The future of Taiwan and United States’ relationship is multifaceted. It involves Taiwan coming to terms with itself: recognizing its own value, leveraging human resources, and fostering stronger ties between the government and its people. In addition to diplomatic exchanges, other aspects such as academic exchanges and international humanitarian relief during crisis times may also constitute the future of Taiwan and US relations. The relationship will also depend on the US’ support of an economically independent Taiwan. Contentions surrounding Taiwanese independence will not be resolved in the near future, and it is difficult for the US to step into any definitive political stance involving cross-strait relations without affecting both countries’ relationship with China; however, helping Taiwan securing its place in the global playing field will prove beneficial to both countries.
Taiwan is a vibrant country with a diverse cultural background. It is well suited for international exchange, having a strong multi-lingual history, making it an ideal place for countries with plans to expand their business to the Asia region. It currently boasts the 19th largest economy in the world, and 11th largest export market for US goods. Close trade relations through the Taiwan-U.S. Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) has provided Taiwan with a relatively stable market, and US the opportunity to do business and make investments in Taiwan. Since the Carter Administration broke diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1979, the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) has been the balancing block for strategic exchanges between the US and Taiwan. Its geographic location makes it a strategically advantageous place for the military. Taiwan has attracted the US’ attention as the “gateway” to the Asia region from the Pacific. The Obama administration noted that Taiwan will play an integral part in the “Pivot to Asia.” As for Taiwan, its relationship with the US will help in staving off China’s advances for reunification.
Taiwan’s economy is at the brink of progressing even further, yet it remains overly reliant on trade relations with China, which is not sustainable for the long term, and is not conducive to Taiwan’s own economic growth. China comprised 29% of Taiwan’s exported goods in 2010; yet a mere two years later constituted 40% of Taiwan’s exports. While economic dependence on China contributes to a stable Taiwanese economy, it is ultimately not sustainable for the Taiwan’s own economic growth. Over-reliance on Mainland China is also holding Taiwan back from divesting from labor-based production and developing more promising high-value technologies. Rising labor expenses to produce goods in Taiwan also indicates the need for Taiwan to disinvest in labor-based production, and investment more in producing high-value technology.
There are many domestic issues that Taiwan needs to resolve in the meantime. More than 300 students participated in the student-led Sunflower Student Movement (March-April 2014) who peacefully occupied the Legislative Yuan in an opposition protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement (CSSTA). This issue had less to deal with cross-strait relations (although CSSTA carried potential for increased dependence on trade with China), and more to do with the government’s lack of transparency to the public. Kuomintang lawmaker Zhang Qingzhong reportedly only used a mere thirty seconds to scan the CSSTA during a commission review before submitting it for approval. This, and the fact that the people were not included in a democratic discussion resulted in discontent among students and citizens alike, and triggered a mass occupation of the state legislature in protest against the perfunctory review. The Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement is essentially a consensus between Taiwan and China that compels both towards an open trade services relationship, including business, communication, construction, environment, tourism, transportation, entertainment, etc. According to China, the agreement could facilitate a stronger relationship with Taiwan. However, the people of Taiwan have yet to trust their government, and their government has yet to present its decision-making process transparently. In addition, mass media should work as a checks and balances for the government to the public. Much of the public’s distrust in government affairs comes largely from negative portrayals from the media; broadcasting legislative session dissent, public apologies from money swindlers, and negative rumors will not improve the public’s opinion of the government.
It is inevitable that the future of Taiwan/US relations not involve China, and contentions surrounding cross-strait tensions will continue to play.While Taiwan is not yet recognized by the global community as an independently functioning entity, Taiwan’s social future relations with the US looks positive. In addition, so long as the government continues to involve the public in their decision-making process, and Taiwanese cast aside their hesitations with them, both citizen and institution may collaborate in securing Taiwan’s internal future.
University of Hawaii at Manoa
United States of America
楊鈞傑 (Tyler Yang)
Taiwan (Republic of China)
國立台灣大學 National Taiwan University