking. He was a Visiting Professor at Wesleyan University in 1994-95, where he taught a seminar on Modern Chinese Foreign Policy. Young speaks Russian and Chinese. His wife, Barbara Finamore, founded the China Program in Beijing for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).


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 May 28, 2020, the Global Taiwan Institute held a virtual panel on US-Taiwan relations entering President Tsai Ing-wen’s second term. GTI Executive Director Russell Hsiao first introduced the topic by detailing President Tsai Ing-wen’s victory in the 2020 presidential election and record-high approval ratings, all in the face of Beijing’s deployment of “sharp power” within the region. With those threats, the Tsai administration faces numerous challenges ahead, both international and domestic. One particular problem going forward is the military balance in the Taiwan Strait and the US role in providing security within the Indo-Pacific region.

Heino Klinck, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for east asia, discussed the Department of Defense’s perspective on US-Taiwan relations. Since President Tsai’s election, China has increasingly asserted power in the region, directed explicitly at Taiwan, using a whole-of-government approach. In light of this, he argued that maintaining Taiwan’s role as a free democracy within the Indo-Pacific is crucial. Klinck laid out a few specific concerns. First, Xi Jinping’s rhetoric and actions in recent years are increasingly concerning. In addition to raising the risk of miscalculation and miscommunication, provocative exercises and territorial incursions test Taiwan, as well as the United States’ commitment. Another worry involves China’s significant long-range strike capabilities and the anti-access/area denial (A2AD) challenges that ensue.

In response, Taiwan’s defense strategy includes a similar whole-of-government approach with three specific security goals: accelerating the development of asymmetric capabilities; reforms to military reserves; and improving the advancement of a more professional fighting force. Despite the challenges, the DOD would continue to support Taiwan where and when it can, especially in helping Taipei to adapt to China’s military strategy. The DOD believes the best way to overcome this challenge is through cost-effective, highly maneuverable, and survivable capabilities such as naval mines, cruise missiles, and surveillance capabilities. In short, updating military deterrence should be a top priority for Taiwan. 

J. Michael Cole, a senior non-resident fellow with GTI, introduced President Tsai’s long list of priorities to tackle during this term. The first task for Taiwan is to address the damages caused by the COVD-19 pandemic to the economy and domestic industries by reducing its prior protectionist tendencies and increase its attractiveness to investors. Doing so could help to take advantage of growing calls to decouple from China. According to Cole, Taiwan should also deepen its ties with like-minded democracies via track 1.5 and 2 dialogues, investment into NGOs, and efforts to attract international media to gather more strength to push back against Beijing. Given the current situation in Hong Kong, Taiwan is establishing itself as a regional bastion for free speech.

Cole noted that Taiwan continues to view stable relations with China as achievable, but not under the “one-country, two-system” concept. President Tsai’s recent inaugural address did not mention the “1992 Consensus,” providing a shift in tone compared to prior leaders. Amidst the changes in mood, the Tsai administration should balance between calls for independence and pro-China sentiment on the island, said Cole. A first step should be by working to deepening and defending its democratic institutions to avoid the Balkanization of Taiwan. Lastly, Cole discussed the need for Taipei to invest in deterrence capabilities, increase its readiness and intelligence capabilities, and engage with the United States and Japan.

Wallace “Chip” Gregson, former assistant secretary of defense and a member of GTI’s Advisory Board, discussed current challenges to the United States conventional deterrence posture vis-à-vis China’s military. Gregson emphasized that any attempt to deter must be comprehensive and unwavering, despite accusations from Beijing that such deterrents are overly “aggressive.” Asia hosts two primary US bases: South Korea’s combined forces command with a highly interoperable and consistent presence focused on rapid mobility against hostile forces from North Korea; and the US base in Japan with similar presence but further-removed from enemy combatants and generally not as interoperable. Additionally, Gregson made the point that the US still has not countered China’s militarization of the South China Sea.

Another major blow to regional affairs, according to Gregson, is China’s stab at democracy in Hong Kong. Beijing is showing that it is willing to confront Taiwan if needed. The United States must involve itself in the region to stop any more expansion and aggression. Should it fail to do so, it would continue to lose the information war that is used by authoritarian regimes to justify their actions. Gregson recommended that the US deliver a coherent message about its resolve and defense of human rights to counter Beijing’s information war. Concerning conventional deterrence, Gregson made a crucial point that the United States should invest in deep strike capabilities to counter China’s long-range missiles and begin to close the “missile gap.” Finally, he recommended that the US implement INDOPACOM’s “Regain the Advantage” plan, which is centered on investing in capabilities that specifically target China and working closely with regional allies to increase interoperability.

Stephen Young, a former US diplomat of over 33 years and a member of GTI’s Advisory Board, maintained that he was surprised by China’s recent movements to undermine democratic progress in Hong Kong and overturn the previous promises of Deng Xiaoping. Young made a compelling argument that Xi Jinping is possibly attempting to manufacture a crisis in order to boost the economy or impress major elites within his party. Should Xi continue to feel such pressure, he may see an attack on Taiwan as viable. Conversely, Young contended that Chinese aggression has, and will continue to, embolden Taiwanese resistance, further decreasing the odds of a peaceful resolution. He highlighted Trump and his successors’ approaches to both Taiwan and Hong Kong. Although previous presidents were generally quieter toward Taiwan, new scenarios require different support measures for both Taiwan and Hong Kong. Young wrapped up his final point by expressing his certainty that China’s stock is down, while Taiwan’s is up amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The panel then turned to a discussion, starting with Hsiao asking about the recent US National Defense Authorization Act and its possible requirements on cooperation with Taiwan. Klinck responded by saying the status quo in the Taiwan Strait is changing and requires a new US approach. The PRC has taken measures to shift the balance of power, and the US will need to respond accordingly. Responding to a question on Pacific Deterrence Initiative, Gregson called for a sense of urgency to adapt to the new status quo. He said that a Pacific Deterrence Initiative would require a fundamental change in doctrine and how the US employs its hardware and recommended a move toward more decentralized operations.

Another question involved the possibility of Xi feeling emboldened by Hong Kong and acting more aggressively toward Taiwan. Young pointed out that Taiwan is still able to inflict pain on China if it attempted to invade and has a geographic advantage. Similarly, Cole stated that Xi and Chinese leaders are rationally thinking about the costs and benefits of taking such an action. The final question focused on American expectations of its allies in supporting Taiwan. Young mentioned that many countries are increasing their relations short of actual diplomatic recognition. Gregson said that the US needs to create a platform where it and allies can speak freely about human rights and the rule of law. Cole concluded the discussion by saying that larger countries should understand they can interact with Taiwan and withstand diplomatic pressure.

This summary was written by GTI Summer 2020 Intern Joseph Ross.

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