During the last few weeks, the US presidential candidates have been debating and setting out their positions on important issues. In doing so, their views on both domestic and foreign policies have become clearer.
But they have said little about Taiwan. In fact, former American Institute in Taiwan director Raymond Burghardt has pointed out that none of the candidates has voiced an opinion on Taiwan and probably won't. In other words, Taiwan is not going to be an issue in the coming US election.
Not exactly true. While the candidates have not set forth a position on the "Taiwan issue," it is possible to glean something about their stances. They have talked about Taiwan before and one can guess how each might treat Taiwan as president.
As a general assumption, Republican candidates are better for Taiwan than Democrats. Most republican candidates see China as a military challenge or even a threat to the US and therefore view a separate Taiwan as an asset to the US. They are thus more likely to defend Taiwan in the event that China employs military force to seize it.
Democratic candidates as a whole are anti-war and don't favor the use of the military. The last Democrat to run for president, Senator John Kerry, said he would not, if elected, order the US military into action to defend Taiwan.
Democratic candidates are tougher on China on economic issues. They want to pressure China to revalue the yuan and advocate tariffs or other punitive means to fix the huge trade deficit the US has with China, which exceeded US$300 billion last year.
But economic sanctions against China would also hurt Taiwan since a large portion of China's exports come from Taiwan-owned or run companies there.
Democrats generally don't seem to mind. They don't heed the views of many economists that the US trade deficit cannot be corrected by China revaluing its currency or by tariffs and that the US instead needs to increase savings and investment and cut taxes and regulations. Their policies are essentially protectionist, which would be harmful to the global economy upon which Taiwan depends.
In contrast, Republicans advocate free trade and would deal with China's trade offensive on a case-by-case basis -- for example, dealing with China's subsidies and violations of intellectual property rights each as an issue itself or by trying to strengthen the US economy and export more.
Among Democrats, Senator Hillary Clinton would probably be best for Taiwan. She has taken a harder stance toward China on various issues, though noticeably more on economic ones. She has been a strong critic of human rights abuses in China and more supportive of the use of US military power.
Senator Barack Obama doesn't have much of a record on US China and Taiwan issues. Recently, in a speech in Congress, he said he favors a peaceful resolution of Taiwan issue and opposes a unilateral change in the status quo. The former has long been US policy. The latter seems almost a quote from US President George W. Bush. Obama has sounded tough on China on economic issues, but has not been specific.
Former senator John Edwards would probably be the worst Democratic candidate for Taiwan. He is the furthest left on the political spectrum and talks more strongly against the use of US military force than other Democrats. Presumably, like Kerry before him, he may choose not to use US forces to protect Taiwan.