ANALYSIS: Taiwan's Future Under Trump and Clinton

ANALYSIS: Taiwan's Future Under Trump and Clinton
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像

What you need to know

Although the decision rests in the hands of American voters, Taiwanese should be aware of Donald Trump's and Hillary Clinton’s stances on Taiwan.

The U.S. Democratic Party made global headlines this week after nominating Hillary Clinton as its presidential nominee for the election later this year. If she wins the general election, she will be the first female president of the United States.

On the Republican Party sits nominee Donald J. Trump, whose rise has stirred debates and raised eyebrows, though a large number of Americans believe in his "Make America Great Again" slogan.

The two candidates have been opposites on foreign policy – Trump ostensibly wants to close the door on the rest the world by killing off U.S alliances, trade deals and international agreements, while Clinton encourages globalization.

On Taiwan, President Barack Obama and his administration have followed a policy that encourages a peaceful and stable relationship between Taiwan and China. But what would things look like for Taiwan the day after Clinton or Trump enters the White House?

Trump and Taiwan

Donald Trump’s stance towards issues in Asia not only will affect Taiwan, but also current U.S. allies Japan and South Korea. Trump says he wants to close all military bases in the two countries, which would inevitably compromise U.S. military support for Taiwan. Such a move could furthermore cause a ripple effect in the region resulting in, for instance, an acceleration of Japanese and Chinese militarization.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution argued that a weakening of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, from which Trump has suggested the U.S. should withdraw, would “heighten the threat of war” between China and Taiwan. Taking American troops out of Japan could also encourage China to make a move against Taiwan. By removing its longstanding security blanket in Asia, the U.S. could therefore promote conflict. Taiwan would no longer have the backing of American troops, as a vast majority of them are based in Japan.

O’Hanlon says that a U.S. pullout from the region would compel Taiwan to develop nuclear weapons on its own. However, that would cross a line for China, which has stated that a Taiwanese nuclear weapons program is one of the two factors that would trigger a military response (declaring independence is the second one).

Ultimately, President Trump would abandon U.S. military efforts around the world. Taking American forces out of Japan would also contradict the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), which calls on Washington to ensure Taiwan remains safe and is not forced into unification with China.

And Clinton?

If Clinton follows her predecessor’s policies, many experts argue it would be President Obama’s "third term." To put it into the simplest terms, President Clinton would likely regard Taiwan through the lens of the TRA and the “One China” policy. Clinton’s stance is in many ways similar to President Obama’s, in that it would seek to preserve peaceful relations in the Taiwan Strait. Experts therefore anticipate that a Clinton administration, and continuity with the Obama administration, would serve the Taiwanese people in a more non-threatening manner.

According to the latest polls, Clinton holds a 1 percentage point lead over Trump, with 46% against 45%, biut would train Trump by two points (39 to 41) in a four-way general election. It is early in the race, but already the two nominees are beginning to stand firmly on their policies. It is in Taiwan's interest to be aware of where U.S.-Taiwan relations may be heading.

(This article was updated in 2016.07.29, 09:23: poll numbers.)

First Editor: Olivia Yang
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole