Asia foreign-policy experts said that Taiwan-US relations under US president-elect Donald Trump’s administration would likely remain close.
Conservative US think tank the Heritage Foundation met in Washington on Friday to discuss post-election Taiwan-US relations. Frank Januzzi, a former adviser to US vice president Joe Biden, Gordon Chang (章家敦), a former China-based lawyer and the author of The Coming Collapse of China, and Dennis Halpin, a former senior professional staff member of the US Foreign Affairs Committee, attended the meeting.
Chang said that while many view Trump as the most important variable in maintaining order in Asia, China is strongly motivated to challenge Trump and would compel him to respond.
Chang said if Beijing takes military action in the Taiwan Strait, Trump would be compelled to assist Taiwan, similar to the situation that former US president Harry Truman faced when his administration was forced to militarily assist South Korea.
Januzzi said that when Trump assumes office, his primary concern is likely to be his own interests, followed by those of his family and then the voters to whom he wishes to appeal, adding that Trump’s ability to shift policies should not be underestimated.
Trump’s “transactional diplomacy” should be of concern, Januzzi said, adding that China has the most bargaining chips where trade is concerned.
Since Beijing has more to offer economically than Taiwan or Japan, the US Congress might play an important role in slowing foreign policy changes, Januzzi said.
Chang said Trump would send troops in defense of Taiwan, despite popular belief that he would not to protect the US’ economic relationship with China.
Trump would not want to be known historically as being one who would “tolerate and nurture an evildoer,” Chang said.
“Taiwanese are tough and resolute in their protection of freedom. For the foreseeable future Taiwan will preserve its independence,” Chang said.
Aside from the US, Japan and India play important regional roles in Asia, Chang said, adding that Asian nations are becoming more open to Japan playing an active leadership role.
Chang said Trump would be unlikely to pull out of Asia, and China cannot become hegemonic even in the absence of the US.
Taiwan has three pillars to rely on for survival: the Taiwan Relations Act, which the Trump administration cannot repeal; Taiwan’s international economic relationships and its lively democratic system, Januzzi said.
Trump is likely to be the first US president to challenge Republican policies on trade, he said.
Even if the US pulls out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP), such a move would not be detrimental to the agreement, as the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership holds little appeal for Japan, he said.
He added that Taiwan and South Korea might be able to join the TPP after changes made by current member states.
Halpin said Taiwan is like West Germany during the Cold War: It is a small island of democracy surrounded by communists.
Former US presidents Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy were among those who were staunch in their support of West Germany during the Cold War era, Halpin said.
Today’s US Republican Party must decide whether it wants to be Reagan-like or Chamberlain-like, Halpin said, referring to former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who was known for his appeasement foreign policy.
Halpin said there are 216 representatives in the US House of Representatives, including four cochairs who are in support of Taiwan, adding that one is a Cuban whose background resisting communists means their support for Taiwan is particularly strong.
Taiwan should strengthen its relationship with the US and discuss bilateral trade agreements, Halpin said, adding that the two sides should cooperate on the “new southbound policy,” which aims to bolster economic ties with India and Southeast Asian nations.
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