Is Taiwan No Longer a Bipartisan Issue?

Taiwanese guard. Flickr/Creative Commons/Tai Gray

A widening political rift has led people to coddle Beijing and sacrifice Taiwan on the altar of partisan interests.

Republican members of Congress were unambiguous in their support of the president-elect’s action, even those who were critical of the president-elect during the 2016 presidential campaign. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told CNN, "I think it's [the call] healthy ... [t]hey're an independent nation, Taiwan, and I believe in the One China policy, but they are a democracy, which China is not and I believe that a conversation with the president of a freely elected, democratic Taiwan is more than appropriate." Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) tweeted: “I would much rather have Donald Trump talking to President Tsai than to Cuba's Raul Castro or Iran's Hasan Rouhani. This is an improvement.” Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) issued a press statement: "America's policy toward Taiwan is governed by the Taiwan Relations Act, under which we maintain close ties with Taiwan and support its democratic system. I commend President-elect Trump for his conversation with President Tsai Ing-wen, which reaffirms our commitment to the only democracy on Chinese soil.”

Noticeably quiet or obscure in their praise, however, are Democrats who have long supported a stronger U.S.-Taiwan relationship. Supporters of the relationship know very well that a phone call is long overdue and does not indicate a change in U.S. policy. Yet the fact that they remained silent despite the obvious ridiculousness of not talking to the leader of a fellow democracy and important security partner speaks to the incredibly polarized political environment that the policy exists under now.

As the late conservative scholar James Quinn Wilson noted, political polarization “encourages our enemies, disheartens allies, and saps our resolve.” This polarized environment presents a power-play opportunity that will not be lost on the PRC. Beijing will pull out all the stops to try to define the United States’ “One China” policy and squeeze Taiwan’s international space. Already, Beijing is urging the United States to deny or at least restrict President Tsai’s planned transit stops in the United States en route to Central America, even though transit stops are consistent with the 1994 Taiwan Policy Review. There are signs that Beijing's pressures are yielding some consequences.

When the political storm settles, bipartisan support for Taiwan will endure because of the shared values and growing strategic interests between the United States and Taiwan. Nevertheless, this ongoing episode underscores the widening rift in America and a clearly polarized political environment that has led people to coddle Beijing and seemingly sacrifice Taiwan on the altar of partisan interests.

Russell Hsiao is the Executive Director of the Global Taiwan Institute, a 501(c)(3) think tank in Washington DC, dedicated to Taiwan policy research.

Image: Taiwanese guard. Flickr/Creative Commons/Tai Gray