One imagines that these “good old days,” founded upon a mutual enemy, leave romantically positive feelings among citizens of both nations. The “old days” require no objective analytical investigation about either nation seeking its own best interests through mutual agreements involving trade, defense, economic support, and the myriad ways that nations seek useful alliances.


Dr. Jerry W. Brown




     The future of US and Taiwan’s relationship has potential for mutually beneficial, but is dependent upon Taiwan’s recognizing its value, and acting according to its best interest. The status of its current bargaining position is relative to its dwindling economic efficiency. Taiwan’s advantages are the remnants of a more productive era—when competition for affordable labor was not as fierce, and options were limited. Recognizing the opportunities available creates advantage which leads to greater bargaining power.

     In the scheme of things, the more Taiwan brings to the global table and the more distinctly it identifies itself, the greater the likelihood of remaining independent from China. Taiwan needs to reinvent its value without dependence on United States’ support in order to make itself a sustaining force in this world. United States has interests in cooperating with Taiwan (just like it does Israel), but not at the cost of greater opportunities. In other words, US has the opportunity to work with China—and has great interests in working with China (i.e., pollution and carbon-emissions) just like US has interests dealing with Iran about nuclear weapons despite Israel’s protests. Taiwan may continue to expect US support, but not at the cost of neglecting its effectiveness with China. Taiwan’s dependency on US relations is potentially problematic, and if Taiwan expects to be taken seriously it must deliver value.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

     United States and Taiwan relations began when, in 1949, Mao Zedong’s Communist army defeated the Nationalists and proclaimed the foundation of the People’s Republic of China. After the Nationalists were forced to withdraw to Taiwan, (then known as Formosa) Chiang Kai-shek resolved to return and recapture China from the Chinese Communist Party, but required United States support. Meanwhile, United States had their own interests in aiding Chiang Kai-shek’s mission. On one hand, US perceived “godless communism” as the enemy of all god fearing democracies. The “domino theory” (coined under the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower) speculated that South-east Asia risked total communist takeover, and must be stopped. After North Korea was lost to communism, the United States was prompted into action. In 1953, the ROC Air Force and the CIA established a special Ops Squadron, the 34th Squadron “Black Bats”, to conduct electronic reconnaissance missions in and around China. Taiwanese officers—of whom my grandfather, Li Zeling, was one—were trained to operate the latest American engineering and technology to collect and analyze data regarding China’s operations and report activity back to United States.

     Cooperation with the United States has left some very positive sentiments among Taiwan’s older generation. Specifically, Grace’s father remembers receiving monthly stipends of flour from the US government. Grace’s father is from the countryside, where malnutrition and lack of education programs abound. United States presence in Taiwan harbored fond memories for her father—Sunday school programs aimed to promote Christianity and provide educational programs for students in hard-to-reach places were a welcomed respite from the bitterness of post-war effects. Missionaries rewarded students with milk and cookies, an exotic delicacy, and instructed students in English—an invaluable asset. Known for its generosity, US has since been the primary choice for members of my father’s generation to study or work abroad.

Made in Taiwan

     These relations also opened Taiwan’s market for economic trade and growth opportunities with the Unites States. Stability allowed Taiwan to economize and industrialize, becoming a net exporter in 1964 with the US as its primary market. For a time, many things in the US were "Made in Taiwan".

     Taiwan, known as the IT Island, has a developed capitalist economy—it is the world’s 19th largest economy and boasts the 4th largest foreign exchange reserves in the world. Taiwan has intimate economic interactions with US, ranked as the 11th largest export market for US goods. United States and Taiwan’s continued negotiation of mutually beneficial trade arrangements is also known as Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement. Taiwan is relatively a sound market which legally protects the private property and investment in comparison with other Eastern-Asian countries for the US companies and government to set up an investment and operation base. For businesses which depends on patent rights, Taiwan is an ideal candidate for entities looking to springboard into Asian markets. Technologically, Taiwan could not be in a more advantageous position with representation of global companies like Facebook, Google, Pfizer, and BMW. Also, considering Taiwan’s English-speaking background, openness to change, yet culturally conservative and eco-friendly-oriented practices, Taiwan makes for a well-balanced and competitive community—blooming with creative possibilities.

     Taiwan’s central location in the first island chain provides geographic advantage in terms of military leverage. More than once, the 7th Fleet (the world’s largest U.S. numbered fleet) was dispatched to the strait in order to protect the island from invasion. The Taiwan Strait is not only a U.S. intelligence base for data collection, but also the gateway for the western Asian-Pacific region for political, military and economic reasons; the US cannot act without Taiwan when implementing her ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy—efforts by the Obama Administration “aim[ed] to improve security, prosperity, and human rights in the region, with particular focus on security efforts” ( Because of Taiwan’s geographical proximity to China, Taiwan will be a significant actor in the success of this operation.

     To examine the current US-Taiwan relations from a military angle, will require appreciation of the significance of Taiwan Relation Act (TRA) to Taiwan. Dec. 15th 1978, after months of negotiations, President Carter officially recognizes China as the sole legal government of China and, in 1979, U.S. officially broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan. Since then, the TRA has become the legal basis for the US-Taiwan affairs. TRA replaces the former Sino-American Mutual Defense Treaty, but it does not weaken the bilateral relationship. Despite its limitations, TRA continues to strengthen the two countries strategically. For the U.S., TRA is domestic law that gives the US a flexibility to exercise interest in the Asia-Pacific region under the pressure of the Three Communiques (1972, 1979, and 1982) with China. From Taiwan’s perspective, the TRA, Three Communiques, and Six Assurances from the U.S. represent last bastion of freedom from Chinese rule.

     For example, the 1987 communique with China committed the US to decrease the sale of arms to Taiwan. However, as recent as December 2014, the US government finalized the sale four Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates for the Taiwan Navy1. ( In response to China’s adverse reaction, the US stands by its arrangement—the behavior is in accordance with domestic law as outlined in TRA, thus there is no sympathy for China’s attempts to intervene. Taiwan is using it’s relationship with the U.S. to deter China’s ambition for unification. On the same token, the U.S. is also using Taiwan. The latest example occurred April 2015 when two F-18 jets emergency-landed in Tainan airport due to ‘technical problems’. The incident was interpreted as a warning to China’s military exercise around the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and Philippines. This upset China. (


     From these preceding examples I have shown that, Taiwan is in an advantageous position to move forward. But unless the citizens of Taiwan recognize the opportunities available, Taiwan’s conditions will not improve. As the Taiwanese people encounter both economic and social transformation, unemployment and unaffordable housing reflect Taiwan’s lagging economy. Sentiments of frustration, anxiety, and disappointment are especially prevalent amongst the younger generation. Years after the sudden cessation of benefits from its relationship with Unites States, Taiwan feels abandoned when in 1967 Nixon began to establish rapport with communist China (post-honeymoon period). As China’s thus-unstunted economy increasingly grows, nearly every actor—governmental or private—is hoping for business and political opportunities in China. In this sense, Taiwan feels the threat of China looming; fear, unrest, and domestic instability mar the island. Taiwan’s weakening economy, overshadowed by China’s staggering growth and increasing global presence, equate to increasing insecurity and feelings of resentment towards U.S.’ abandonment. Colloquially referred to as the ‘China Factor’, the young generation feel that the U.S. government is using them to fight and contain the rising China. This realization once again inspires animosity towards the US, and instills lack of identity as Taiwan struggles to become more autonomous in the bilateral relationship.



     Around 1980s, after China adopted the policy of ‘reform and open’, Taiwan lost the labor advantage when facing cheaper wage in China. Industries began migrating to China to contributing to China’s title as the largest exporter and economic power in the world. Mid-2000’s Taiwan tried to evolve to maintain 'high-tech" industry, but policy failures on behalf of Taiwanese government in conjunction with increasing competition, over-investment and over-capacity, and the skill/wage/cost advantage from Chinese market made returns in the industry unsustainable. Business soon became too expensive to operate on Taiwan’s own continent.

     Taiwan politics appeals to mom-and-pop, but lack of resolution and ‘cold’ decisiveness tends to promote challenge of authority which in turn engenders a "bystander" effect; government officials fail to manage the selectorate. The Sunflower Student Protest in March – April 2014 led by the students last year was the “straw that broke the camel’s back”; hundreds of disappointed students demonstrated their frustrations to the current government. More than 300 students occupied the Legislative floor overnight to protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement—Taiwan’s domestic opinion is losing confidence. The trust between the government and the people which it represents diminishes. No matter how hard the government tries to rekindle Taiwanese patriotism, Taiwan is like an old machine that has many technical problems but its engineers are fighting with each other and cannot come up with a final agreement to fix it.

  1. Practice transparency

  Taiwanese people have to rebuild their trust for the government and the government should provide policy transparency autonomously instead of being leaked or discredit by the mass media and try to be more open to public opinion. Taiwanese mass media behave like paparazzi chasing after celebrities’ affairs and repeating negative messages, this brings a superficial atmosphere for the society. Also, there is little international on the TV screen or even newspaper. The mass media should take their responsibility to act like the fourth estate in the democracy, providing the quality information to the people and the capacity of the journalists should be enhanced.

     2.   Promote confidence

     Taiwan has many unique advantages, the inherent strategic position, economic power, the democracy and its way of life are the basis for Taiwan to behave independently and making itself instrumental for others. If Taiwanese people could really know who they are and what they have, they could make a good use of these stand.

    3.   Strengthen the multilateral ties and establish trades with China

   Taiwan has to sense the sentiment from the interaction of the two powers in order to find a balance there, providing the flexibility for itself. And Taiwan has to show its willingness and capability to maintain cross-strait stability consistently for the peace of cross-strait relationship is not only the core interest of the US and China but a worldwide interest.


     Overall, Taiwan has a lot of potential for growth towards better partnership. We’re also very optimistic about Taiwan’s ability to recognize its advantages. Something should be said about the perseverance of the people. Considering its opposition, Taiwan has demonstrated a fierce determination, and the results of which demonstrate in its continued independence from China. Although Taiwan’s efforts are not recognized internationally, this is because China is particularly sensitive to Taiwan’s public demonstration of China's failure to control its own backyard. To antagonize the situation is self-defeating. Although Taiwan still has the advantage of a democratic government/society and civil liberties, but that does not translate to economic well-being. How Taiwan orchestrates a course of survival and remains a key-player in the current state of affairs is critical for its continued success.


Vivian Cheng
Harvard University

Grace Wang
National Chengchi University, Taipei, Taiwan
R.O.C (Taiwan)

Views: 288

Tags: #TPC2015


You need to be a member of Global Ethics Network to add comments!

Join Global Ethics Network

Comment by Vivian Cheng on May 6, 2015 at 11:12pm

I notice... in the last sentence there is a particularly confusing error: "this is because China is particularly sensitive to Taiwan’s public demonstration of Taiwan’s China's failure to control its own backyard. To antagonize the situation is self-defeating."

Comment by Vivian Cheng on May 3, 2015 at 11:04am

Hey, thanks for taking your time to read these thoughts!

What do you think?

Do you think that U.S. should stay out of foreign affairs?

Do you think U.S. should be doing more?

I'd love to hear your points.

Carnegie Council

In Solidarity

The killing of George Floyd is another tragic moment in the long and painful history of racism in America. We feel the anger that arises from this assault on human decency. We hear the cries for action. The Council stands in solidarity with the millions of citizens who are raising their voices demanding change. Carnegie Council's motto is Ethics matter. We believe Black Lives Matter.

Vox Populi: What Americans Think About Foreign Policy, with Dina Smeltz & Mark Hannah

What do Americans think about the role the United States should be playing in the world? How do they conceive of the different trade-offs between domestic and international affairs, among competing options and sets of interests and values? The Chicago Council on Global Affairs' Dina Smeltz and Eurasia Group Foundation's Mark Hannah share the results of surveys from their organizations in this conversation with Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev.

China's Changing Role in the Pandemic-Driven World, with Amitai Etzioni & Nikolas Gvosdev

How has the pandemic changed U.S-China relations? How has it altered China's relationship with other nations and its geopolitical positioning? George Washington University's Amitai Etzioni and Senior Fellow Nikolas Gvosdev discuss these questions and more as they break down "great power competition" in the era of COVID-19.





© 2020   Created by Carnegie Council.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service

The views and opinions expressed in the media, comments, or publications on this website are those of the speakers or authors and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions held by Carnegie Council.