Taiwan’s Status Is a Geopolitical Absurdity
As tensions between Washington and Beijing worsen, Chris Horton wrote earlier this month, it is important to understand Taiwan’s strategic importance to both governments. While the United States does not recognize Taiwan as an independent country, the island’s location, economy, and security are seen as essential to American interests; in recent years, Taiwan has been one of the rare issues on Capitol Hill with bipartisan agreement. And Donald Trump is heading a markedly pro-Taiwan White House.
In the coming months, Horton concluded, as Taiwan prepares for presidential and legislative elections, Americans should expect Congress and Trump-administration officials to cultivate a relationship with Taiwan that is more like one between official diplomatic allies.
The Trump administration and Trump himself pose a serious dilemma to my political beliefs as a Taiwanese American citizen. I cannot support a misogynistic, racist, and immoral president whose domestic policies I believe are harming my country; however, I have to acknowledge that he is the most pro-Taiwan president the United States has seen in decades (or maybe ever).
I grew up in a fiercely pro-independence Taiwanese family and, having spent most of my life abroad (in Europe and then in the U.S.), I have always been acutely conscious of how invisible Taiwan is politically. Awareness about Taiwan as a travel destination may have increased in recent years (spotting a subway train covered in “Visit Taiwan” ads in New York City made me very happy), but there is still very little coverage in Western media about the continued exclusion of Taiwan from the international geopolitical scene. The reality is, I live every day with the fear that my home country as I know it might disappear one day, swallowed by a military superpower very few countries would be willing to oppose.
Thanks to a growing cultural rift, the new generation of Taiwanese youth have begun to distance themselves from our Chinese heritage, identifying themselves as Taiwanese rather than Chinese, and paving a path for a Taiwanese political identity that is totally unrelated to China. They are a source of hope. The other source—and it pains me greatly to say this—is that Trump would be reelected and continue to support Taiwan.
New York, N.Y.
Chris Horton replies:
Thank you for reading my article, and for sharing your feelings here. As I’m sure you know, you are not alone in your conflicted feelings regarding Trump. Many Taiwanese Americans and Taiwanese who I’ve spoken with since his election have expressed similar feelings of being completely against everything he stands for—except his administration’s support of Taiwan, and its willingness to challenge China. That said, despite the clichéd description of Taiwan as one of Asia’s most progressive countries, there are certainly many conservative Taiwanese (and Taiwanese Americans) who share some or nearly all of Trump’s views.
Trump’s views on Taiwan itself are still rather unclear, as he’s barely mentioned Taiwan in public. Based on a tweet he sent as president-elect after Tsai Ing-wen called and congratulated him on his victory in late 2016, it would appear that Trump likes that Taiwan buys U.S. weaponry. Given that he’s suggested that Japan and South Korea should pay more for the U.S. military presence within their borders, perhaps the fact that there are no U.S. troops in Taiwan also makes Taiwan more amenable to him.
I don’t know what Trump thinks about Taiwan, but it is clear that most of the Trump administration views Taiwan as a vital national-security interest for the United States, and has concluded that years of trying to keep things low-key regarding the relationship between Washington and Taipei have not reduced the threat posed by China to Taiwan and its democracy. It may be the China hawks and friends of Taiwan in the administration—such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Matthew Pottinger, Randall G. Schriver, and others who make key decisions regarding Asia policy—who are more responsible for the strongest U.S.-Taiwan ties in at least two decades. From what I can gather, Taiwan may be one of the most pro-Trump countries in the world. Should Trump fail to win reelection next year, there will no doubt be at least a brief period of concern in Taiwan—and among the Taiwanese diaspora—regarding his successor and whether he or she will revert to treating Taiwan as more of a bargaining chip than an ally.
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