Taiwan can take heart that rarely in the wake of a U.S. presidential election has its own fate been so quickly prominent in foreign-policy discussion. The past week has seen several major media reports either raising anxieties about Joe Biden’s new approach to cross-strait tensions with China or reassuring the democratic island of unwavering support.
The Biden camp has been sending signals that his backing would be firm, amplifying the president-elect’s own words. With the mercurial Donald Trump, however, it was a series of actions that bolstered the Taiwan ties, beginning with the receipt of President Tsai Ing-wen‘s congratulatory telephone call upon his surprise 2016 victory. Concrete engagements and arms sales followed.
Taiwan’s office in New York, effectively a consulate, is wasting no time in moving to marshal American interests for an enhanced alliance still. It plans a virtual forum for Wednesday to promote a bilateral trade agreement. Some scholars on China believe that such a boost in Taiwan’s position would be among the less provocative steps the U.S. could take, as of course the Taiwanese remain a go-between for increasingly fraught Chinese technology commerce with America (again, fraught thanks to Trump).
The Biden administration looks to pursue a more modulated, or methodical, China policy that includes reunion with international bodies that have heretofore given Taiwan a cold shoulder. Rebuilding Western alliances is thought by the incoming team to be key to shoring up barriers to Chinese aggression, which means focusing Europe’s attention.
Arguing for a basic consistency in U.S. policy on Taiwan is the fact that greater China is a rare zone for bipartisan agreement these days. Democrats in Congress share in a hard-line stance toward the PRC. But political rhetoric can melt away in the heat of a missile barrage or even a lesser confrontation that puts American resources—indeed, lives—on the line.
Not since “Quemoy and Matsu” were a lingering flashpoint in the 1960 election has a new White House begun with the Taiwan-China danger seemingly hanging over it. Assuming nothing untoward happens in the next two months, the burden will be Joe Biden’s to put a lid on possible outbreaks with a resolute, peaceful defense of democracy. If that fails, a different and daunting prospect holds: Whether the man who has called Xi Jinping a “thug” will repel any thuggish advance toward unification would then be tested.