I think it is fair to say there is a widespread sigh of relief among many Americans — particularly those of us focused on foreign policy — that the chaotic and unpredictable Trump years will soon be over. Mr. Trump brought little real knowledge or experience to his foreign policy, and it showed. He also — in my humble opinion — did not err on the side of expertise in his choice of top foreign policy officials. Nor was he particularly open to listening to advice. All in all a poor set of traits for overseeing the complex foreign policy challenges any American leader must tackle.
President-elect Biden, on the other hand, has been steeped in foreign policy for much of his long and illustrious career in government. He understands the complexity of modern foreign affairs. I have little doubt he will attract able talent to help him craft a sensible and progressive foreign policy that effectively addresses the challenges and opportunities we face going forward.
There are many able Democrats with foreign policy expertise to fill key positions in the Biden Administration. Tony Blinken, a former Deputy Secretary of State, has been on Biden’s advisory team, as has Jake Sullivan, both of them veterans of the Obama team. I don’t know if Kurt Campbell is interested in going back into government, but he would be a terrific Secretary of State or National Security Adviser. I have known Kurt for several decades, and know him to be a long-time friend of Taiwan, as well as a realist in dealing with the PRC. I have seen talk of Kurt’s wife, Lael Brainard, as a possible cabinet official, perhaps in Treasury. Talk about a power couple!
The Trump years were characterized by haphazard and lurching shifts in foreign policy, particularly toward China. The current president initially seemed smitten by the thuggish PRC leader, Xi Jinping (習近平), sharing chocolate cake with Beijing’s strongman at one of Trump’s over-the-top hotels early in his administration. For those of us who have long taken a more skeptical view of Chinese foreign policy as it affects vital US interests, this was as strange as the abrupt shift to a starkly more hostile approach to China that emerged over the past year under the mercurial American leader.
So for many longtime China-watchers, a more measured approach to the rise of China — recognizing the dangers while hoping to avoid dramatic swings in this critical relationship — would come as a great relief. I have great confidence that President-elect Biden and his team will bring the proper mix of caution and creativity this matter demands.
President Biden will surely look for guidance and support from the Senate and Congress. He knows the players well, and brings much experience, as a longtime Senator and then Vice President for eight years, to the task of crafting well thought-out policies that reflect both the idealism and common sense upon which our Republic was founded. There are many solid friends of Taiwan in Congress, who can ensure a smart policy gets the funding and support it will need.
Mr. Biden also enjoys a personal relationship with Xi Jinping that predates his rise to the top of the Chinese political system. This will provide a solid background for the two of them to approach both the challenges and opportunities inherent in Sino-American relations.
I am sure that Joe Biden also has a great appreciation for Taiwan as a longstanding friend and partner in Asia-Pacific affairs. While I cannot document it, I feel confident that Mr. Biden — like many other Senators — probably has visited Taiwan at some point. He certainly recognizes what an amazing success story it has been over the years. This is manifested both as a dynamic economic system that punches way beyond its weight, as well as an inspiring example of democratic governance in a region where that has not always been the norm.
All this is especially true as we now observe the sad demise of Hong Kong’s promise as an open and democratic society. This is the baleful result of Emperor Xi’s decision to curb all the trends that once made this former British colony a beacon of hope, in the initial years following the British handover to PRC sovereignty just 23 years ago.
Let us not forget that Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) explicitly linked treatment of Hong Kong to Taiwan when he rolled out his “one country, two systems” formula in the early 1980’s. The fact that Xi Jinping has trampled on the last vestiges of that system tells us two things: first, you cannot trust promises made by the Chinese Communist Party; and second, Taiwan was right when it rejected any applicability of “one country, two systems” to its own autonomous development from the very beginning.
In conclusion, Taiwan should not harbor any doubts about its continued special friendship with the United States going forward. The island nation is no longer under any illusions that China is prepared to be a responsible partner, either politically or economically. But secure in its longstanding friendly relations with the American people, as well as solid Congressional support — Taipei can confidently look forward to close and friendly relations with the Biden Administration.
Ambassador Stephen M. Young (ret.) lived in Kaohsiung as a boy over 50 years ago, and served in AIT four times: as a young consular officer (1981-’82), as a language student (1989-’90), as Deputy Director (1998-2001) and as Director (2006-’9). He visits often and writes regularly about Taiwan matters. Young was also US Ambassador to Kyrgyzstan and Consul General to Hong Kong during his 33-year career as a foreign service officer. He has a BA from Wesleyan University and a PhD from the University of Chicago.
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In memory of Diane Baker: one of the last working dance journalists, a true dance aficionado and dear friend. On Friday, through a mutual friend, I received the shocking news that dance critic Diane Baker had passed away suddenly at her apartment in Tianmu, Taipei. The news quickly spread, and messages of concern quickly swarmed in from the dance community in Taiwan and abroad. Her sister Sharon in the US later confirmed that Diane died of a heart attack on Wednesday last week. She was 65. Diane was a dear friend to Taiwan’s dance community. Her frequent appearance at dance performances in
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