Taiwan’s political status is, in a sense, uniquely linked to the United States and the center of attention of Chinese authorities. Washington has always been very clear to the fact that the government supports Taiwan’s status quo as it is a way to keep the peace stability in the region. Even though Taiwan isn’t recognized by the US’ government as a country per se, their military and economic relationship is essential and vital to the island’s protection. Both sides seem to care deeply about their link in a time when China’s power quickly rises and its desire to repossess Taiwan grows even stronger over the years. One can refer to the Mutual Defense Treaty implemented from 1954 to 1979 between Washington and Taipei as an example of this special relationship, the latter ending as the United States decided to get closer to the Chinese government. But the implementation of the Taiwan Relations Act in 1979 will prove, and still continues, to Taiwan that Washington will still support in some ways the island.
With the rise of Beijing’s military budget by 10.7% in March 2013, American officials fear a possible attack on Taiwan in the years to come. This argument pushed Washington to sell arms and military equipment to Taipei, ensuring the foundation of its defense. During Obama’s first presidential mandate, the United States transferred 12 billion dollars in arms to Taiwan. The latest arms sales, in 2015, was the most important since more than four years. The Chinese government instantly reacted to this sale and accused the United States of being traitors. Beijing also claims that such behavior is an infringement of international law and that it harms its notoriety and power on the international scene. The Chinese government decided to penalize the American companies at the core of these arms sales transfers to Taiwan (Lockheed Martin and Raytheon). These measures aren’t a surprise nor a real threat as American arms manufacturers have been banned from China since many years now. The only consequence of these Chinese measures would be a possible souring in the economic relationship between Beijing and Washington. These arms sales also arrive in a tensed international context, which is the South China Sea conflict involving Southeast Asian countries. The arms sales aren’t the only support coming from the United States. Indeed, American military officers often welcome Taiwanese soldiers in some American bases in the US to observe training methods.
Another aspect to take into account in this topic is that, contrary to Beijing, Taipei has been significantly improving its democracy since 1990, and is largely supported by the United States on this matter and a role model for other neighbors. Thanks to commercial exchanges but also scientific and educational programs, Taiwanese citizens pass on to their nation the values of freedom and democracy.
The latest event to take into account as of the ongoing situation of this relationship is the phone conversation between the newly elected President of the United States (as he wasn’t invested as President yet), Donald Trump and Taiwan’s President, Tsai Ing-wen. Indeed, on December 2, 2016 both leaders exchanged a few words that led to a worldwide concern and sometimes outrage of such action. Mr Trump quickly justified this phone call through his Twitter account by pointing out that he wasn’t at the origin of the call. It is the first phone call between the United States and Taiwan since the diplomatic rupture of 1979. Barack Obama’s administration, still in office when the said call occurred, feared consequences from Beijing. One can say that there is some kind of blurred link between Donald Trump and Taiwan. Let’s bear in mind one of the visits in Taipei of Reince Priebus as chairman of the Republican National Committee on October 2015. Questions still remain today as to how President Trump will handle this special relationship with Taiwan and if it is in his projects to change the United States’ position regarding Taiwan’s status and China’s power.