After endless debates on who would be better for Taiwan, Trump or Biden, and having been given little more than tea leaves to read from the Biden campaign, the new Biden administration has started taking firm–and clear–steps regarding Taiwan.
And the news is very, very good–so far better than I’d dared hope for.
Taiwan Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim, was for the first time diplomatic ties were cut in 1979, formally invited to the presidential inauguration.
In the past the best Taiwan reps could hope for was a private invite by a lawmaker.
Even the Trump administration didn’t do that.
But even better were comments during Senate confirmation hearings of Tony Blinken for Secretary of State and Lloyd Austin for Secretary of Defense.
Let me quote from Reuters report on Blinken’s hearing:
He also said he would like to see Taiwan play a greater role around the world.
Blinken said that in international organizations that do not require the status of a country, Taiwan should become a member, and in others that do, “there are others ways that they can participate.”
Blinken said he was in favor of greater engagement with Taiwan and referred to a move by Pompeo to relax restrictions on official dealings with Taipei.
“I want to see that process through to conclusion if it hasn’t been completed, to make sure that we’re acting pursuant to the mandate in the (Taiwan Assurance) act that looks at creating more space for contacts.”
Blinken said he had received Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen at the State Department when she was running for office and talked to her on a number of occasions after she became president in 2016, adding: “That in and of itself I think is important.”
Taiwan News reported other parts of the hearing this way:
When asked by Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) if the U.S. should continue to “guarantee Taiwanese democracy,” Blinken said that Washington has an “abiding and longstanding and bipartisan commitment to Taiwan and to the Taiwan Relations Act.”
He stressed that the U.S. needs to ensure Taiwan has the ability “to deter aggression, to defend themselves.”
In reference to an expanded role for Taiwan in international organizations, Blinken indicated that efforts would be taken to see “Taiwan even more engaged in the world.”
He pointed out that Taiwan is “in many ways a model democracy, a strong economy, and a technological powerhouse.”
Blinken closed his thoughts on Taiwan by saying that the way Taiwan has handled the coronavirus outbreak “has a lot of lessons to teach us.”
Graham then stated that if the CCP chose to use military force against Taiwan it would “create great upheaval throughout the world, and they would pay a heavy price.”
He then asked if Blinken concurred with that statement.
Blinken swiftly responded by saying, “That would be a grievous mistake on their part.”
And this from an RFA report on Austin’s hearing:
U.S. secretary of defense nominee Lloyd J. Austin struck a similar note when asked what he would do if China decided to invade Taiwan, which has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), nor formed part of the People’s Republic of China.
“Our efforts will be to ensure we do everything to make sure that China does not make that decision,” CNA quoted Austin as saying during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 19.
Meanwhile, Blinken, asked by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham if the CCP would have to pay a heavy price for any attempt to annex Taiwan, replied: “That would be a serious mistake.”
He said the Trump administration had been right to take a tougher stance against Beijing, saying that China under the CCP had clear ambitions to global political leadership, and to export its authoritarian model of government around the world.
There is more, and interestingly, Blinken also agreed with Pompeo that Beijing was engaging in genocide.
This is powerful stuff.
What jumps out at me most is the similarity in language and tone in the two hearings.
They were clearly working from the same playbook, for example, notice both used the word “mistake” in response to the question about a Chinese invasion.
Also notice that while it doesn’t violate the standard US policy on “strategic ambiguity” on whether the US would come to Taiwan’s aid, the tone is clearly aggressive.
The Biden administration clearly has thought through how they plan to relate with Taiwan, and it is openly pro-Taiwan.
This is far stronger, far more vocal and far more coherent than I’d dared hope for–especially so early on in the administration with so much on their plate.
Additionally they’ve been making personnel choices, like their newly created “Asia czar” Kurt Campell at the National Security Council as Indo-Pacific coordinator and Ely Ratner at the Pentagon that are very clear-eyed on Chinese Communist Party.
With two potential caveats, so far it is shaping up that the Biden administration will be as friendly to, if not more friendly to Taiwan than the Trump administration.
The two caveats are President Biden and his new Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.
Biden has had a very mixed record on Taiwan in the past.
Kerry’s new role isn’t part of the normal power structure, and his remit is climate change–and the biggest problem there is, of course, China.
His, and Biden’s, eagerness to score a deal on climate with Beijing could upend some of the carefully crafted plans that appear so far to have State, Defense and the NSC all on board with.
That will bear close watching.
However, there is hope that the Taiwan-US relationship will get even better.
For all the positives that happened under the Trump administration, Trump himself was erratic and didn’t play well with others.
The Biden administration is very likely to work hard to build and maintain stronger alliances and partnerships.
That could do a lot for Taiwan on a range of issues, like joining the WHO as an observer, boosting Taiwan’s profile, getting Taiwan access to more and higher government officials, intelligence sharing, and defence coordination.
If many countries work in unison against the CCP in promoting and protecting Taiwan, that takes away much of the leverage the CCP has.
So, so far so excellent.
Image courtesy of the TECRO FB page