An assessment of the US free and open Indo-Pacific vision for Taiwan

Global Taiwan Institute
Date: November 20, 2019
By: Michael Mazza

Earlier this month, the US Department of State released its report on President Trump’s Indo-Pacific strategy, “A Free and Open Indo-Pacific: Advancing a Shared Vision.” The report, timed to coincide with the East Asia Summit and the second iteration of the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, both held in Bangkok, provides an overview of the Trump administration’s vision for the Indo-Pacific and of the policies it has adopted in pursuit of that vision. As can be discerned from the report, the State Department views Taiwan as an important partner—but Taiwan arguably features less prominently than it could and should.

Taiwan is listed as one of the countries with which the United States is “joining […] to face emerging challenges.” The report also asserts that Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy “aligns closely” with America’s “vision and approach in the Indo-Pacific region.” In a section on “bilateral partnerships,” the report spends two paragraphs (more than on Japan and on the Republic of Korea) describing how the United States is “strengthening and deepening” its relationship with Taiwan and expressing concerns over the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) “actions to bully Taiwan,” which the report says “undermine the cross-Strait status quo.” This last argument is important for the United States to make publicly and repeatedly. Beijing has sought to paint Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan’s current president, as a troublemaker in the Taiwan Strait. Combatting that narrative by pointing to the PRC’s quite transparent efforts to upset stability in the Strait is crucial, as it puts pressure on Beijing to reverse course and on Taiwan’s friends and partners to stand by the island.

The discussion of US-Taiwan relations in the report highlights arms sales, the Global Cooperation and Training Framework (though not by name), and the first-ever Pacific Islands Dialogue, which Taiwan and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) co-hosted. In its sentence on the GCTF, the report describes Taiwan and AIT cooperating “to convene hundreds of Indo-Pacific policymakers and experts on issues including public health, women’s empowerment, media disinformation, and the digital economy.” The administration clearly sees Taiwan not only as a consumer of American security, but as a contributor to regional development.

That view is clear in some of the report’s other mentions of Taiwan as well. In the report’s chapter on “enhancing economic prosperity,” the State Department includes Taiwan in a list of “like-minded partners” with which it is working to advance “an open, interoperable, secure, and reliable internet.” In the chapter, “Championing Good Governance,” the State department writes, “the United States is developing partnerships in governance priorities with Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, and others.” In neither case, however, does the report provide specifics on the nature of that cooperation, as it frequently does when it comes to cooperation with Japan, for example.    [FULL  STORY]

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