In a call to Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) 10 days after his inauguration, US President Barack Obama promised cooperation between the two powerhouses and expressed hopes of building more constructive relations. Only by maintaining a positive and balanced relationship with the US and China can our government ensure that Taiwan’s best national interests are met.
In a briefing, the White House spokesperson said that although the two leaders discussed a wide range of issues, the main topic was the global financial crisis. China is the US government’s largest creditor and its economic strength and huge foreign exchange reserves have led the EU and the US to see China as the main guard against the financial tsunami. In their conversation, it was made clear that US-China relations are vital for both countries.
China plays a significant role in the US government’s economic and financial policies. However, there is a difference in how Obama and Hu protect their interests. While Obama stressed the need to correct global trade imbalances and stimulate economic growth and restore credit markets, Hu opposed trade and investment protectionism as ways of solving the crisis.
Although Obama expects the Chinese government to help stabilize the global economy with responsible policies, Hu, who is concerned about maintaining China’s steady economic growth, worries that US protectionism could make a comeback.
Relations between big countries are intricate. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s remarks in a Senate confirmation hearing that China manipulates its currency drew harsh criticism from the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and angered Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶), who told the World Economic Forum in Davos that the US was responsible for the global economic crisis. Even if the Obama administration includes experts in Chinese affairs, any slip in the handling of US-China relations can have an adverse impact.
How the US and China handle their economic and trade relations will also indirectly affect the prospects of Taiwanese businesspeople in China as well as the nation’s economic cooperation agreement with China.
Media have reported that Obama and Hu seemed to avoid discussing human rights, religion and Taiwan. This might lead pessimists to assume that the Obama administration will not pay sufficient attention to relations with Taiwan or stand up for US founding values, such as democracy and freedom.
But those concerned about Taiwan-US relations should keep two key points in mind. First, the US and China are big countries with global clout, and cross-strait issues are not always the primary concern in their complex web of relationships on the global, regional and bilateral level.
Second, Obama’s conversation with Hu focused on the most pressing issues between the two countries. Having Taiwan as a focal point of US-China relations for the past 13 years has not necessarily been a blessing for the Taiwanese public or the nation’s interests.
There is now an opportunity for a thaw in cross-strait relations, and this also sets the conditions for restoring mutual trust in Taiwan-US relations. Taiwan’s government and opposition should prioritize the interests and well-being of the public and strive for sustainable economic development to create a healthy, win-win-win situation for the US, China and Taiwan early in Obama’s presidency.