Taiwan fears loss in US help as Trump booted from workplace | China

As Joe Biden neared victory in the US presidential election, concerns began to grow in Taiwan about what the Democratic candidate’s presidency could mean for the self-governing island.

President Tsai Ing-wen went to Facebook to raise the issue and told supporters, “Regardless of the outcome of the general election, these transactions will not change and we will continue to deepen Taiwan-US relations on that basis.”

This is because U.S. President Donald Trump – who has yet to admit defeat – is remarkably popular with Taiwanese, largely because of his willingness to support the territory in the face of an increasingly assertive China claiming the territory as its own.

The tone of U.S.-Taiwan relations changed almost from the start of the Trump presidency, when he broke with tradition and answered a congratulatory phone call from Tsai after his inauguration in 2016. The move enraged China, whose Communist Party has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan and weakened the island’s formal diplomatic allies with just a handful of small states.

Relations between the US and Taiwan have grown since the phone call between Tsai and Trump in 2016.

The US Congress in 2017 passed the Taiwan Travel Act, which encouraged closer ties between US and Taiwanese officials through official visits and paved the way for US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s groundbreaking trip earlier this year. Azar was the highest-ranking US official to visit Taiwan in 40 years.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar met in Taipei in August with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, the top U.S. official to have visited the island for decades [Taiwan Presidential Office/Handout via Reuters]During Trump’s four-year tenure, Washington also sold $ 15 billion worth of weapons to Taiwan and approved an additional $ 7 billion in September – a cache that includes drones, fighter jets and cruise missiles.

Competitor or threat

The US’s growing support for Taiwan comes against the backdrop of deteriorating relations with China as the two powers clash on a number of issues including trade, the coronavirus pandemic and Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong and far west Xinjiang.

While some say Trump used Taiwan merely as a negotiating tool for his relations with China, many Taiwanese were delighted with Trump’s militant stance on Beijing.

The president made China the focus of his re-election bid, blaming it for the COVID-19 pandemic that killed more than a million people worldwide, most of them in the United States. However, Biden referred to China as a “competitor” rather than a “threat” like Russia is on the road, and many Taiwanese now fear that a Biden presidency at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping has spoken out will mean a more conciliatory White House could be the specter of the armed forces taking control of the island.

“There is little in Biden’s campaign rhetoric or party platform that tells us how his government will deal with democratic Taiwan or the increasingly threatening totalitarian China,” said Kerry K Gershaneck, visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan, associate professor at the University of the Canberra Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis.

“Nobody from the campaign would give political details, although his campaign put a very general statement of support for Taiwan online at the last minute under great pressure.”

As a presidential candidate, Biden published a comment in The World Journal, the largest-circulation Chinese-language newspaper in the United States, promising to “further deepen our relationship with Taiwan, a leading democracy, a big economy, a technology powerhouse – and a Shining example of how an open society can effectively contain COVID-19. “

Gershaneck expressed concern over Washington’s Taiwan policy if Biden were to select a team of advisors similar to those who served during the Obama administration. Some critics believe that arms sales to Taiwan were delayed and largely stood by when China stepped up military activities in the South China Sea.

“The Politburo is not losing sleep,” said Gershaneck.

William A Stanton, the former director of the American Institute of Taiwan, the de facto US embassy, ​​said it was still difficult to say how Biden would handle Taiwan as he hadn’t announced his cabinet yet.

“You have to look carefully at the people he appoints and their backgrounds … Personnel is often a policy,” he said.

Hardening mood

However, Stanton and other experts noted that the attitude of both Congress and the American public towards China has shifted in favor of Taiwan over the past four years.

Congress passed the 2019 TAIPEI Act and improved the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which guaranteed continued U.S. support for Taiwan even after Washington severed ties with Taipei, seat of the Republic of China, in favor of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing .

While the US formally supports the one-China policy, which claims that there is only one China that includes Taiwan, the Taiwan Relations Act establishes the US as Taiwan’s greatest guarantor of security.

Both Houses have introduced bipartisan bills calling on Washington to advocate Taiwan’s observer status with the World Health Organization (WHO) and passed symbolic bills reaffirming U.S. commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act while House Republicans show their support for the planned invasion of HR 7855 in Taiwan have done Prevention Act.

In October, the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan American think tank, found that 77 percent of Americans surveyed had no confidence in Xi after a similar public trend in countries like Australia, France, Japan, and Germany.

The US has approved the sale of increasingly sophisticated weapons to Taiwan, including the MQ-9 Reaper drone shown here in Afghanistan [File: Omar Sobhani/Reuters]Since the US Congress has remained relatively unchanged since the elections – the Republicans have moved eight seats in the House of Representatives to the five seats in the Democrats – the Biden administration will also “deal with the most pro-Taiwanese House and Senate since the 1970s said Natasha Kassam, a research fellow in the diplomacy and public opinion program at the Lowy Institute in Australia.

This suggests the US will maintain its tougher stance on China.

Kassam said concerns about a softer Biden government are largely “probably unfounded” as Biden’s track record has a “history of supporting the Taiwanese fall”. As a US Senator, Biden was the original signatory to the Taiwan Relations Act.

Taiwan, meanwhile, has seen a huge boost in its global publicity by containing COVID-19 at a time when Beijing was under intense scrutiny after the first downtown cases of COVID-19 were handled in Wuhan late last year .

‘Common Values’

“Relations between the US and Taiwan are likely to remain strong largely because Washington’s interests are aligned with Taipei’s interests,” said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia and director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies .

“There are common values ​​and concerns about the growth of Chinese power and the way it is being used. US efforts to strengthen ties with Taiwan may be less public and less visible than under the Trump administration, but they will continue. “

The future of arms sales between Taiwan and the U.S. is less certain, however, after the Trump administration sold Taiwan more arms in four years – valued at $ 15 billion – than the roughly $ 14 billion sold during Obama’s eight-year administration were.

In September, the US announced $ 7 billion in sales, this time moving from so-called symbolic weapons like tanks to much more practical cruise missiles and drones.

It is uncertain whether a similar missile sale that broke with traditional inquiries will take place again. However, AIT’s Stanton said the US military, in particular, has always “been big supporters of Taiwan and many of them have viewed China with skepticism,” said Stanton. “[The military] Realize that Taiwan, as we always said, is the canary in the coal mine. If Taiwan goes, it will happen to our other allies in the region, particularly Japan. “

Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged to modernize Taiwan’s military as China increasingly advocates its claim to the self-governing island [File: Sam Yeh/AFP]Meanwhile, Taipei has hedged its bets, which are largely outside of the US elections, while highlighting the close ties and values ​​of both countries. The State Department posted on Facebook: “Whoever wins the election, # Taiwan- # US relations will continue to go from strength to strength! “

Tsai also tweeted her support to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, saying she looked forward to “working together to advance our friendship and contributions to international society.”

Now it’s my turn to congratulate @JoeBiden & @KamalaHarris on their election as president and elected vice president. The values ​​on which we built our relationship couldn’t be stronger. I look forward to working together to foster our friendship and contributions to international society. https://t.co/xIvit7emjH

– Tsai Ing-wen Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) November 8, 2020

While Tsai likely knows a congratulatory phone call to the newly elected U.S. president is unlikely this time around, Wang Ting-yu, lawmaker and co-chair of the Taiwanese Foreign Affairs and National Defense Committee, said he was largely optimistic.

“Whether Biden or Trump, the American government is our ally and we have a pretty good friendship with both parties. We don’t rely on one person in our national diplomatic relationship. It’s not responsible for our people, ”he said.

“Trump and Biden’s personality and character are very different, however [as for] I don’t think there are that many differences between the Trump administration and the Biden administration. They differ widely on domestic issues, but on foreign issues, diplomatic issues and national security issues, I think they are basically the same. “

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