Taiwan strategizes amid looming Trump-Biden election battle

Reporter Hao Chen (陳思豪) Global Views-Commonwealth Publishing Group / Editor Dimitri Bruyas TVBS World Taiwan (Translator)
Release time:2024/05/08 17:11
Last update time:2024/05/08 17:13
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Taiwan strategizes amid looming Trump-Biden election battle (Courtesy of AP) Taiwan strategizes amid looming Trump-Biden election battle
Taiwan strategizes amid looming Trump-Biden election battle (Courtesy of AP)

This year's U.S. presidential election feels familiar, as the "Trump vs. Biden" matchup from four years ago is almost certain to be replayed. Regardless of whether the outcome is the same as in 2020, Taiwan must think outside the box to strategize. The stage is set for the 2024 U.S. presidential election, ready to replay the Biden vs. Trump 2.0 showdown.

The results of Super Tuesday in March showed President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump winning big in their respective primaries. Such outcomes almost guarantee a Biden-Trump rematch in November, a contest that not only affects global dynamics but also has critical implications for Asia-Pacific security and Taiwan-U.S. economic development.


In 2020, their first showdown captivated the entire U.S., resulting in the highest voter turnout since 1960. However, this time could be markedly different: Trump's legal entanglements and volatile personality have alienated many Americans; Biden's advanced age and occasional health issues have also been scrutinized. Many media outlets have predicted that voter turnout for this election could be significantly low.

Legal Battles and a Third Force Make the Outcome Uncertain
Polls indicate that most U.S. voters do not wish to see Biden and Trump face off again. With both main candidates being unpopular, the attention on third-party candidates is significantly higher than in previous years.

Among the most talked-about is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the nephew of former Democratic President Kennedy. Although his chances of winning the presidency are slim, he could play a crucial role in determining the outcome of a closely contested election.

Another significant variable in the election is the multiple lawsuits involving Trump. However, early last month, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Colorado State's request to bar Trump from running, significantly reducing the likelihood of Trump being jailed before the election. As for other cases, such as payments to a porn star and taking classified documents, clear outcomes are unlikely before the election.

Currently, the two candidates have sharply contrasting policies. In foreign policy, Biden has worked to strengthen alliances, while Trump continues to embrace isolationism. In economic policy, Biden has bolstered regional economic cooperation, whereas Trump, coming from the business world, has proposed raising tariffs and implementing trade barriers against other countries. These stark differences pose a highly challenging and impactful diplomatic test for the incoming Lai Ching-te (賴清德) government.

During Biden's four years in office, the U.S. has continuously strengthened alliances in the Indo-Pacific region and deepened cooperation. Hung-Jen Wang (王宏仁), director of the Institute for National Policy Research (國策院) and professor of Political Science at the National Cheng Kung University (成功大學政治系), believes that if Biden is re-elected, he is expected to maintain this pace without significant changes. After all, promoting multilateral cooperation has been his greatest achievement in recent years.

In recent years, the U.S. and many countries in the Indo-Pacific region have repeatedly mentioned the importance of the Taiwan Strait in their diplomatic documents. These are not scenarios China wishes to see. Drawing more countries into the Taiwan Strait issue increases the complexity of the situation, naturally affecting the Chinese Communist Party's willingness to attack Taiwan. "Such an approach indeed provides more security for Taiwan and even stability in the Taiwan Strait," Wang said.

Regarding military cooperation, Biden has approved arms sales to Taiwan 13 times during his tenure. Stanley Kao (高碩泰), former Taiwan’s Representative to the U.S., analyzed that China has become the greatest national security and geopolitical adversary of the U.S. If Biden is successfully re-elected, he is unlikely to let go of the "stick and carrot" approach towards Beijing. With the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF, 印太經濟架構) already in place and several partner alliances formed, these efforts clearly aim to curb Beijing's overt expansionist actions.

Trump's Return Could Come at a Higher Cost
"If Trump is elected, the concern may not only be for Taiwan but also for the allies Biden has rallied. They might all need to worry," Wang candidly stated. Trump, who prioritizes his own interests, might semi-coercively demand that members of trilateral alliances, the Five Eyes alliance, and even NATO pay a higher cost. Taiwan would naturally face the same situation.

Furthermore, Trump recently mentioned raising tariffs on China. Wang is concerned that if China is willing to make a deal in exchange for agreeing to Trump's demands, it could sacrifice Taiwan's interests. This would be similar to former President Nixon's visit to China in 1972 when the bargaining chip was the severance of Taiwan-U.S. relations.

This is particularly significant given Trump's focus on "American interests. In recent years, many Americans have grown resentful of the government's excessive involvement in the Taiwan Strait, the South China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula, believing it neglects domestic economic issues. Trump might capitalize on this public sentiment at the expense of allies' interests.

Kao, who has dealt with the Trump administration, believes that the current Indo-Pacific framework was actually established during Trump's era, merely transitioning from Asia-Pacific to Indo-Pacific. Thus, it can be interpreted that Trump created this framework, which Biden accelerated upon taking office. There will be an impact, but not a drastic change.

Taipei City Councilor Vincent Chao (趙怡翔), a former head of the political section at Taiwan's Representative Office in the U.S., has a different view. After all, stopping the Chinese Communist Party's aggression was a clear stance of Trump's. Even during his four years in office, while he worked to improve the trade deficit, he did not sacrifice Taiwan's interests. Bilateral relations continued to strengthen, with many government officials visiting Taiwan and an increase in arms purchases. Therefore, regardless of who wins, there won't be significant changes to the overall situation in the Taiwan Strait.

"Perhaps some clues can be gleaned from the words of one of Trump's key staffers," a high-ranking, unnamed national security official believes. The comments of Elbridge Colby, Trump's first deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, could be highly informative. He was responsible for Trump's Indo-Pacific strategy, and should Trump return to office, Colby might be promoted to a deputy secretary level.

Raising Tariffs Will Impact Taiwan in the Short Term
In recent talks, Colby has repeatedly expressed opposition to the U.S. involvement in Ukraine. His opposition is not because Ukraine is unimportant, but because he believes countering China is of utmost importance. He stated that the U.S. must have a strategic height, letting European countries take responsibility for Ukraine while the U.S. focuses on Indo-Pacific security. This suggests that even if the U.S. undergoes a change in administration, Taiwan's status will not be significantly affected.

There are some differences in opinions regarding U.S. foreign policy and the promotion of regional security. However, there is a consensus on economic and trade issues, especially the protective measures proposed by Trump, which will likely impact Taiwan in the short term.

An unnamed senior national security official candidly mentioned that Trump's camp is rumored to be considering imposing a 60% tariff on Chinese imports. This will undoubtedly cause short-term pain for Taiwanese businesses, many of which have parts and assembly operations in China and enjoy a significant trade surplus with China. However, in the long term, this may accelerate the shift of Taiwanese businesses away from reliance on China, which could be beneficial during China's economic downturn.

However, it's undeniable that Trump's protectionism could limit cooperation with Taiwan. In contrast, Biden's trade initiatives are substantial. From a practical standpoint, Trump's election would indeed be less favorable for Taiwan's economy and trade.

Trump has previously raised tariffs and implemented trade barriers. Professor Wang openly stated that such actions will inevitably cause pain, and it depends on whether the ruling party can negotiate to reduce losses. Another risk is the reversal of past trade progress between Taiwan and the U.S., such as the U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st Century Trade (台美21世紀貿易倡議), which was initially moving towards a free trade agreement but would likely be adjusted under Trump, potentially reversing past diplomatic achievements. 

During Trump's first term, Taiwan faced increased tariffs on steel and aluminum unless a special agreement had already been signed with the U.S., Kao suggests that Taiwan could mitigate losses by diversifying exports or following some mainland companies by setting up factories in Mexico to take advantage of the U.S.-Mexico tariff exemption, thereby reducing costs as much as possible.

It's Not Wise To Put All Eggs In One Basket, But Past Experiences Can Be Leveraged
The new Taiwanese government will take office on May 20, and how it responds to changes in U.S.-Taiwan relations will be crucial. Kao believes that Taiwan already has an established pattern of decision-making and interaction with the U.S., which is unlikely to change significantly. The current approach should be to calmly observe the situation without making any risky bets, while continuing to maintain good relations with the Biden administration.

The anonymous senior national security official analyzed that if Biden is re-elected, the existing approach will continue; if Trump returns to office, traditional thinking must be discarded in favor of an interest-driven approach to facilitate bilateral cooperation.

During the overlapping terms of Trump and Tsai Ing-wen, the official believes the new government could leverage the experience of national security and diplomatic system personnel. After all, the channels through which Trump receives information and the people he interacts with are not traditional establishment figures, so some flexibility must be maintained to facilitate smoother bilateral communication.

The showdown between Trump and Biden 2.0 is about to begin. Taiwan, situated within the China-U.S.-Taiwan triangle, will once again walk a political tightrope and must build a diplomatic and military safety net as soon as possible.

This article is excerpted from the April issue of Global Views Magazine; for more articles, please visit the Global Views Magazine website: www.gvm.com.tw. Here is the link to the Chinese story: 賴清德政府最重要的外交考題!拜登、川普二度對決,誰當選對台最有利?
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The Taiwan Briefing

#Biden#Trump#U.S. presidential election 2024#Taiwan#U.S. foreign policy#Indo-Pacific security#Trump tariffs


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