New administration must not turn its back on Taiwan
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As the world watches Donald Trump sworn in as the 45th president of the United States in Washington, America’s allies in the Asia-Pacific are particularly concerned about the possibility of U.S. disengagement from the region. Taipei watches Trump's inauguration with bewilderment and unease and fears it seems that many Americans are content that Taiwan is caught in the middle as Trump brought the One China policy back into the political limelight. And Beijing is unhappy that President TrumpDonald John TrumpCorsi sues Mueller for alleged leaks and illegal surveillance Comey: Trump 'certainly close' to being unindicted co-conspirator Trump pushes back on reports that Ayers was first pick for chief of staff MORE wants to negotiate the status of Taiwan. Amid renewed interest in assessing cross-Strait relations, the question remains how the latest developments may impact Taiwan itself.  

If the Trump administration is serious about maintaining economic and military strategic advantage in the Asia-Pacific region, it must strengthen ties with one of the most economically liberal and democratic nations in the region, Taiwan. Building a more robust and diversified relationship with Taiwan is reflective of U.S. broader approach to the Asia-Pacific; this relationship also advances many of America's economic and security interests in the region.     
 
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So why should the Trump administration care about Taiwan and why does it matter? First and foremost, through a robust unofficial relationship that demonstrates the importance of shared democratic values and deep economic linkages. Absent partnerships with Taiwan, the United States would have no real presence across the Asia-Pacific. In such an instance, China would quickly move to fill the vacuum and establish its own Sino-centric order in Asia-Pacific.     
 
Turning to the subject of Taiwan-U.S. economic and trade relations, Taiwan is committed to fostering free trade and the rules-based liberal international order that the United States created and benefits from the most. The U.S.-Taiwan relationship is so interlocked. For example, over 600 Taiwan companies currently have set up operations in the United States and already create 500,000 jobs in the United States annually through trade and investment, according to a 2013 study. Bilateral trade between the U.S. and Taiwan reached $66.6 billion in 2015, making Taiwan the United States' 9th largest trading partner.     
 
Taiwan and the U.S. share such common values as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law and a market-based economy. Over the past decades, both sides have enjoyed a robust relationship spanning commerce, culture and other areas of mutual interest. The U.S. Congress had “long championed” a strong relationship with Taiwan and had pressed successive administrations to fulfill their obligation to sell defensive arms to Taiwan. Taiwan’s democracy is incredibly important to the region as a guidepost for other nations to follow. The U.S. must remain fully and firmly committed to the TRA and the “six assurances” and that Taiwan is a major ally, friend and security partner of the United States.
 
Taiwan must have the capability to defend itself from aggression from China whether of a political, economic or military nature, and it is critical that both Taiwan and China know America's commitment to Taiwan has not wavered one bit. The one thing that will make armed conflict more likely is weakness, thus it is very important for both Taiwan and the U.S. to build up their military forces. Taiwan faces an unrelenting threat from China, which has about 1,600 ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. As long as Taiwan and the U.S. are strong, I don’t think China will ever take any overt military action.
 
China has been bullying Taiwan for many years now. It is unfortunate that China doesn’t follow Taiwan as an example of a free and democratic society. Although Taiwan enjoys de facto independence, China’s ultimate goal is to take over Taiwan, to annex it. The U.S. president absolutely cannot let that happen. The Taiwan Strait continues to be one of the most dangerous flash points on the globe. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan realized that Taiwan needed reassurance that it would not be abandoned.
 
The Taiwan Strait is a ticking time bomb and this is a delicate and dangerous time for Taiwan. The Taiwanese people seem ever more determined to chart their own destiny distinct from China. China authorities are determined that reunification will take place at some point, and their patience is not inexhaustible. It’s hard to see how this turns out well, and unless the United States extricates itself from this increasingly dangerous commitment, it will be one of the casualties when the time bomb explodes.
 
As a dynamic and long-time U.S. ally devoted to regional peace and stability, Taiwan is a true partner with whom we share great mutual economic and political interests. Taiwan is quietly carving out a role as a component of the region’s security architecture. The Trump administration must take a close look at Taiwan’s role within the region and how it can cooperate on security matters and help strengthen America's regional leadership. Using the One China policy and Taiwan as a bargaining chip is no way to counter Beijing’s belligerence and would be a tragic mistake to America’s interests.
 
Kent Wang is a research fellow at the Institute for Taiwan-America Studies who publishes frequently on the Taiwan issue in Sino-American relations, as well as other topics on East Asian international politics and regional security.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.