Taiwan ‘s Response to Trump’s America

Three weeks ago I made an official visit to Washington along with seven other Taiwanese legislators. It was the first delegation of its kind to meet with the Department of State, members of the House and Senate, and prominent think tank scholars. Over the course of these meetings, we discussed issues such as foreign policy, trade agreements, and the importance of future Taiwan-U.S. relations.

We arrived in the national capitol just as President Trump concluded his first month in office. At this time, many cabinet and administrative positions had yet to be filled and the sense of uncertainty in Washington was palpable. We were entering into an unknown state of affairs.

Yet our goal was clear: we hoped to be the first at the table to discuss when new trade talks could begin. Without the TPP, we understood the need for a bilateral trade agreement. President Trump has signaled that multilateralism may no longer outline American trade and we must know how to respond accordingly.

With “America First” in mind, President Trump has prompted a new brand of conservatism. From my conversations, I saw how even policy experts and lawmakers were finding it difficult to grasp the President’s underlying logic. In this climate we were confident of only one thing: President Trump negotiated like a businessman, we would be dealing with the administration vis-a-vis.

Despite all this, I came away with clear and crucial promises regarding stability in the Taiwan Strait: the United States will continue to uphold her moral and legal responsibility toward Taiwan. She will continue to assist in our self-defense. In terms of upholding the Taiwan Relations Act and the Six Assurances, American good faith will endure.

President Trump, despite immense pressure from China, will still adhere to the One China Policy, the bedrock of strait relations. But China will also continue to demand adherence to the One China Principle. The danger then, lies in how the still-adapting Trump and an uncompromising China interpret these two differing frameworks, it has the potential to throw off the delicate balance of power in the Straits.

While President Trump has yet to reveal a direction for the Asia-Pacific region, his focus will likely remain on contentious domestic issues and escalating media criticism rather international relations. President Trump’s phone call to Taiwan President Tsai Yin-wen was simply the price of an expensive diplomatic lesson. Such direct and friendly communication will likely not happen again.

So how should Taiwan respond in the face of such an uncertain U.S. presidency?

The Asia-Pacific is restructuring in terms of political order as heads of state increasingly value self-interest. Since President Trump favors bilateralism, whoever first deals with the administration will have the upper hand. For Taiwan, faced with cooling relations with China, establishing regional trade is a must. For those of us hoping to deal, will the U.S. insist on the importation of Ractopamine grown pork as a precondition? Leveraging American imports in this way will likely put the deal in direct conflict with local consumers and farmers. Taiwan must now proactively pursue its interests and leverage our friendly relationship with Japan to enter new trade negotiations. What’s more, American policy makers are increasingly invested in Taiwan’s increasing digital capabilities and maturing digital economy. Taiwan should better utilize its talented workforce, open up regulations and adopt new legislation to foster innovation and entrepreneurship. As a Taiwanese legislator, these are the issues I actively work towards and I invite my American counterparts to commit to a future bridging these shared economic interests.

Taiwan and the United States share more than thirty years of stalwart friendship. The Congressional Taiwan Caucus remains the second largest caucus in the United States Congress with more than 120 members. Despite the fragility of international relations, we remain unwavering in this partnership; we still believe in America’s good intent. Now is a time of uncertainty but it is also the time for opportunity and recognition. For years Taiwan has been America’s most loyal ally in the region, we are a young but flourishing democracy, an open and robust society with liberal values that mirror the U.S. We share the same resolve in promoting democratic ideals while ensuring peace, in fostering security while defending freedom, and in furthering trade and prosperity for all.

As a country, we have made great strides in these directions, but we have also done so largely in isolation. It is time the future of Taiwan is treated with dignity, not as a bargaining chip but as a shared endevour. It is my hope that against the challenges of a fracturing global landscape, Taiwan and the United States can stand together and face the world boldly with renewed pragmatism and hope.

by Jason Hsu, Legislator, Taiwan; co-authored by Wilson Kung