While Former US President Donald Trump was viewed as one of Taiwan’s greatest friends by certain camps in Taiwan, the US-Taiwan relationship under the Trump administration was largely characterized by uncertainty and unpredictability. After he took office in January 2017, reports—and worries—abounded about whether or not President Trump would use Taiwan as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). He was, after all, an expert dealmaker who famously put all options on the table. Would he put Taiwan on the table to strike some sort of grand deal with the PRC? The 45th President infamously compared Taiwan to the tip of a marker in terms of its importance compared to China’s. For four years, career civil servants in the United States and around the world were unable to predict what Trump would do—or tweet—next. Time and time again, US government officials offered reassurances that Taiwan would never be used as a bargaining chip, but this unpredictability never subsided in the media, despite the passage of a number of pro-Taiwan laws during the Trump era. After four years of Trump’s unpredictability at an end, how should US-Taiwan relations proceed, and what should the new administration seek to accomplish over the next four years?
Four years of breathless media speculation that the White House would use Taiwan as a bargaining chip ended with the inauguration of US President Joe Biden, and it appears unlikely that Biden will consider such an arrangement when dealing with Beijing. The new president’s views on foreign policy, and those of his advisors, can be gleaned from the public record, due to his voting record during his long career in public service. In 1979, for example, then-Senator Biden voted in favor of passing the Taiwan Relations Act after then-President Jimmy Carter derecognized the Republic of China (ROC) on Taiwan.
Biden understands the importance of working with allies and partners, as well as the proper way to treat them. As enunciated in the administration’s Interim National Security Guidance, “We will support Taiwan, a leading democracy and a critical economic and security partner, in line with longstanding American commitments.” This sentence—while admittedly pretty bland—is the beginning of the administration’s thinking on how to better incorporate Taiwan into US regional strategy and policy, and even how to respond in the event of a military escalation or invasion by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Since the interim guidance was released, the administration has scheduled discussions with both Japanese and Australian leaders on the topic of Taiwan’s defense, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised that the State Department would make it easier for US officials to meet with their counterparts from the ROC.