With the aim of enhancing ties with Taiwan to another height, the U.S. Senate has unanimously passed the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act in October 2019. This bill will enable the U.S. State Department to consider “reducing its economic, security, and diplomatic engagements with nations that take serious or significant actions to undermine Taiwan.”

Shortly after the bill's passage, the United States and Taiwan held the first-ever joint exercise to boost Taipei’s capabilities to effectively foil cyberattacks from China.

These two developments are transformative: first, unlike in the past, there is an increasing realization in the U.S. administration of the need to extend full support to Taiwan in resolving conflicts with China; second, other countries have also begun to support Taiwan’s independent existence.

But these are not insolated developments toward building a strong relationship between the U.S. and Taiwan. In the last 40 years, successive American administrations have taken liberated efforts in this regard. However, the recent bilateral engagement highlighted the priority that the Trump administration has attached to the relationship with Taiwan.

The U.S. National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) for the fiscal year 2019 mentioned strengthening "defense and security cooperation" with Taiwan. In addition, the Taiwan Travel Act cleared the way for the visit of high-ranking American officials to visit Taiwan and vice versa. In July, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen used this act to make her stopover in the U.S., highlighting the engagement at the highest political level.

On the heels of the political engagements, the U.S. announced the approval of a US$2.2 billion arms sale to Taiwan in July and the U.S. defense establishment also proposed streamlining the process to make future arms sales quicker and easier. Prior to that, in April, the Trump administration had also approved the sale of a US$500 million package that includes training, maintenance, and logistics support for Taiwan’s F-16 fighters based at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona.

While these arms sales will surely help Taiwan to manage its security in a more efficient way, the Tsai government has also allocated NT$15.25 million as travel expenses for American military personnel to visit Taiwan next year to help assess its strength. This and other military programs are made possible by the Taiwan Travel Act as well.

Furthermore, Taiwan occupies an important place in the Trump administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy. A fundamental ethos of this strategy includes protecting Taiwan’s security and democratic identity. The U.S. Department of Defense report in June clearly stated, “The objective of our defense engagement with Taiwan is to ensure that Taiwan remains secure, confident, free from coercion, and able to peacefully and productively engage the mainland on its own terms.”

At a time when China is aiming at redefining the chessboard in Asia, the U.S. wants to send a strong signal by supporting countries like Taiwan. By doing so, the U.S. also reminds Asian countries of its commitment to protecting its allies in the region. To make a better bargain with China in the ongoing trade war, the Trump administration also sees Taiwan as a very useful element. Increasing American military and other assistance to Taiwan will not only virtually question the “One China" policy, but also indicates the Trump administration's intent to protect Taiwan from China’s military action. This, in turn, would pressure China to give more concessions to the U.S. on trade-related issues.

But the U.S. shall not be the only country supporting Taiwan in protecting its interest. In fact, it should be the responsibility of the global community to ensure that Taiwan, once a member of the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council, does not face intimidation from China.

Taiwan’s case assumes further importance in view of China’s dubious “one country, two systems” experiment in Hong Kong. Unification under this system will not only ruin Taiwan's long-standing democracy, but the people of Taiwan will also undoubtedly face inhumane treatment, as is being observed in the Hong Kong protests.

While the U.S., Taiwan, Japan, and other countries should foster a strong regional security mechanism, further efforts should also be made for Taiwan to get its due place in the regional and international economy as well as institutions. India, for example, should consider promoting security cooperation with Taiwan in addition to the already-improved trade relations.

Only then, the identity of Taiwan, which is a guiding force of democratic values, human rights, freedom in Asian and beyond, can be further enhanced as an independent country and thereby ending the fear of China using military force against “the Heart of Asia.”

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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