U.S. policy toward Taiwan

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu - President Tsai Ing-wen boards a twin-hull corvette
Editor's note:

This article originally appeared in Asian Education and Development Studies.

In May 2015, Susan Thornton, the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State responsible for China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Mongolia, spoke on U.S.-Taiwan relations and U.S. policy toward the island and its government. Much of her address reviewed the breadth and depth of the bilateral relationship in the areas of business, education, global issues and security. However, she also presented the U.S. stance on the relationship between Taiwan and the People’s Republic of China.

In this paper, Richard Bush explores how the United States seeks to promote its interests in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait in the context of Taiwan’s unique political status and its democratic system. He examines the recent history of Taiwan’s democratic development and U.S. responses to it. The main focus of this paper is on how the island’s domestic politics have affected its relations with both the Mainland and the United States, in particular the adjustments that Washington had to make to Taiwan’s new political dynamic. It looks not only at what the United States says, but also at what it does, particularly on security policy, and concludes with a discussion of the 2016 election.

Bush finds that the United States has responded in various ways to the dilemma of respecting the outcomes of elections in friendly democracies while protecting its own interests in peace and security. This was easy during the Ma Ying-Jeou administration (2008-2016), but he argues it is likely to become more difficult following Taiwan’s presidential election in January 2016. This study draws on personal experience and an in-depth understanding of Taiwan politics and American diplomacy.