A breaking development in Taiwan-U.S. relations has occurred today with the renewal of discussions on a potential free trade agreement. The Trade and Investment Framework Agreement meeting will be held on June 30 between the highest levels of de facto diplomatic representation with Taiwan Representative to the United States Hsiao Bi-khim and American Institute in Taiwan Director Brent Christensen advancing talks after an earlier meeting between U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai and the Taiwan government on initiating a bilateral free trade agreement.

The meeting, which has garnered wide attention within Taiwan, occurs as a wave of China-related bills are being proposed and passed in the U.S. Congress. In addition to the Strategic Competition Act of 2021 introduced by the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in early April, the Senate also passed the Endless Frontiers Act to boost advanced domestic research and development in May, followed by the expanded U.S. Innovation and Competition Act in early June aimed at countering Chinese scientific and technological innovations. The Innovation and Competition Act, notably for Taiwan, includes semiconductor industrial policy.

Earlier this week, the House also passed several bills, from the National Science Foundation for the Future Act and the Department of Energy Science for the Future Act. Both bills are aimed at bolstering the U.S.’s competitive advantage over China in science and technology. These acts are premised on the idea that apart from orthodox military capabilities, a superpower’s might is multifaceted, from economic advantages with global business alliances to cyber and other technological aspects. Medical advances, especially relevant in the post-Covid-19 world, are part of this expansive conception of national power.

Noteworthy is the bipartisan nature of all recent China-focused bills, as countering China has become one, if not the only, topic on Capitol Hill that lawmakers can agree on. For Taiwan, this development enhances both the security of the nation as a de facto independent democracy and its economic competitiveness. The vast number of bills passed, though conflicting in specific details and approaches in the Senate and House, demonstrate the consensus of the urgent need to counter China’s challenge to the established U.S. global order. There is also consensus on the implications China poses to U.S. national security with its newfound technological and military capabilities. Lawmakers and government officials alike have jettisoned the old approach of engagement, seeing the direct impact on U.S. national security with China’s increasingly belligerent behavior towards the U.S.’s Pacific allies on China’s doorstep.


Photo Credit: AP / TPG Images

United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, May 12, 2021, during a hearing to examine President Joe Biden’s 2021 trade policy agenda.

Taiwan is specifically mentioned in the bills, from the need to enhance cooperation on various fronts covering both sharp and soft power. It encompasses a wide range of areas from strengthening the already robust partnership around strategic capabilities, increasing technological and political fellowships, boosting economic ties, to deterring potential attacks and coercion from China. Section 3216 is also dedicated to lifting restrictions on symbols related to Taiwan sovereignty, such as allowing the use of Taiwan’s national flag and armed forces on all U.S. government premises and interactions.

The next section comes close to many hearts of those affected by Covid-19. Section 3217 requires the U.S. government and its intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the pandemic, addressing concerns that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) covered up key information from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, silenced medical whistleblowers, and was reckless in allowing people in China to travel abroad while locking down domestically.

The bipartisan consensus on countering China in many aspects translates to bipartisan support for Taiwan. As a smaller island country right at the heart of the First Island Chain, Taiwan’s strategic importance is front and center for the United States. Apart from its geographic importance, Taiwan is also the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer, with over 60% of the global market share. The key to global dominance between superpowers is increasingly dependent upon which country has access to the most advanced technology. Everything from stealth fighters, public infrastructure, to everyday business operations, and the average smartphone all require semiconductors to function.

As the U.S.’s broad spectrum contest with China over technology intensifies, Taiwan’s role has become all the more indispensable. In addition to legislation, the U.S. has also recently provided critical support to Taiwan on various fronts. U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth led a coalition to visit Taiwan on June 6 to provide Covid-19 vaccines to help the country alleviate its shortage.

The long term strength of the U.S. bipartisan consensus on countering China and the important role Taiwan has come to play in it remains to be seen. For the time being, however, it appears that Taiwan is critical in this race from strategic, technological, economic, aspects, in addition to the goal of protecting liberal democratic values. The smart ways in which Taiwan can best adjust itself to this competition and enhance its own competitiveness through its partnership with the U.S. may be in extracting concrete results that benefit the country, from investment and diplomatic support. The legislative measures, and the broader U.S. policy shift, give reason for cautious optimism on these fronts.

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TNL Editor: Bryan Chou, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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