Biden wins over Taiwan
Author: Melissa Conley Tyler, INDSR
One of US President Joe Biden’s goals is to show that “America is back” by rebuilding relationships with allies and partners. But he faced an uphill battle in Taiwan where, unlike other parts of Asia, the majority supported Donald Trump.
After the November 2020 election, a quarter of the Taiwanese population was pessimistic about Biden and the “pro-Trump mania” continued with rallies, “stop the theft” campaigns and conspiracy theories surrounding Hunter. Biden. Based on his background and campaign, there was a general concern that Biden was being kind to China. Only 6% of voters in the ruling Progressive Democratic Party in Taiwan believed US-Taiwan relations would improve under Biden.
But interviews with Taiwanese insiders show Biden appealing to them.
Biden made a good impression from day one, inviting Taiwan’s diplomatic representative to his inauguration. The visit to Taiwan of former US Senator Chris Dodd – known to be a close friend of Biden’s – was seen as another reassuring sign.
The confirmation hearings of key appointments were seen as showing a “rock solid” commitment to Taiwan and its international participation. Mentions of the Indo-Pacific in early statements and the Quad Leaders’ Summit were interpreted as showing continuity in the strategic approach of the United States.
A first test was whether the new administration would backtrack on the announcement of the Trump administration’s last breath making all restrictions on official contacts null and void. This has been revised to finalize a new contact policy facilitating liaison between Taiwan and US authorities.
For the first time in 40 years, a sitting US ambassador has visited Taiwan. The United States has publicly helped Taiwan maintain its declining diplomatic partnerships and has continued to support bilateral initiatives such as the United States-Taiwan Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue. There was even an indication that trade deal talks could restart – something that hasn’t budged under Trump.
Ultimately, the Biden administration is seen by Taipei as having “responded quickly and effectively” to Chinese military aggression. Following a major incursion of Chinese military aircraft just after the inauguration, the US State Department immediately issued a clear statement reiterating its support for Taiwan just as a US carrier strike group entered the South China Sea. .
The United States has conducted several rounds of naval patrols passing through the Taiwan Strait and signed a coast guard agreement with Taiwan. Arms sales have continued and are expected to increase in 2021. High-level talks between the United States and China in March in Alaska allayed concerns that Biden would be lenient on China.
The Taiwanese therefore see a lot of continuity but with a more professional and sophisticated team. They like people dealing with Taiwan to be “old hands” who understand Taiwan’s position well. Those worried about Trump’s unpredictability should expect no surprises from a team that has been “united to call out to China in a reasoned and measured manner.” It is increasingly recognized that if some of Trump’s ideas about China were good, his execution was bad and that the Biden administration could provide more opportunities to advance Taiwan’s interests.
The new element Biden can offer is to internationalize the Taiwan Strait issue. As Biden seeks to rebuild his relationship with his partners, he may create broader support for Taiwan as a security concern for the Indo-Pacific. This is something Trump, with his contempt for the allies, would never have done.
Concerns about peace and security in the Taiwan Strait were raised – for the first time – at G7 summits, US-Japan, US-South Korea and Australia-Japan. This approach of “making Taiwan’s voice heard among partners and allies of the United States” is appreciated by an isolated Taiwan who does not want the issue to be seen as something that China and Taiwan must “resolve by themselves.” same ”.
One of the last remaining tests for the Biden administration was access to the vaccine. As Taiwan suffers its first major outbreak of COVID-19, the public has asked for the support of the United States to obtain vaccines. The answer came in June when a Senate delegation traveled to Taiwan to announce that the United States would provide 750,000 doses – in a C-17 military plane, no less.
There are still challenges ahead, such as the desire of the United States to produce semiconductors locally, which has drawbacks for Taiwan’s tech industry. And the limits of the relationship remain, which means Taiwan needs to watch out for wishful thinking and overestimate the level of U.S. support. But it is clear that “both sides have the will to continue building this good relationship down the road.” It’s a big turnaround in just six months.
Melissa Conley Tyler is a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), Taipei, funded by a fellowship program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Taiwan.
This article is based on opinions gathered during 23 anonymous interviews in Taiwan, in particular with personalities in the entourage and politicians.