One of the premier foreign policy goals of the Biden administration is the enhancement of the US’s relations with the Indo-Pacific region.
Taiwan is an open economy with a free and democratic society that respects human rights and the rule of law. Taiwan generally maintains transparent regulatory and accounting systems that conform to international standards, with independent legal system and adheres to key international agreements for intellectual property rights.
Taiwan and the US share common values: A deep belief in democracy and the benefit of preserving the liberal international order. The US led Indo-Pacific regional security strategy benefits Taiwan and other regional countries. A strong Taiwan-US relationship will warrant a successful Indo-Pacific strategy.
Hawaii’s connections with Taiwan run deep. Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) studied at both Iolani and Punahou Schools. The city of Honolulu maintains a sister-city relationship with Taiwan’s major southern port, Kaohsiung. Before COVID-19, Taiwan’s national carrier had regularly scheduled flights between Taipei and Honolulu which benefited Hawaiian tourism. Tzu Chi, a leading Taiwan Buddhist charitable foundation maintains a branch in Hawaii. Taiwan students study at all universities in Hawaii, deepening the bond between Hawaii and Taiwan. More fundamentally, the Austronesian culture and linguistic connection bind Taiwan’s indigenous population and the native Hawaiian community.
Taiwan’s geostrategic position as the keystone in the first island chain is increasingly important to the security and stability of the Western Pacific. If Taiwan were taken over by the People’s Republic of China (PRC), China could cut off Northeast Asia from Southeast Asia and impede the transportation of Middle Eastern oil to US allies, such as South Korea and Japan. Taiwan would become a major PRC naval base and present China with a maritime Fulda Gap giving it easy access to the Western Pacific. As such China could challenge American influence and encroach upon Guam, the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, and ultimately America’s Gibraltar of the Pacific, Hawaii.
Realizing the importance of the Pacific islands communities, Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Department of State created the Pacific Islands Leadership Program which brings young Pacific island leaders and government officials to the East-West Center with the goal in training them in practices of good governance using Taiwan as a model.
Maintaining the US strategic position in the Indo-Pacific region depends on strengthening and expanding the relationship with Taiwan. Besides enhancing regional stability and securing peace, a free trade agreement (FTA) with Taiwan offers the US wider access to one of the world’s top twenty economies and the US’s tenth largest trading partner in 2019. Taiwan investors would be able to more easily invest in the US and to create jobs. Trade between both countries would be enhanced by a reduction in tariffs which will improve the economic wellbeing of both peoples.
A Taiwan-US FTA will help Hawaii to combat its economic challenges. Hawaii would benefit from such FTA by way of learning about the progress Taiwan has made in developing green energy, Taiwan’s very popular national health system, as well as quality public education.
The Biden administration’s foreign policy focus is on enhancing the US role in the Indo-Pacific where the wealth of tomorrow will be created. A Taiwan-US FTA symbolizes the US commitment to Taiwan and the region. The Taiwan-US “Economic Prosperity Partnership Dialogue” held in November 2020 is a starting point. The dialogue focuses on building 5G networks, telecommunication security, investment screening, semi-conductors, re-establishing supply chain from China to Taiwan, and the development of renewable energy.
There is another crucial reason for a vigorous, stable Taiwan-US relationship. Taiwan manufactures the most advanced semi-conductors in the world. Therefore, Taiwan has been called the most important country in the world by mainstream media. Not only car manufacturers need the chips, so do the military and some major science research projects. Clearly, Taiwan and its semiconductor industry are indispensable to ensure the security of US economy, national defense, and the economies of US allies.
Given the significance of Taiwan as a free and democratic partner for the United States in the Indo-Pacific, it is incumbent for both sides to find ways to enhance trade and economic relations. Negotiating and signing a FTA would be an effective way to move forward.
(Provided by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Honolulu, the de facto Taiwanese Consulate General in Hawaii)