Taiwan and the Current State under the Biden Administration

Yashvi Agarwal

Contributing Researcher

Internationalism Research (AbhiGlobal Legal Research & Media LLP)


Prafful Tonge

Junior Research Analyst

Internationalism Research (AbhiGlobal Legal Research & Media LLP)



The outgoing US ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, on January 21 berated China for excluding and isolating Taiwan and its 24 million people ahead of her term ending. She urged the “nations of the world” to stand together and fight for the rights of Taiwan and its people (Kelly, 2021). She ensured that the US will continue to support Taiwan, even with the change in government and described Taiwan as a “force for good on the global stage.” Looking back at the previous administration's outlook and policy approach towards the South-East in general, we would assess the past administration’s substantive relations with Taiwan.

The international community is all in for peaceful relations between nations and to create channels of communication at times of crisis to best assist nations in averting the crisis and maintaining global peace. But this does not favour particularly to Taiwan as a nation-state because it has not been recognised as such under the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Organisation (UNO). Taiwan had repeatedly requested to get itself recognised as a member state and be allowed a voice over the international platforms for a better cause. This comes as a blow to the international community as Taiwan was one of the first nations to alert the international bodies about the forthcoming crisis of Covid-19 and was on its feet to create a plan first-hand to implement proper guidelines both domestically and in hopes to get them to the international community. This was evident with the handling of the outbreak in its territory and even going to the lengths of raising concerns with the World Health Organisation over timely sharing of information regarding the current situations but this did not garner the attention needed only because Taiwan was not a member state. Viswanath, 2020). Highlighting Taiwan’s success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and its advancements in the field of science, President Tsai Ing-wen, during a video conference commented that “We will continue to show that Taiwan is a force for good and a vital partner to the world. And we are able and determined to contribute to the international community”. (Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan), 2021). Along with the UN, Taiwan is not welcomed in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which leads to the denial of timely access of ICAO information to Taiwan. Taiwan is also not a part of the INTERPOL, since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) or simply, China does not allow Taiwan to engage with the INTERPOL.


THE DISPUTE OVER TAIWAN’S SOVEREIGNTY

China over the years has maintained the “one country, two systems” formula and has provided autonomy to Taiwan only if, there is a consideration to accept the reunification of Taiwan or the Republic of China (ROC) with the Chinese mainland (officially the Peoples Republic of China (PRC)), which has been rejected, time and again. This is because the PRC has maintained that there can only be one Chinese representation at the international stage and that anyone who says otherwise or puts forth their opinion of creating two Chinese identities is on the wrong tracks. Furthermore, steps towards independence and democratic elections sparked fears over the total separation of Taiwan. To curb the rising domestic tension the so-called Anti-secession law was passed in 2005 in order to force Taiwan from getting away from its administrative grip and to suppress the growing events to declare Taiwan’s independence into a fully sovereign state. This was aimed to prevent Taiwan’s severance from China and encourage reunification and quash any legitimacy issues over the recognition that there is only one China and that its sovereignty is indivisible. This was highly opposed by Taiwan. The international community responded with caution so that the situation wasn’t escalated. It was earnestly expressed to cease the tensions and to have peaceful resolutions towards settling the issue through peaceful negotiations from both sides.

The US follows the one-China policy, that is, it recognizes that there is only one government, the communist government of China and that governs the entire area of China, including Taiwan. But, the US has always been the strongest supporter of Taiwan’s rights and has been the voice for the inclusion of Taiwan on international platforms. American relations with Taiwan improved in Trump’s administration due to strong support in the US Congress and the willingness of the administration to defy China’s threats. The US aims to endorse Taiwan as a substitute for Communist rule in China.

Moving forward, we will keep pushing for our participation in the United Nations, and U.N. affiliated meetings and events, and I hope that the United States will continue to support” (Times, 2021) spoke Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s president on a virtual meeting with Kelly Craft. Taiwan pulled out of the United Nations Organisation (UNO) in 1971, at the time when PRC became a UN member. Since then, PRC has been employing its soft power to keep Taiwan away from all major international organizations. Kelly described Taiwan as a model for “democracy, equality for women, innovation and scientific exploration, a staunch defender of human rights.” (Times, 2021)

China was not happy with the growing relations between Taiwan and the US. Although the US cannot have formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it maintains unofficial, strong relations with it. The US follows its Taiwan Relations Act 1979 which talks about “officially substantial but non-diplomatic relations between the people of the US and people of Taiwan.” The US maintains cultural and commercial relations with Taiwan. The same act also authorized the setting up of the American Institute in Taiwan, a non-governmental organisation assimilated under the laws of the District of Columbia (Carter, 1979) International agreements between ROC and the US signed before 1979 are still valid unless otherwise terminated. The US is a major arms supplier to Taiwan. China has given various warnings and threats to the US in the past over its arms deals with Taiwan. To show its support in the fight, the latest statement by Craft under the US Mission to the UN was showcased by tweeting its aid for Taiwan’s inclusion in the UN on 1st May 2021. Which was met with a harsh response from PRC immediately. The representative for PRC’s UN Mission called the US Mission’s tweet “a serious violation of the General Assembly resolution that gave China the UN seat (Standard, 2020)”. China has also advised the US to uphold the ‘One-China’ principle.

The attempts to make the democratically elected government cave in and give way for the PRC to take control of Taiwan reached a record high when almost 4,000 Chinese vessels were driven offshore which were illegally sand mining in its territorial waters. (AFP, 2021) In the recent show of military might, Chinese air force planes entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone. This is yet another move to pressurise the democratically elected government of President Tsai Ing-wen to give up their rights over claiming Taiwan as a democratically elected territory apart from the Chinese mainland and instead, force them into recognising Taiwan as an official Chinese territory under the reign of the PRC (Press, 2021). “We urge Beijing to cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against Taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan’s democratically elected representatives”, read the statement released by Ned Price, a State Department spokesman. (Price, 2021) Immediately followed by the presence of the ‘Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG)’ in the South China Sea to carry out “routine operations” along with and in line to “ensure freedom of the seas”. (Affairs, 2021) Furthermore, the issue over disputed waters raised new concerns as the Coastguard Law passed in China allows the coastguards to use “all necessary means” so as to secure themselves from potential threats from foreign watercraft in areas of the sea under the Chinese jurisdiction. (Wong, 2021)


OTHER MEASURES TAKEN BY THE US TO SUPPORT TAIWAN IN THE RECENT TIMES

Apart from Kelly Craft’s statement on Taiwan and meeting with the president of Taiwan, the US has taken a host of measures in the recent past to extend its unbending support to Taiwan and its people. The Taiwanese and US officials have entered into a ‘memorandum of understanding (MOU)’ on economic exchanges in Washington.

US Health Secretary Alex Azar also visited Taipei, the capital of Taiwan in August 2020, which was followed by a visit by Keith Krach, the US Undersecretary. Both times, China reacted with fury and warned the US of the repercussions of its ties with Taiwan. Zhao Lijian, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson said “China resolutely opposes any form of contact between Taiwan and the US”. Under the Trump administration, the arms sale to Taiwan had increased, despite China’s strong protests. A two-star Navy Admiral also visited Taiwan, but neither the US nor Taiwan had confirmed the news (Economic, 2020).

The ‘US mission in Geneva’ also requested the WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to let Taiwan participate in a WHO meeting on COVID-19 as an observer. Taiwan was praised worldwide for quickly containing the virus. But the ultimate decision did not go in favour of Taiwan as WHO refused Taiwan’s participation, as it is not a sovereign state and a member of the organization, and there were also protests from China and other members of WHO. (Economic, 2020) Taiwan said that they were obstructed by China from participating in the WHO meeting and Taiwan criticised the international body for putting politics before health. “The ministry expresses deep regrets and strong dissatisfaction over China's obstruction of Taiwan's participation,” (Economic, 2020) said the Foreign Ministry of Taiwan in a statement. Taiwan participated in the annual meeting from 2009 to 2016 as a mere observer as ‘Chinese Taipei’, but PRC hindered its inclusion since Tsai Ing-wen became the elected president of Taiwan because she had denied accepting Taiwan as a segment of ‘one-China’. The World Health Organisation also said that “it is both cynical and counterproductive” (Economic, 2020) to exclude Taiwan.

In October 2020, legislation was also brought in the US Senate to augment the bipartisan relationship between the US and Taiwan. Two US Senators, Marco Rubio and Jeff Merkley brought up the “Taiwan relations reinforcement Act” (Economic, 2020). The bill also seeks to aim at expanding Taiwan’s contribution and status in major international organizations and to tackle the threats to it and the US by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “Continuing to strengthen the US relationship with Taiwan, a fellow democracy and an important security partner in the Indo-Pacific region, must remain a top priority of US foreign policy," (Economic, 2020) said Marco Rubio.

Recently, Taiwan’s ‘de facto Ambassador to the US’ was officially called to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony, a first-time since the US switched recognition from ROC to PRC in 1979. This is seen as a significant success for Taiwan and a big failure of the Communist Party of China.

The US has also dissolved the “self-imposed restrictions” on contacts to Taiwanese official from the side of American officials. The news was announced by the secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Pompeo said that these restrictions were implemented to appease the Communist regime in China. “We are expressing our gratitude toward the U.S. for speaking out and supporting Taiwan. We also hope to interact actively with each other further, so that Taiwan could have an even bigger space in the international society,” (Economic, 2021) said Premier Su Tseng-chang. China furiously blasted Pompeo and the US government for its decision. China considers Taiwan to be its part and therefore protests against any foreign or diplomatic relations between Taiwan and other countries. Chinese reporters and officials called Pompeo’s decision a “cowardly act” and said that he and the US are only interested in “stoking unwarranted confrontations, and have no interest in world peace.” (TOI, 2021)

UNDERSTANDING TAIWAN’S IMPORTANCE

Taiwan is a “sacred territory” of China, whose re-incorporation into China would decide the future of CCP and whether it retains legitimacy. CCP has based its validation and authority on the furtherance of a “unified view of China and the world: one China, one Truth, one World, one Dream.” Taiwan being a former colony and is the ultimate “refuge for the US-backed Kuomingtang regime”, China perceives Taiwan to be the only remaining instance of Chinese soil under foreign powers. Gaining back Taiwan into the mainland is a test of China’s supremacy and its power. Moreover, the CCP has made Taiwan and re-unification its top agenda, linking the success of CCP to the re-unification of Taiwan into PRC. Therefore, CCP cannot let Taiwan be separated from China. Taiwan is of core national interest to the CCP and its aim of retaining a monopoly of power in China. the Taiwan issue can also lead to disruption of peace and the authoritarian regime in China, if CCP is unable to maintain peace and affection in China, it would lose its “mandate of heaven” to rule PRC (Jamestown, 2016). The independence of Taiwan can spurt dissent and aggression in other areas, encouraging separatist feelings, which could lead to the fragmentation of the country. The foreign influence and soft power in Taiwan would set a bad precedent for the Xinjiang and Tibet provinces, where sentiments for independence and support from foreign powers is already high.

Taiwan is also crucial for China’s maritime strategy and is also crucial for the power struggle between the US and Japan and between the US and China. Taiwan, if independent, can become a military base for foreign powers. China has also become increasingly dependent on the Middle East for its energy resources and the sea lanes that go through Taiwan. The dominance of China in the “South China Sea” would also diminish if independent Taiwan cuts off Chinese supply lines.

Due to these reasons, and many more, Taiwan is vital for China to continue its status of a super-power and to dominate the Indo-Pacific region (Tsang, 2017). Taiwan’s position between the disputed South China Sea and Japan also increases its importance.

Taiwan is also important because it is the epitome of a good China because of its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, its culturally diverse population, democratic government, high technology, peaceful regional presence, growing economy. The countries who follow the ‘one-China’ policy in fear of China or to appease it are rethinking their stance on the issue as Taiwan looks like a country to invest in not just to counter China, but also because Taiwan is a country that is a good place for investing in, on the political, economic and cultural fronts. With PRC increasing use of military might, threats, and coercion, more and more countries are becoming an adversary of PRC’s policies. The handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of transparency, the violation of the human rights of the Uighurs and the suppression of media have made the world a little vary of China. Taiwanese President Tsai’s “New Southbound Policy (NSP)” (ORF, 2020) seeks to strengthen relations with nations over South and Southeast Asia. India has become a strong associate of Taiwan (although the Government of India to date does not support Taiwan’s claim of independence) but has increased trade relations with Taiwan. India is also noted to support the weaker sections when it comes to international policy. Some countries in the Indo-Pacific, except Laos, and maybe Singapore, have limited apprehensive considerations and tendencies towards China for one reason or another and look at the Taiwan situation as a golden opportunity. Also, Kelly Craft’s recent statement about Chinese oppression and the demand for Taiwan to be allowed to attend international meetings is a bold move, urging and encouraging and leading other countries to also come out in support of Taiwan and to fight Chinese oppression.


THE “NEW SOUTHBOUND POLICY”

This policy was set in motion on 5th September 2016. Specifically aimed towards reducing Taiwan’s reliance on Mainland China along with restructuring its relations with neighbouring nations and making way for new partnerships, both in the commercial sector and diplomacy. It was put forward with the aim to strengthen cooperation with 18 other nations on trade, technology, agriculture, medicine, education and tourism with six of them as priorities including India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Cooperation among nations was considered to be the sole objective to push the strategy. Further pushing the need to restructure supply chains and not rely on a solitary fountainhead to get cardinal materials. Also stating that the security of supply chains is nothing less than the security of the country. The need to construct complementary industrial relations leading to mutual well-being. Clearly pointing out that supply chains were to be relocated to friendly economies close to home countries. Especially including the “Association of Southeast Asian Nations” associate nations along with the ASEAN members and in line with the U.S. Indo-Pacific strategy ((Taiwan), 2020). The investment in India was more than US$ 2.3 billion dollars along with the creation of 65,000 job opportunities since the implementation of the New Southbound Policy. Along with cooperation in the high-tech supply chains and on the mutually complementary industries. (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2020). It aims to strengthen existing ties and make way for a new partnership, it is also well established that the “Act East policy” is affiliated with the “New Southbound policy” and that India’s existence in “East and Southeast Asia” is embraced by Taiwan (Chen, et al., 2018). Furthermore, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has led to infrastructure investments that provide for an advantageous position in uncertain circumstances to China, along with the growing Chinese navy fleet patrolling its territorial waters and its massive outreach in the neighbouring waters.

Moreover, Taiwan is a powerhouse, the world’s biggest chipmaker. Any country that wants to dominate the world on the digital front has to purchase the chips either from Taiwan or from South Korea. Taiwan enjoys the whip hand in both the technological know-how and market dominance. In the current pandemic, Taiwan grew at 2.5% when the rest of the world saw a negative growth of 4.4% (Economic, 2020). Taiwan’s successful management of the COVID-19 pandemic it another feather in its hat. The demand for Taiwan-made chips grew during the pandemic as more people shifted to a digital platform and to ‘work from home. Taiwan’s currency reached a record high against the USD since 1997 (Economic, 2020). The stock market reached new heights. The bullish trend in the stock market is likely to grow as Taiwan’s economy is going on as usual, while the world, including even the most developed nations, are still battering with adverse economic and health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taiwan has the world’s very first chip foundry, “Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)” (Economic, 2020).


“FREE AND OPEN INDO-PACIFIC” AND ASEAN MULTILATERAL COOPERATION

The main strategy of the US in the Indo-Pacific is to use one emerging superpower to constrain another. The strategy of the US regarding the Pacific has changed over the years. In the 1950s-70s, the dominant narrative was the Pacific as an “American Lake” (Cummings, 2018). The triumph in the “Pacific War of 1941-1945” over Japan established the US as the Pacific hegemon. The strategy in the 1980s was the narrative of “Asia-Pacific” (Cummings, 2018), where the economic dynamism of the Pacific Rim united California, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. This can be witnessed in the foundation of Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The “Indo-Pacific” narrative emerged in around 2010. The change in language was due to economic and geopolitical reasons. Economic reasons include the increase in the volume of trade, especially of energy resources, between, Pacific and Indian oceans. The political drift is due to the emergence and dominance of China in the Pacific Sea and the Indian Ocean. The US crafted “Indo-Pacific” as a measure to curtail the Chinese dragon. The theories at play here are the “power-transition theory” and the “balance of threat theory”. The ‘power transition theory means a rising power is a threat to the current hegemon. China is a threat to the US. The US, as a result, has started to strengthen itself and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region. While the US has seen the rise of China as a major threat to its status as a superpower, the US also understands the importance and rising power of India and is encouraging India to rise and become a counterweight to China. Countries in the Indo-Pacific and other South Asian countries also see China as a threat to their security and sovereignty. China’s use of the military to intimidate and dominate the South China Sea and the surrounding countries does not sit well with these countries. Moreover, China’s rising economy is also a threat to the economies of other countries, especially the smaller ones who cannot compete against China’s mass-produced, cheap goods. China’s treatment of the Uighurs, and other minorities and its authoritarian government add salt to the injury, making most of the Indo-Pacific and South East Asian countries an adversary of China and its policies. Most countries of the Indo-Pacific and South Asian region have come together, understanding the need to unite and to curtail China. Australia, Japan, India and the US have come together to form QUAD to curtail Chinese power.

Knowing how important Taiwan is for China to continue its status as a superpower, the rivals of China, the most prominent one being the US have sought to support Taiwan for its voice to be heard on international platforms and to raise its status. Taiwan being the epicentre of the digital world, and being a place of geopolitical and geo-economic importance, has the power to curtail China, when supported by nations like the US. Both, the US and India have improved their foreign, trade, defence, and diplomatic relations with the Indo-Pacific countries and countries that are a part of ASEAN. The US has renamed its Pacific Command (PACOM) as Indo-Pacific Command (IPCOM) in 2018 (Cummings, 2018), because of the same geo-economic and political reasons. The “RIMPSC exercises conducted by the US at Hawaii illustrate the Indo-Pacific naval diplomatic ties” (The Indo-Pacific in US Strategy: Responding to Power Shifts, 2018). India was included in these exercises since 2012, as part of the US strategy to counterweight China. “RIMPAC is not only the world’s largest maritime exercise, it also shows that like-minded nations who value a free and open Indo-Pacific want this opportunity to improve our cooperation with each other,” said Admiral Aquilino (The Indo-Pacific in US Strategy: Responding to Power Shifts, 2018)).

The “United States Strategic framework for the Indo-Pacific” was passed by President Donald Trump in 2018. The main features of the report included “work closely with allies and like-minded countries to prevent Chinese acquisition and strategic capabilities (Bloomberg, 2021).” This report also included plans for Taiwan. The report said that work should be done to “enable Taiwan to develop an effective asymmetric defence strategy and capabilities that will help ensure its security, freedom from coercion, resilience, and ability to engage China on its own terms (Bloomberg, 2021).” The same report also talked about the objective for Southeast Asia “to promote and reinforce Southeast Asia and ASEAN’s central role in the region’s security architecture, and encourage it to speak with one voice on key issues (Bloomberg, 2021).” One major objective of the Indo-Pacific and ASEAN is to promote and integrate economic development, which would be a reliable choice to the “One Belt One Road” initiative of China, which seeks to further its dominance and invade other countries sovereignty. The “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)” strategy includes “three pillars- promotion and establishment of rule of law, freedom of navigation, and free trade”. It is committed to free trade and stability in the Pacific Sea and the Indian Ocean (ASEAN, 2019).

The rivalry between China and India and between China and the US have pushed Taiwan closer with India and the US. The more Beijing is telling the world to not treat Taiwan as an independent country, the more China’s rivals are treating it like one. China had asked India to not refer to Taiwan as a country. But, on Taiwan’s National Day, Indians helped trend the hashtag #TaiwanNationalDay and Taiwanese flags were hung outside the Chinese embassy in India.

The foreign minister, Jaushieh Joseph has stated that Taiwan is ready to work with like-minded partners (QUAD) for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. The QUAD nations hold the China-Taiwan issue as the most important crossing in the South China sea. China’s focus on asserting its position in the Indo-Pacific region has further fuelled the need to cooperate with the neighbouring allies, specifically with the Indo-Pacific group. The presence of Taiwan and its reach through its territorial waters into the heavily disputed waters is a strategic place to deter Chinese aggression and that too in a way such that it does not involve much attention of the international community in opposition to what it is going through. Recent developments in favour of Taiwan and the global recognition received in efficiently handling the outbreak and ramping up its healthcare services and centralised response only showcase the nations readiness and willingness to be acknowledged by the international community as it intends to. This further proves for a strategic point to be considered as this could definitely be the way in for the global community to walk in on China and get through with its humanitarian missions and further strengthen the relationships with Japan and Australia through effective diplomatic strategies. The growing unease caused by the Chinese naval activities in the South China Sea and surrounding naval territories can clearly call for the support of the neighbouring nations which also hold a fair share of territorial disputes in that region. China has created artificial islands and has been using them as military outposts which have further led to outrage in the international community as it is seen to further “endanger the free flow of trade” and undermine regional stability. Along with this, the importance of the economic corridor in the region has always caused major disruptions all over the globe. Considering the presence of a democratic nation in the disputed territorial waters along with the cooperation of the democracies will only benefit Taiwan’s cause for further strengthening its relationships with allied nations and further proving its support towards its inclusion in the global community as an equal. (Nagao, 2020)

Denmark MPs have asked World Health Assembly (WHA) to reinstate Taiwan after seeing the impressive success of Taiwan in dealing with Covid-19 (Lokmart, 2021). Lithuania also released a statement saying it supports people who stand for freedom and they are with the people of Taiwan fighting for freedom (Economic, 2020). This could work in with the attempts to show diplomatic support and approach towards further strengthening relations and upholding its stature in the global community. Considering the various influences this could have on future diplomacy only proves that the need to continue the support towards Taiwan is a must in the current times.



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