Biden, Taiwan and US-China high technology competition

Taiwan Insight
Date: 4 December 2020 
By: Robert Sutter.

Image credit: Xi Jinping Visit-7 by Antonio R. Villaraigosa/Flickr, license CC BY-NC 2.0

Despite official disclaimers, the election of President Joseph Biden has been greeted with considerable angst in Taiwan. The fear concerns how the new US government will not follow through on various security, diplomatic and economic advances in US-Taiwan relations undertaken by the Trump government. This is despite the strong objections from Beijing, returning to the strict adherence to the One China policy prevalent during the Obama-Biden government of 2009-2017. These fears are justified, but they run up against American domestic politics opposing easing US countermeasures against China and rising American interest in closer cooperation with Taiwan as a critical resource in the acute US-China competition for high technology leadership.

Heading the list of Taiwanese concerns regarding the Biden administration, President-elect Biden’s entourage includes many senior advisers closely tied to the consistent practice of the Obama-Biden years of avoiding steps to support Taiwan that would risk serious upset of the US relationship with China. Notably – even though President Obama and his senior staff in 2014 began publicly voicing strong opposition to Chinese use of military and other coercion to “bully” and intimidate neighbours in the disputed East China Sea and South China Sea – they avoided such statements in the face of ongoing Chinese military intimidation of Taiwan. The administration’s signature rebalance policy saw the US advance relations with Japan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries around Taiwan despite often strong Chinese criticism. Nevertheless, the administration at first failed to even mention Taiwan as part of the rebalance, and later continued mum on what the US was doing with Taiwan, presumably to avoid offending China in ways seen as adverse to US interests.

Consistent with such practice, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s tough rhetoric vowing to counter various adverse Chinese behaviour did not feature Taiwan. One of her senior campaign advisers, Jake Sullivan, now a senior Biden adviser, told the media in July 2016 that there would be no change in US handling of China-Taiwan relations if Clinton were elected.

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