US Presidential Election in 2020 - what does it mean for Taiwan?

First off, I want to underline that we don’t need any forumosans to tell us what they really think about Trump, or Biden. We already have lots of threads full of these views.

Instead this thread is to make space for a narrower discussion, specific to Taiwan and its relations with the US going forward after the next Presidential Election.

I want to begin by posting a couple of recently published pieces by the awesome William Stanton, whose column in the Taiwan News is among the best content out there in the mainstream media:



A follow-up: Ian Bremmer (an interesting guy to listen to on a variety of issues) takes his “red pen” approach to a recent op-ed that claims Biden, not Trump, would be better for Taiwan’s continuing independence.


In today’s Taipei Times, Joseph Bosco—perhaps the further right on the political spectrum of this paper’s regular op-ed contributors—contends that a prospective Biden presidency offers “little hope” for improvement in dealing with the PRC.


1 Like

Normally a nuanced breakdown would be valuable, in this case the only other option is a guy who asked Xi for election help, who has less interest in criticizing people like Xi than he does democratic leaders, or his own countrymen.

It never was rocket science though, this choice, or the last one. You can’t count on support for a democratic country from someone who isn’t interested in democracy to begin with. Someone who has shown a willingness to sell out for political favors, over any kind of democratic moral consistency.

Short term you may have big talk and short term gains from the current US admin., using nationalism to make China it’s ‘enemy’. Long term you’re relying on incompetence, and inconsistency in standing up for democratic values. Not a group of people I would want to rely on.

Bosco also assumes that Biden would simply revert to a same-old policy stance on the PRC. This ignores all the huge changes that are happening: in HK, regarding Xinjiang, Xi as putative president for life, the new tech “cold war.” The situation is dynamic and volatile and US policy on China has changed and will be changing, often—interestingly—with bipartisan support.


1 Like

At the News Lens, Brian Hioe takes a dive into Trump’s and Biden’s relations with Taiwan:


Perhaps recognizing that Trump is more popular among Taiwanese, Biden has reached out to Chinese-literate Asian Americans with a bilingual Chinese/English op-ed:


1 Like

I was just talking to a friend who reckons that Taiwan is fcked if Biden is elected, ie., that Trump is the only thing keeping China in line.

I think it’s marginally true that Trump, being (how do I put this) somewhat mercurial, is treated as a potential problem by China, and the CCP doesn’t like dealing with problems. They’re far happier when other countries just let them do whatever they like. But I’m not sure he has the clout to stop the Invasion if China think it’s time.

Biden is too mainstream, and frankly just too old to keep up. China will wipe the floor with him.

As I’ve said elsewhere, though, I’m pretty certain Xi has the PLA drawing up plans for the Philippines as their next project, not Taiwan. It’s the softest target in Asia, offers much richer pickings, and no other nation would give a rat’s ass. Taiwan is a yuuuge can of worms in comparison. I see worrying signs here of a beachhead already, and a successful conquest would give the average Chinese Nationalist something to really thump his chest about, for a few years at least.

So you think Xi is betting the US wouldn’t honor the MTA?

Not a hope in hell, not least because there will be no military invasion. As with all of China’s other conquests, it’ll be done with money and underhand means, not direct confrontation. Correction: it is being done with money and underhand means; right now, today.

In any case, Duterte has made it quite clear what he thinks of the Americans and the MTA. It’s not a case of the US failing to honor it; the Administration doesn’t think the country needs it. And indeed they couldn’t honor it even if they wanted to, because there is no longer any US military presence in the Philippines. You can’t just jumpstart that sort of thing on demand.

There’s no way the US would want to get themselves mired in another Cold War in Asia. Imagine how that would pan out in a complex archipelago.

They already are.

I think what you mean is there is little appetite for direct military conflict in the region. Let’s hope it stays that way for everyone involved.


Hat tip to Terry B for linking this piece over in the K-Man thread. I’ll also post it here as it’s relevant to this thread too:


Cold War 2.0 has already started.

But I’d suggest that this one isn’t nearly as challenging for the US. Compared to the Soviet Union, China isn’t as formidable a foe and would need at least another decade or two at current spending levels to fill in its major gaps.

The Chinese shouldn’t be underestimated of course, but the Soviets were a much bigger threat at the height of the Cold War. Their military was far superior to China’s today in terms of being able to go head-to-head with the US in a hot conflict. Much bigger nuclear arsenal designed for MAD. The means to deliver it using multiple systems. Significant force projection capabilities in multiple theaters. And unlike the PLA today, the Soviet military had real-world experience.

China could certainly make life difficult for the US military in certain areas, but it doesn’t pose an existential threat to the US. The US poses an existential threat to the CCP. If there was a willingness to untie the hands of the military, the US could eliminate everything China has spent decades building in a very short period of time.


At Laorencha, local blogger—and part-time forumosan—Jenna Cody responds to social media in Taiwan to argue that regarding Taiwan, “Biden is the less terrible choice”:


1 Like

In military terms, yes, the Soviet Union was a bigger threat. In economics, China is behind but (unlike the USSR) catching up.

In what looks like a new feature column in the Taipei Times, long-term resident Michael Turton discusses Trump and Taiwan and the US foreign policy establishment, stating:

Whether Trump will sell Taiwan remains to be seen, but a more credible and still ongoing threat of selling out Taiwan remains, not from the Administration, but from within the foreign policy establishment itself.



Over a decade ago, Ken Silverstein observed in Harper’s Magazine (“The Mandarins,” August, 2008): “Today, most of America’s so-called experts on China, including advisers to Obama and McCain, have a definite if unacknowledged stake in keeping close ties with Beijing.” Silverstein pointed out then that four of Obama’s appointees, including China policy people, had ties to Stonebridge, an elite consulting firm which did business in China. A few years ago, when Evan Medeiros stepped down from high level Asia positions in the Obama Administration, he rotated out to the Eurasia group, which has business interests in…

Another example of this problem is Chas W Freeman Jr, once picked to head the National Intelligence Council under Obama (he was pressured into withdrawing his nomination). He frequently fulminates against Taiwan in his writing and speaking, arguing it belongs to China and should be sold out. Freeman, generally titled “Ambassador” by publications in his think-pieces, heads up Projects International, a consulting firm which — the reader has already guessed — has business interests in China. As Ben Franklin once observed, the advantage of having a reasoning mind is that it can think of reasons for anything.

Today foreign policy experts continue to rotate in and out of think tanks and organizations funded by Wall Street and corporations with business interests in China back into government positions, where, unsurprisingly, they argued for “restraint” and “constructive” engagement, the view that China would westernize and democratize, inevitably, as it became wealthy and globalized. In fact, the opposite occurred.

The results of this policy were manifest in the dilatory and timid Obama China policy these experts bequeathed us, which provided eight years for China to ramp up its strength, annex the South China Sea and put smaller nations on its borders such as Laos and Cambodia on the road to being protectorates, along with the intensification of its surveillance state and the oppression of minorities at home.

Twelve years ago Silverstein remarked: “Constructive engagement isn’t working well for the United States or the Chinese people, but it is working quite well for the very individuals from whom we might hope to see a new approach emerge…”

So spot on.


Wow. Sinking feeling in my stomach while reading that.

This is also a good read.

Stakes are really high for the next US president. The window of opportunity is limited.

1 Like

Amidst the still murky outcome of the US presidential election, Brian Hioe at New Bloom has revisited the question of what’s at stake for Taiwan if either candidate prevails. I’ve copied the relevant parts below. Be warned: this goes on for a while! But admit it, you’re looking for something to read while we wait for the election results to be confirmed. :grin:

What will the stakes be for Taiwan, in the event of a Biden or Trump victory? The Trump presidential administration saw frequent flip-flops on foreign policy, including abruptly withdrawing from Syria and abandoning Kurdish allies of the US, and demanding billions in payment from Japan and South Korea in return for continuing to maintain an American military presence there. Trump has demanded that Japan pay 8 billion USD and South Korea pay 5 billion USD in return for maintaining an American troop presence, historically a bulwark against Chinese military threats directed at both American allies.

Yet Trump came to be thought of as tough on China because of the US-China trade war and rhetoric lashing out at China on the world stage, resulting in a highly positive image for Trump in Taiwan. In reality, Trump’s foreign policy vacillated between periods of harsh actions against China and conciliatory foreign policy toward China, including high praise of Xi by Trump, both for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and on other occasions. Trump’s willingness to break from long-standing diplomatic precedent has included boosting ties with Taiwan, starting from the historic December 2016 Trump-Tsai phone call—the first direct phone call between an American president and a Taiwanese president in decades—as well as arms sales, supportive legislation, and high-ranking diplomatic visits to Taiwan by individuals such as Secretary for Health and Human Services Alex Azar and Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment Keith Krach.

But one notes that the initial reaction to Trump’s election victory in 2016 in Taiwan was, in fact, anxiety. Nevertheless, such views rapidly inverted after the Trump-Tsai phone call, leading to an increasing idealization of Trump as a “friend of Taiwan”, in line with traditional Republican supporters of Taiwan that backed Taiwan because of opposition to China and other nominally Communist countries dating back to the Cold War. In spite of Trump’s unorthodox political actions, Trump came to be thought of in line with such traditional Republican supporters of Taiwan, whose harsh rhetoric against China has been relatively consistent over past decades.

Indeed, Republicans have traditionally been thought of in Taiwan as more politically supportive than Democrats, though arms sales to Taiwan have occurred consistently under both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations and legislation supportive of Taiwan being bipartisan in nature. Namely, pan-Green political actors remain rattled by past actions under Democratic administrations, such as the Obama administration sabotaging Tsai Ing-wen’s 2012 presidential campaign through statements from the White House that it was concerned that Tsai might antagonize Beijing, and nixing arms sales to Taiwan due to fear of incurring China’s wrath.

More generally, the Obama administration is seen as having been soft on China and blamed for having failed to prevent the political and economic rise of China. The change in America’s diplomatic recognition from the ROC to the PRC also occurred under the Carter administration, and China’s entrance to the WTO took place under the Clinton administration, both Democratic presidential administrations.

As such, there has much anxiety regarding what a Biden administration could mark for Taiwan. In election campaigning, the Trump administration sought to depict Biden as soft on China, while the Biden administration struck back by insisting that it was, in fact, the Trump administration that had taken little action against China despite its escalation of political rhetoric. Advisors of the Biden campaign include noted China hawks such as Ely Ratner and Biden has suggested that he would be bipartisan in his administration appointees. Though attempts by the Trump administration to attack Biden on issues related to China included circulating claims that Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had murky ties to China, such claims later came under scrutiny.

The attempt of the Biden campaign to hit back at Trump over China could reflect that consensus that the US should take a stronger stance against China is increasingly bipartisan in nature, due to structural socioeconomic factors pushing the US and China into conflict. It is possible that a Biden administration may not undo the tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and could, in fact, inherit its diplomatic playbook for pressuring China, unexpectedly reaping the benefits of prior actions by the Trump administration.

At the same time, it is also possible that Biden is signaling a strong anti-China stance only for the sake for election campaigning, and that he will drop the issue once he takes power—if this happens peacefully without resistance from Trump and his supporters—in order to focus primarily on domestic issues. As recently as in May 2019, Biden stated in public comments, “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. I mean, you know, they’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us,” drawing the ire of Republicans and Democrats alike, and suggesting that China was far from Biden’s primary concern.

Either way, as a senior politician whose politically coming of age took place during the Cold War, Biden is unlikely to break from diplomatic precedents in as radical a manner as Trump, but instead to rely on previous models. Consequently, Biden is unlikely to pursue unilateral action by America against China, but to rely on a containment strategy drawing on the international alliance system constructed by America during the Cold War.

Diplomatic ties between the US and China could still be boosted if Taiwan is included in such an alliance. At the same time, many in Taiwan perceive Taiwan as having been left out of previous efforts by America under Democratic presidential administrations to cement economic and political relations in the Asia Pacific to counter China’s rise, such as the Obama administration’s Pivot to Asia. Taiwan could be left out of US containment strategies directed toward China, and though Taiwan is less likely to face the prospect of abrupt abandonment to China under the Biden administration—as was possible with Trump—this is still a very real fear.

That being said, a recent article in the Washington Post reporting that the Tsai administration favored a Trump victory led to a furor in Taiwan, as well as concerns that Taiwan had not built sufficiently strong ties with the Democratic Party, and instead put all of its eggs in the basket of the Republican Party. One expects a Trump victory to lead to a renewing of ties with Republican Party politicians, with a return to the view that only Republican politicians back Taiwan and that only they are worth engaging with, instead of attempts to diversify Taiwan’s ties with American politicians by building ties with Democratic politicians. Ironically for the DPP, Trump’s actions in declaring a premature victory remind of past stolen elections by the KMT during the authoritarian period.

However, much as verdicts of Trump rapidly inverted following the 2016 Trump-Tsai phone call, if Biden were to win, Biden’s image in Taiwan would likely see sudden rapid improvement if he were to signal a strong stance supportive of Taiwan after his victory. Biden was notably quite early among American political leaders to congratulate Tsai on her election victory and this has been taken as a hopeful sign of support for Taiwan by some.

But, at the same time, the wariness of Democratic presidential administrations in Taiwan stems from a fundamental fear of being unpredictably thrown under the bus by America, and the rather dubious belief that Republican presidential administrations such as Trump’s are less likely to do so. It is important to remember that the political relationship between the US and Taiwan has always been a political relationship of convenience, with Taiwan liable to be discarded as a geopolitical chess piece once no longer useful—a threat that could take place under either the Democratic Party or Republican Party.

This would not have changed with a Biden or a Trump administration, with only shifts in the odds of immediate danger faced by Taiwan between the two choices. Even while the future direction of American foreign policy and US-Taiwan policy remains unclear, with no clear presidential winner as of yet, the fundamental dilemma faced by Taiwan will be the same under either president.