Ketagalan Media: Greater Role for Taiwan, New Responsibilities for the United States

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The Taiwanese people spoke clearly and loudly in the presidential and legislative elections held on January 11, giving the Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) administration and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) a strong mandate to continue to pursue closer ties with the US-led liberal-democratic order. In defeating her opponent from the Kuomintang (KMT), Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜), with a precedent-setting 8.1 million votes and nearly 20 points, Tsai finds herself even more empowered to work with the Americans and partners in the region to secure a free Indo-Pacific region. Taiwan’s future role as a partner in such efforts was arguably contingent on a Tsai reelection: had Han been elected, Taiwan would likely have drawn down efforts to collaborate with the United States and other democracies as a price to pay for closer ties with Beijing. By holding on to its majority of seats in the Legislative Yuan, the DPP has also retained its ability to pass bills and budgets which will be necessary to ensure its participation in the US-led strategy in the region.

It would be a mistake to regard the situation over Taiwan through the lens of a proxy war. Rather, the Asian country of 23 million people is on the frontlines of competition between two superpowers. It sits atop a fault line in an escalating ideological battle between the US-led liberal-democratic order that has prevailed since the end of World War II, and an autocratic would-be alternative that, under Xi, has embarked on a mission, despite its claims to the contrary, to dismantle that order. Taiwan is not a territory where superpowers can wage a mere proxy war: it makes its own decisions, and choses which side it wants to be on in that ideological contest—in other words, it has agency. And the January 10 general elections, in which two key contenders with very different ideas about where Taiwan’s future lies were vying for the nation’s top office, was an important round in that agency.

One fundamental point that needs to be repeated is that states never act entirely altruistically. Therefore, to claim that, in the past, the United States acted more out of consideration for “what is good for Taiwan” as opposed to “what is good for the US” misses the point. For one thing, interests can coincide; what is good for Taiwan can also be good, simultaneously, for the US. It is also worth pointing out that in comparing US policy today with that from, say, a decade ago, we must take the changing geopolitical context into consideration: perceptions of the China threat back then differed markedly from those today, in large part due to the rise of Xi and the emergence of China as a powerful revisionist regime, one with the means, at last, to act on its territorial and ideological ambitions. And because of this, we have experienced a reassessment, not just in Washington but in other capitals as well, of the value of Taiwan as a partner in the liberal-democratic order’s fledging, and not always perfectly coherent, efforts to come up with a strategy to counter China’s more nefarious ambitions.

Full report by J. Michael Cole:

Greater Role for Taiwan, New Responsibilities for the United States

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