US-Taiwan Relations under Joe Biden Administration
Dr Teshu Singh, Research Fellow, VIF

Amongst many of the sensitive issues that Joe Biden will inherit, the US-Taiwan relations is going to be of critical importance for the US, Indo-Pacific strategy. Tsai Ing-wen has already congratulated Joe Biden on Twitter, she wrote: “The values on which we have built our relationship could be stronger. I look forward to working together to further our friendship and contributions to international society.” Joe Biden’s transition team is already working with the Tsai Ing-wen administration.

During his election campaign, Joe Biden has not explicitly talked about Taiwan. His views can be gleaned indirectly by his broad stance on China where he has stated that the US should get “tough with China”, described Xi Jinping as a “thug” and called China as a “special challenge”.

In 2001 and 2020, Biden has written articles that give a sense of changing Biden approach towards Taiwan. In 2001, Joe Biden wrote an article in the Washington Post, “Not so deft on Taiwan”1, he appeared to favour the US in backtracking on its commitments to defend Taiwan. At this juncture, he was critical of the US support to Taiwan and preferred to maintain strategic ambiguity.2 In the changing global scenario, a few weeks before the US elections, he penned yet another article for New York-based Chinese-language newspaper World Journal, describing his vision towards the Taiwan issue.3 In the article, a clear change of stance is visible in his approach. He acknowledges the importance of Taiwan for the US. He wrote: “We are a Pacific power and will work with our allies to enhance the prosperity, security and value we share in the Asia-Pacific region. This includes deepening the relationship with Taiwan, a leading democracy, major economy and a major technology town.” He has also praised Taiwan on its handling of the COVID-19 and said Taiwan is also a shining example of an open society that can effectively control the new coronavirus.”4

Like most of the countries, the US does not have a formal diplomatic relation with Taiwan. The US-Taiwan relations are guided by four primary documents: the Taiwan Regulation Act (TRA) and the three US communiqué with China: the Shanghai Communiqué (1972), the Communiqué on Normalization of Relations with the PRC (1979) and the August 17 Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan (1982). Last year marked the 40 years of the TRA. Besides, there are a set of six policy assurances the US had given to Taiwan.5 In 1982, at the third US-China joint Communiqué on Arms Sales to Taiwan, six assurances were agreed as a guiding principle for US-Taiwan relations. The six assurances are: the US would not agree to set a date for ending arms sales to Taiwan; not agreed to consult with the PRC on arms sales to Taiwan; not play a mediation role between Taipei and Beijing; not agreed to revise the Taiwan Relations Act; not altered its position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan; and
would not exert pressure on Taiwan to enter into negotiations with the PRC.6

Recently, China is becoming critical of the communiqué signed between the US and China. China Daily has published an article “What did US say in the three US-China joint Communiqués?” The article underlines that Taiwan is the core issue in US-China relations. At this point of time, China is trying to remind the US about the commitments it has made at the time of signing of the communiqué.7

US-Taiwan Relations under Donald Trump

Under Trump administration, the US-Taiwan Relations had reached new heights politically, militarily, economically and at the track II level. Taiwan is the 10th largest trade partner of the US and they have thriving trade relations.

The Taiwan Travel Act was signed on 16 March 2018. The act encouraged visits between officials of the US and Taiwan at all levels.” On 4 March 2020, the US House of Representative unanimously passed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act of 2019 (TAIPEI). The TAIPEI Act encourages the countries that maintain diplomatic ties with Taiwan and it identifies those that are on the verge of severing their ties with Taiwan. It also obliges the US to increase its diplomatic presence in countries that support Taiwan and vice versa. It further gives the US Secretary of State the power to expand, reduce or terminate US aid to countries depending on whether they improve, worsen, or sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan.8 The Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian has called the TAIPEI Act as a “severe violation of the One-China principle”.

The US Senate on 11 May 2020, passed legislation in support of Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Organisation (WHO). The bill entrusts the US Secretary of State to ensure Taiwan’s re-entry into the WHO. The US has also tried to integrate Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific region. Taiwan has incorporated the concept of Indo-Pacific in its foreign policy and imbibed the mission to defend freedom and openness attached to the Free and Open Indo Pacific strategy and protecting it. In May 2018, the government started the Indo-Pacific Affairs Section within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Taiwan is also working with the US under the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (GCTF), a grouping of 41 participants from 25 Indo-Pacific countries. The framework will provide Taiwan to help build its partnership with countries that have unique strengths. Recently, the US and Taiwan have signed a pact to establish annual economic talks for five years. A memorandum of understanding was signed after the first round of the economic talks.9

The most critical aspect of US-Taiwan relations is the arms sales from the US to Taiwan. The US is the major arms supplier to Taiwan and the sale has received an impetus under Donald Trump’s administration. The first sale of arms package worth USD 1.4 billion was done on 30 June 2017. The second sale package of USD 330 million was signed in October 2018. In July 2019, the US supplied M1A2T Abrams tanks, Stinger missiles and related equipment to Taiwan. This deal is worth around USD 2.2 billion. The US State Department has also approved the sale of three weapons systems to Taiwan, including sensors, missiles and artillery, worth USD 1.8 billion. It has also approved the sale of 100 Boeing-made Harpoon Coastal Defence Systems. In 2020, the Trump administration has announced arms sales worth USD 5.1 billion to Taiwan.10

On a comparative note, the Trump administration has approved 18 arms sale deals to Taiwan, compared to 17 during Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Under the Obama administration, the US Air Force had also upgraded the long-range early warning radar surveillance system of Taiwan. Analysts believe that Trump’s weapon deals with Taiwan had highlighted Washington’s long-foreseeable hidden strategy that it had spent four decades preparing.11

Recent Developments

A day before the US elections, Chinese aircrafts crossed the Taiwanese airspace as many as eight times. Earlier, China had carried out similar violations of airspace when senior official Alex Azar and Keith Krach had visited Taiwan. Just before the meeting of Tsai Ing-wen and Alex Azar, China sent two fighter jets to Taiwan. As Keith Krach was about to reach Taiwan to pay homage to Lee Teng-hui, who passed away on 30 July 2020, China sent two Chinese Y-8 Anti-Submarine Aircraft into the Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ). In the violation of the Taiwanese airspace, China has refuted the median line between China and Taiwan.

The team of Joe Biden knows very well about the Chinese goal of imposing the so called ‘one-country, two-system’ model on Taiwan. It is unlikely that Biden will go against the interests of Taiwan. Although, the US aid and support to Taiwan may not be as robust and aggressive as it was under Trump. Analysts have predicted that in the US-Taiwan relations “we might see U.S.-Taiwan relations go from great to good. But still good.”12 On the other hand, China believes that in future Taiwan cannot depend on the US. An article in the China Daily stated: “despite the incumbent administration trying to set traps for the incoming administration, Biden is not likely to bite the bait.”13

There is a deep-rooted bipartisan support in the US for Taiwan. Biden’s emphasis on democracy will give the US yet another opportunity for the strengthening of Taiwan-US relations. He has already proposed a “summit of democracy” in his first year in office. Earlier this year, on the re-election of Tsai Ing-wen, Joe Biden was the first Democrat presidential candidate to send her congratulatory message via Twitter. US-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement (FTA) may fructify under the Biden administration because until now Robert Lighthiser had objected to the FTA because of the ongoing US-China trade deals.

To sum up, in all likelihood, the support for Taiwan will continue under Biden although the scale may differ.

Endnotes
  1. Not So Deft On Taiwan, accessed at http://www.taiwandc.org/wp-2001-06.htm
  2. Taiwan Communiqué No. 99, December 2001, accessed athttp://www.taiwandc.org/twcom/99-no5.htm
  3. Biden Book World Journal: For our more prosperous future, accessed at https://www.worldjournal.com/wj/story/121468/4955258?from=wj_maintab_index
  4. ibid
  5. Taiwan-U.S. Relations: Developments and Policy Implications, accessed at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40493.pdf
  6. The "Six Assurances" to Taiwan, accessed at http://www.taiwandocuments.org/assurances.htm
  7. What did US say in the three China-US joint communiques?, accessed at
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202012/16/WS5fd959c1a31024ad0ba9c0b4.html
  8. Taiwan: US House unanimously passes TAIPEI Act,
    accessed at https://unpo.org/article/21765
  9. U.S., Taiwan Sign Pact to Hold Annual Economic Talks for 5 Years, accessed at
    https://www.bloombergquint.com/global-economics/u-s-taiwan-sign-pact-to-hold-annual-economic-talks-for-5-years
  10. Timeline: U.S. Arms Sales to Taiwan in 2020 Total $5 Billion Amid China Tensions, accessed at
    https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2020-12-07/timeline-us-arms-sales-to-taiwan-in-2020-total-5-billion-amid-china-tensions
  11. US-China relations: Biden expected to keep Taiwan card in play against Beijing,
    accessed athttps://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy/article/3110016/us-china-relations-biden-expected-keep-taiwan-card-play
  12. Biden elected president, heralding shift for Asia after Trump, accessed at
    https://asia.nikkei.com/Politics/US-elections-2020/Biden-elected-president-heralding-shift-for-Asia-after-Trump
  13. Tsai's efforts to deepen US ties will fail, accessed at
    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202012/16/WS5fd94376a31024ad0ba9c05a.html

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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