Coming to power in January, the administration of US President Joe Biden inherited from that of his predecessor, Donald Trump, several domestic and foreign policy challenges, including deplorable economic conditions, unpredictable US foreign policy and others.
However, ties with Taiwan reached a new height under Trump. While other countries expect a shift in US foreign policy, Taiwan hopes to intensify cooperation with Washington under the Biden administration.
This hope was bolstered by the presence of Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) at Biden’s inauguration.
Subsequently, the US announced that it would ease decades-old restrictions on official engagements with Taiwan.
The Biden administration has said that the US’ support for Taiwan is rock solid and called for a more formal commitment to protecting the nation’s independent identity.
A visit by three US senators to Taiwan and the announcement that the US would give Taiwan 750,000 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have indicated continuity in the US’ approach toward Taiwan.
At the same time, Washington’s decision to bolster the Trump administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy also assumes high significance for Taiwan, especially when China’s assertive posturing against the nation has significantly increased.
In this context, there is a larger question facing the US about its commitment to providing a security net to Taiwan in the case of an attack by China. While some strategy experts say that the US’ strategic ambiguity is good for Taiwan, as it allows the US to continue building up pressure on China, others believe that Washington should openly support Taiwan vis-a-vis Beijing.
Whatever might be the compulsion for the US to pursue the policy of strategic ambiguity about protecting Taiwan’s independence, the fact remains that an existential crisis of Taiwan could not be seen as a minor or isolated regional development.
The disappearance of Taiwan as an independent nation would not only embolden China’s imperialist ambition, the liberal system that Taiwan represents in every possible meaning would also come under the threat of Chinese communism.
These structural challenges with regard to the existence of Taiwan as a flourishing democratic nation require a structural overhaul of US foreign policy.
To begin with, while a strong component of China’s bullying behavior is its economic power and control over regional supply chains through its extensive economic ties in Asia and beyond, the Biden administration should develop a compatible, predictable and strong supply chain as a part of its Indo-Pacific strategy to reduce China’s dominance.
In doing so, efforts should be made to include Taiwan into such an economic grouping. This, in turn, would yield two important outcomes: First, Taiwan’s economic ties with other countries would increase, eventually facilitating the way for the nation to become an integral part of the Asia-Pacific regional and global economic system. Second, the world would benefit from Taiwan’s expertise in critical economic shapers.
It is also quite disturbing to see that Taiwan’s entry to major international institutions has been blocked at the behest of China.
For instance, the absence of Taiwan in the UN Human Rights Council not only speaks volumes about the prevailing inequality at the high global table, the world is also at the disadvantage of not benefiting from Taiwan’s success stories about its commitment to promoting and protecting human rights within its borders.
Of course, while Taiwan’s success in containing the COVID-19 pandemic has brought it global praise, efforts have also been taken to include Taiwan in the WHO.
At the same time, while the US has continually provided military hardware to Taiwan, it has taken efforts to foster ties with regional powers and other countries to bolster Taiwan’s security.
It was precisely in this context that a joint statement issued during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga to the US talked about the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.
Taiwan once again appeared in talks between Suga and US Navy Admiral John Aquilino, the commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command.
Admittedly, it would be premature to draw conclusions from these developments. However, what can be inferred is the willingness of the US and Japan to come together in support of Taiwan.
While India has accelerated bilateral engagement with Taiwan, a meeting between Japanese and Australian officials on Wednesday last week underscored the importance of peace and stability in the Strait.
The next logical step should therefore be the inclusion of Taiwan into the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the US, India, Australia and Japan.
After all, Taiwan’s strategic location gives it a vital role in ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and beyond.
While the Biden administration has indicated that it would sustain ties with Taiwan, it will be interesting to observe how the course of the bilateral engagement unfolds in the coming months.
Sumit Kumar is a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs visiting fellow at National Chengchi University and a post-doctoral fellow at the Indian Council of Social Science Research.
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