By Joseph Ahu, Director, Taiwan Asia Pacific Reporting and Analysis Program, George Washington University
It’s the sixth time the United States has invited Taiwan to a summit. | AP Photo
By Joe Ahu
After a long wait, Taiwan and the United States will finally hold their first formal summit in 17 years.
Scheduled for Oct. 26, the announcement, expected on Wednesday, marks another achievement in the improving relations between Taipei and Washington. U.S. and Taiwanese officials began plotting this summit even before President Donald Trump took office. While the summit will take place in Washington, there’s little doubt that the island’s progress on economic, political and military issues influenced Washington’s decision to take this step.
Since President Barack Obama left office in January, relations between Taiwan and the United States have improved dramatically. The countries signed the revised 20-year Taiwan Relations Act during his tenure, and outgoing Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visited both Washington and Beijing twice in less than three months, the first president to do so in more than two decades.
Many Taiwanese consider the regular exchanges between their elected president and the commander in chief of the United States to be a major achievement, and, while these sorts of regular meetings with high-level officials are expected between each country, unprecedented openness between leaders is a powerful signal.
When Obama-appointed ambassador to the United States Susan Thornton and her staff began inviting Taiwan to top-level meetings during Obama’s last year in office, they knew that relations with Washington had improved substantially.
They also knew that as the President-elect Trump campaigned against the U.S. decision to formally recognize Taiwan as part of the United States, this presidential visit will likely lead to widespread support among Taipei’s ruling Democratic Progressive Party.
Washington’s invitation to Taiwan overshadows the much more tense diplomacy surrounding Beijing-Taipei relations. While the United States was generous in its invitation to Taipei, it remains to be seen how the Trump administration will handle China’s recent request that the United States conduct a military exercise in the South China Sea. The summit may signal a shift in U.S. approach toward Taiwan and China.
What’s more, while President Trump has expressed his hostility toward China, his economic policies may indeed signal a new tack toward U.S. relations with Beijing. Shortly after he took office, President Trump signed a bill making it easier for American companies to sue China if they allege violations of their intellectual property. Many scholars have noted that the United States’ trade imbalance with China has more to do with economic policies than trade, and with the administration’s new record in this regard, one cannot but hope that the two sides will have an impactful dialogue.
The better relations between Taiwan and the United States will undoubtedly benefit both countries and could actually strengthen the hand of a future U.S. president’s approach toward Taiwan.