President Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress was closely watched around the world, given that his pronouncements on foreign policy have caused alarm and confusion. Amid the seeming softer tone on America's role in the world and the dramatic shift from his campaign rhetoric, analysts seem unable to make up their minds: Either Mr. Trump is upending America’s traditional postwar priorities or accommodating conventional wisdom. There were, however, few details on affirm America's "One-China" policy to clear up misconceptions. How can Trump administration reach out to China to affirm America's "One-China" policy and how can peace in the Taiwan Strait be realized? The question is what role the United States will play.
The relations between Beijing and Taipei have rapidly deteriorated since Tsai Ing-wen was inaugurated as the island’s first female president last May. Amid an overall aggravation of great-power rivalries in East Asia, President Trump will have to tread carefully and steer a cautious course between Beijing and Taipei. A deliberate strategy to handle the United States-Taiwan-China trilateral equation is generally welcomed because it would send a strong message to U.S. allies.
Trade is crucial. Bilateral trade between the U.S. and Taiwan reached $67.4 billion in 2016, making Taiwan the United States' 9th largest trading partner. Building a more robust and diversified relationship with Taiwan is reflective of a U.S. broader approach to the Asia-Pacific; this relationship also advances many of America's economic and security interests in the region. If Trump’s administration is serious about affirming the America’s “One China” policy and 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.
Trump’s affirmation of America’s “One China” policy avoids one U.S.-China pitfall, but that still leaves the issue of how to build on his landmark phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai. Washington has several tools to boost ties with Taiwan as a democratic and strategic partner. U.S. diplomats could consider giving Taiwan more help at forums such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the World Health Organization, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Police Organization, where China wants to freeze out Taiwanese representatives.
The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act commits the U.S. to helping Taiwan defend itself, including the sale of defensive weapons. The law also called for more cooperation in threat analysis, force planning, intelligence and joint training. In 2012 the U.S. considered inviting Taiwan to the multinational Red Flag air combat exercise in Nevada but decided against it for fear of angering Beijing. The Trump administration could set arms sales on a more stable course by reinstating annual meetings to discuss the island’s needs. Furthermore, U.S. Cabinet officials could visit Taiwan, and their Taiwanese counterparts should have dignified and reliable access to officials in Washington.
Amid global and regional economic and security changes, the U.S.-Taiwan alliance remains critically important to both countries’ national interests. A stable democracy, thriving market economy, and unique geographic position make Taiwan a highly attractive investment market, especially for U.S. companies. The United States is the second largest source of foreign investment in Taiwan, cumulative investing $23.7 billion as of September 2016 with 6,043 investment projects. At the same time, Taiwanese investment in the United States totaled 5,395 cases with a value of $14.45 billion, making the United States the second-largest destination of Taiwan outward investment.
The United States and Taiwan have a long-standing and vibrant trade relationship. Taiwan is a top-10 destination for U.S. agricultural and food exports. The United States is the largest source of foreign direct investment in Taiwan, cumulatively investing $23 billion as of January 2014. The time is right for the U.S. to proceed with exploratory consultations with Taiwan on the feasibility of a bilateral investment agreement (BIA). The TIFA, signed in 1994, provides the primary mechanism for trade dialogue between the United States and Taiwan authorities to expand trade and investment links and deepen cooperation. Trade and investment relations between the U.S. and Taiwan have always been close. Thus Washington should launch the negotiation of a BIA with Taipei in the near future. A BIA would serve as the beginning of a more robust and comprehensive economic relationship between U.S.-Taiwan.
The U.S. should seriously consider the benefits to be gained from greater economic integration with Taiwan. The American Chamber of Commerce in Taipei recently has urged the U.S. government to start negotiations with Taiwan on a BIA. Progress in the TIFA talks to remove trade barriers. Taiwan deserves consideration to become a BIA partner. Negotiating a BIA would be an effective way to address non-tariff barriers to trade and investment and to spur more investment in both directions. The U.S. asset management companies, which have already established a promising market in Taiwan, could have much to gain from BIA provisions. The U.S. government officials and lawmakers must support the launch of such talks as a step toward eventual can conclude a BIA to further regularize its extensive business exchanges.
China has been bullying Taiwan for many years. Although Taiwan enjoys de facto independence, China’s ultimate goal is to annex Taiwan. The U.S. President absolutely cannot let that happen. As a dynamic and long-time U.S. ally devoted to regional peace and stability, 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 Taiwan as a bargaining chip is no way to counter Beijing’s belligerence and would be a tragic mistake to America’s interests.
The president made his case for tougher trade deals in his primetime speech to Congress. If Trump really wanted to get tough with China on trade, he should take advantage of the benefits Taiwan can offer, as the island nation could have enhanced Trump’s China position. Unlike China, Taiwan has developed into an established democracy. It has a robust civil society with a healthy and free independent media. By almost all measures, the self-governing democratic island outperforms the communist-ruled mainland. Had Trump considered these remarkable achievements of Taiwan, he could have been in a better position to deal with Beijing.
As a final note, Taiwan is a full-fledged democracy that shares with the United States such common values as freedom, democracy, respect for human rights, rule of law, and a market-based economy. It is also an important trading partner and export market for the U.S. in almost every major sector. The Trump administration must continue to keep China at bay and forge stronger ties with Taiwan, bringing prosperity and peace to the Asia Pacific.
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 this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.