The US and Taiwan are going through a very uncertain period. Both are dealing with very difficult economic problems. In addition, the US faces a tight election, and Taiwan has a new government that is focused on working with China. The future of the US-Taiwan relationship is not as clear as in the past.
The US is suffering economic mayhem that has government officials and banking organizations struggling with enormous debt. It has established an unusual group made up of the executive branch — the president and senior economic members of the administration — and Congress.
Problems such as these usually take weeks or months, if not longer, to solve. On issues so complicated and wide-ranging, it is difficult for Congress to clear executive requests quickly. It is even more difficult when the administration and the Congress are not under one party’s control.
Last week, quite unusually, Congress gave the head of the Treasury the authority to refinance two major mortgage organizations. As all this unfolds, the two presidential candidates, though mindful of the rapidly unfolding crisis, will continue campaigning. The many differences between them on a wide set of problems will continue, to be sure, but it is their differences on economic problems that will be key.
Recent US presidential elections have been very close, and this is likely to be the case again this year. In Congressional elections, most media outlets seem to believe the Democrats will win more seats. That might determine the extent of reform on economic issues now in the spotlight.
While the US has problems of a global magnitude, Taiwan’s issues are no less important.
Although it is a democracy, voters are polarized on what their country should be. Despite this, it is an advanced nation, with internationally acknowledged high-tech capabilities. However, Taiwan’s lack of international acceptance puts it under constant pressure to change.
Conflict between the two main political parties continues. The Democratic Progressive Party attempted over eight years to fortify the idea that Taiwan is a separate, sovereign state, but when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) returned to power earlier this year, the focus changed toward a closer relationship with China.
Agreements have been signed on charter flights between Taiwan and China and increasing numbers of Chinese visitors are being allowed into Taiwan, but neither has helped the economy. There will be more meetings in the months ahead between the two sides, but despite Taiwan’s efforts, little is heard from China. In addition, there is nothing that suggests Beijing will soften its line on obstructing international participation for Taiwan, even in isolated cases.
Then there is the relationship with the US. Many think Taiwan’s new government will continue to improve relations with China. Inevitably, this will substantially influence Taiwan and changes in this relationship could affect US relations.
In recent years, Taiwan, the US and China have seen many changes in their relationships. The US has had problems in the Middle East and is now battling an economic crisis. Taiwan, meanwhile, has had problems with the US and China.
The US will have to spend time rearranging its economy and may have to continue to focus on the Middle East, therefore persisting in its habit of paying less attention to other world issues.
Taiwan, meanwhile, will likely spend much of its efforts determining how to relate to China while continuing to work on closer relationships with other countries.
Nat Bellocchi is a former chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan and a special adviser to the Liberty Times Group. The views expressed in this article are his own.
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