As newly inaugurated President Joseph R. Biden Jr. took office last month, many questions remained about what direction U.S.-Taiwan relations would take under his leadership. While Biden and his Cabinet picks did espouse strong support for Taiwan policy during his presidential campaign, most observers agree that the opening months of his presidency will mostly be focused on pressing domestic issues, such as the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice.
Understandably, there is apprehension among some in Taiwan as to whether the efforts during the Trump administration to strengthen the U.S. relationship with Taiwan are likely to continue. Legislation such as the Taiwan Travel Act, TAIPEI Act, and Taiwan Assurance Act, as well as the State Department’s decision to publicize the Six Assurances made by President Ronald Reagan and its lifting of longstanding restrictions on official communication, inarguably changed bilateral ties for the better.
One thing that is certain, however, is that the prevailing view of Taiwan in Washington has noticeably shifted. Support for Taiwan has always been bipartisan, but there is now a renewed emphasis on the island’s significance to the U.S. and on the economic and political values and democratic worldview the two partners share.
Nowhere was this political attitude more evident than in the State Department-led Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue (EPPD), conducted both virtually and in person in Washington, D.C. last November. At an AmCham luncheon in January, Deputy Minister of Economic Affairs C.C. Chen, who led the Taiwan delegation to the EPPD, posited that establishment of the platform was as significant as a free trade agreement with the U.S. in that it represented a consensus among government, academia, and businesses that Taiwan is an invaluable partner.
Turning that consensus into tangible benefits, though, will require further efforts. Chen noted that for years, major multinationals from the U.S. and elsewhere have viewed Taiwan solely through the lens of their business in China. “Greater China,” the designation long used by corporations to group China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan into one overarching market as a way of managing their Asia-Pacific activities, in effect minimized Taiwan’s importance in the regional supply chain. It also diminished the corporate attention and resources that Taiwan deserves.
The Greater China grouping is sometimes also found in government organizations. Inclusion of Taiwan in the same section as China and Mongolia at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, for example, tends to result in less attention for Taiwan affairs. Chen argued that not only is there no such entity as “Greater China,” but also that continuing to use this concept is misleading and impractical in light of current geopolitical and economic developments.
From an industry perspective, bringing Taiwan out of the “Greater China” framework would give it more visibility and sway in working toward the critical economic agreements from which it has long been excluded, thereby enhancing its trade and investment relationship with the U.S. In other words, treating Taiwan as a singular entity is good for business.
American policy toward Taiwan should be based on the merits and not merely be a subset of broader China policy – and the language used to refer to Taiwan in an official or business context should accurately reflect that stance. As developments over the past several years have given Taiwan new prominence in the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific strategy, the time has passed for Taiwan to be viewed as part of “Greater China.”