Healthy U.S.-Taiwan Ties Need Continuity

Given the importance for Taiwan of its relationship with the U.S., a pending change in administration in Washington always sets off intense speculation on the island as to what to expect from the incoming American government. This year, with Joe Biden about to replace Donald Trump in the White House, there has been even more conjecture than usual.

Trump, after all, famously took a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen before even being sworn in. And his administration went on to adopt a series of measures designed to bolster Taiwan’s defense and strengthen the overall bilateral relationship. Among these steps were a record level of weapons sales, including 66 F-16V fighter jets; the dispatch to Taiwan of the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit since 1979 (Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar); and the recent inaugural meeting of a high-level U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Dialogue.

Will this same concern for Taiwan be evident in the Biden administration? The indications so far are promising. The President-elect’s appointment to key foreign policy positions – such as Antony Blinken as Secretary of State and Jake Sullivan to be National Security Advisor – are experienced, highly regarded professionals, and to Taiwan they are known quantities. President Tsai met Blinken in Washington in 2015 when she was a Presidential candidate, and she met Sullivan in 2018 when he visited Taipei as part of a think tank delegation. (The group also called at the AmCham office).

More to the point, the forces drawing the U.S. and Taiwan closer together are ones that any U.S. administration – whether Democratic or Republican – are likely to find compelling. Discussing this trend at a recent virtual panel discussion, Bonnie Glaser, a prominent Washington, D.C.-based expert on Chinese foreign and security policy, described the current period as one of “significant convergence between Taiwan and U.S. interests.” A major factor in that convergence is the U.S. determination to restructure global tech supply chains to make them more secure, with recognition that Taiwan and its well-established tech sector constitute a natural ally in that effort.

In addition, public opinion in the U.S. has shown increasing dissatisfaction with China over a host of issues: Beijing’s trade and IPR abuses, suppression of the Uighur minority, crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, and lack of transparency in the early days of COVID-19, allowing the virus to spread. Amid deteriorating U.S.-China relations, American willingness to engage with Taiwan increases.

Further, the Biden team can be expected to pay more heed than its immediate predecessors did to Taiwan’s achievements in democratic practices, human rights, and the rule of law.

The incoming U.S. administration will have numerous priority issues to tackle, but AmCham encourages it to maintain the current momentum in deepening U.S.-Taiwan ties. In particular, we hope that next year will see resumption of long-stalled Trade and Investment Framework Agreement consultations (TIFA talks), leading to preparations for negotiating a Bilateral Trade Agreement. We also look forward to additional cooperation through the U.S.-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Dialogue in the areas of supply chains, cybersecurity, semiconductor technology, and other opportunities for genuine partnership.