US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy on China and the Indo-Pacific region will have huge repercussions for Taiwan.
The US Department of State in the final weeks of former US president Donald Trump’s term took several actions clearly aimed to push Biden’s foreign policy to build on Trump’s achievements. Former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s announcement on the final day of the Trump administration that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was committing “genocide and crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang was welcome, but comes far too late.
The recent dropping of “self-imposed” restrictions on meetings between Taiwanese and US officials was a natural progression of Trump’s Taiwan policy.
The surprise declassification of Trump’s mostly unredacted 2018 US Strategic Framework for the Indo-Pacific — which was not due until 2042 — has been interpreted as an attempt to encourage continuity.
The overall thrust of the policy laid out in the framework is to strengthen India and encourage other regional allies to engage with security roles, to help counterbalance China and defend the nations of the first island chain — including Taiwan.
What stands out is the clear focus on military, security and intelligence tools to contain China’s ambitions. The document shows that even Trump’s hawkish policy was a step back from an ambition to seek primacy in the region, and instead aimed to foster an integrated security framework of like-minded allies and form an ecology conducive to US interests.
There are definite signs that Biden intends to follow the basic trajectory of Trump’s policy in the region, albeit in a more sophisticated, multilateral form.
Beijing-based Tsinghua University Institute of International Relations dean Yan Xuetong (閻學通) said that China would find it much more difficult to deal with this approach than Trump’s blunt, unilateral one.
Anthony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for secretary of state, in his confirmation hearing in the US Senate on Tuesday highlighted the importance of the Indo-Pacific region and said that he agreed with Pompeo’s designation of the genocide in Xinjiang. He also said that Trump had been right to take a harder stance on China, although he did not agree with his methods.
While his answer on the need to protect Taiwan was measured, merely noting that the Biden administration would abide by the bipartisan agreement on responsibilities toward Taiwan laid out in the US’ Taiwan Relations Act, Blinken said that the CCP’s use of force against Taiwan “would be a grievous mistake on their part.” This sentiment was echoed by Lloyd Austin, Biden’s nominee for secretary of defense.
Biden’s pick of Kurt Campbell as the US National Security Council’s Indo-Pacific coordinator is particularly interesting, not least because the role is new. Campbell was the main driver of former US president Barack Obama’s Asia pivot — a policy largely regarded in Southeast Asia as having been wonderful in practice, woeful in implementation and derailed by his successor’s bull-in-a-China-shop approach — but re-enters the fray in a much changed context.
In an opinion article published in Foreign Affairs on Tuesday last week, Campbell stressed the importance of regional stability based on order, mutual trust, alliance building, balance of power, and universally accepted legitimacy of the established order and national sovereignty, with inclusion as the best context in which to sanction errant actors.
He wrote that it is better to persuade China to engage productively and for other countries to jointly devise penalties if it “threatens the larger order.”
This more inclusive approach, relying not on strength against one actor, but mutual trust, legitimacy and order to secure regional stability, is what Biden has referred to in the past few months as the “secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”
Taiwan can play an important role in this framework, and benefit greatly from it.
When Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping (習近平) wakes up one morning and decides that his People’s Liberation Army (PLA) can win a war to conquer Taiwan, that is when his war will begin. To ensure that Xi never gains that confidence it is now necessary for the United States to shed any notions of “forbearance” in arms sales to Taiwan. Largely because they could guarantee military superiority on the Taiwan Strait, US administrations from Jimmy Carter to Barack Obama practiced “forbearance” — pre-emptive limitation of arms sales to Taiwan — in hopes of gaining diplomatic leverage with Beijing. President Ronald
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