One of the foreign policies that US President Joe Biden has indicated he would continue and strengthen is the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy, reassuring Washington’s commitment to leading the maintenance of a balance of power against China in the region and beyond.
Undoubtedly, one country that has assumed importance in the Indo-Pacific strategy is Taiwan. The administration of former US president Donald Trump adopted a slew of measures toward transforming ties with Taipei, and the Biden administration has reiterated that it would “support Taiwan, a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner, in line with longstanding American commitments.”
Of course, Taiwan’s security and independence as a country are largely dependent on US policy toward the region. At the same time, in making this assessment, Taiwan’s importance in the success of the India-Pacific strategy equally cannot be ignored. Since global major powers, led by the US, have adopted identical policies toward the Indo-Pacific region, it is imperative for them to ensure the existence of Taiwan for several reasons.
First, one of the major objectives of the strategy is to respect the sovereignty and independence of all nations. Consequently, if the US and other countries do not succeed in protecting Taiwan’s freedom to self-rule, China’s assertive posturing would intensify security concerns for several countries in the region.
Second, while Taiwan is a living example of democratic ideas and values, China is known for its autocratic rule and suppression of freedom. Taiwan’s commitment to democracy, women’s rights, religious freedom and others must be seen as a vital asset in promoting liberal value systems in Asia and other continents. Unfortunately, no efforts have yet been taken to include Taiwan as a part of the liberal international order.
If other powers within the US sphere of influence are truly interested in managing China’s antipathy toward the existing world order, Taiwan’s inclusion in global governing institutions must be considered a priority. As the US Senate has passed a bill asking the Biden administration to formalize strategies to help Taiwan regain its observer status in the WHO, the time has come for the US, India, Japan and the EU to facilitate Taiwan’s UN membership as well.
Third, since the Indo-Pacific strategy aims to promote free, fair and reciprocal trade based on open investment, transparent agreements and connectivity, Taiwan holds the key to the success of this objective, given its track record in implementing rules and regulations in international trade and commerce. Sadly, the US’ exclusion from the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership and its failure to form a comprehensive multilateral economic grouping have emboldened China, and Taiwan continues to face exclusion from the global supply-chain system.
While Taiwan’s exclusion from the global supply chain will in turn hamper its capacity to strengthen its security, it also underscores the need to overhaul the structural problems facing Taiwan’s effective inclusion into international trade and commerce. In this regard, one step that the US, India and other countries should immediately take is to have a free-trade agreement with Taiwan.
Of course, it is heartening to see US Secretary of State Antony Blinken talk about the resumption of the suspended trade dialogue with Taiwan. The US administration should prioritize this issue before it is too late. However, it is not only about the US, other countries should also speed up the process of concluding similar trade agreements with Taiwan.
Fourth, Taiwan’s strategic location allows it to play a pivotal role in promoting freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea. China’s control over Taiwan would enable it to dominate the Pacific region and thus pose security threats to the Philippines, Japan, Guam and Hawaii.
Defense analyst Loren Thompson wrote last year in Forbes: “If Taiwan fell under the sway of Beijing, either peacefully or by force, the strategic balance in the Western Pacific would be irreparably changed. Other nations in the region would see it as the end of US military dominance in the region, and their interpretation would be correct.”
The onus is now on the Biden administration and other governments to take corrective measures enabling Taiwan to contribute to managing peace, security and development in the region and beyond as an integral and sovereign part of the international liberal order.
If the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) nations of the US, Japan, Australia and India, as well as the EU, are truly concerned about Taiwan’s cause, they must give up their half-hearted and guarded policies toward this country. This would send a clear message that the political fiasco in Afghanistan should be seen an isolated development.
For the success of the Indo-Pacific strategy and for the cause of Taiwan’s independence, the Quad countries should make calibrated efforts to foster defense ties and enhance economic relations with Taiwan.
However, the million-dollar question is: Will they act, or only make gestures to appear to be standing with the Heart of Asia — Taiwan?
Sumit Kumar is a former Ministry of Foreign Affairs Visiting Fellow and a post-doctoral fellow at the Indian Council of Social Sciences, New Delhi.
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