With the United States under President Trump increasingly critical of Chinese expansionism and with his Democratic rival Joe Biden having gone so far to call China a “thug”, it is unlikely that the relations between the two countries will see a major transformation in the aftermath of the election.
This will give considerable comfort to Taiwan, for while the US still follows the one-China policy bequeathed to it by President Jimmy Carter in 1979, there are signs from both political camps that an enhanced relationship with Taipei is on the cards. Despite Beijing’s threat of sanctions against Washington for its arms supplies to Taiwan, the American administration is going ahead, saying it is bound by domestic law to provide Taipei the weapons it needs for self-defence.
Indeed, the US has signalled it may even go beyond supplies, for as confirmed by a top official this week, “Taiwan’s security is central to stability in the IndoPacific region.” Stating that the US is committed to ensuring that Taiwan is not “bullied or overcome” by China, the official made it clear that there is bipartisan agreement in the United States for this position.
Certainly, Mr Biden’s comment in a journal targeted at the Chinese American community would confirm this. He called Taiwan “a leading democracy, major economy (and) technological powerhouse,” while praising its remarkable handling of the Covid19 epidemic that has seen it record 200 days without one local infection and just seven deaths in a population of nearly 24 million.
In parallel, the abiding theme of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s brief Asia visit this week was to highlight Chinese excesses. And while his hosts chose not to match his rhetoric, his words did strike a chord with large numbers of Indians, Indonesians and Sri Lankans.
In India, he spoke of the threat to security and freedom posed by the Chinese Communist Party and in Indonesia he supported the rejection by Jakarta of China’s “unlawful” territorial claims.
In Colombo, he described the Chinese Communist Party as a predator, an obvious reference to the Chinese takeover of a deep-sea port in the island country.
Analysts agree that a change in the White House will see no change in the situation. As one former top US official told the Guardian newspaper, “Regardless of who wins the US presidential election, we should expect to see increasing US-China tensions across a broad range of economic, political, geo-strategic, human rights and people-to people issues for the years to come”. This is a view widely held on either side of the Pacific, with some describing enhanced Washington- Taipei ties as a virtual abandonment of the oneChina policy. As it lives under the shadow of enhanced threats from China, Taipei must hope that the US is able to create a wider consensus on its right to survive with dignity.