Taiwan is hoping newfound antipathy toward China’s growing authoritarianism will drive the U.S. toward negotiating a free-trade agreement with the island in the near future, Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu told the Atlanta Council on International Relations this week.
To demonstrate its “earnestness,” Taiwan Aug. 28 dropped longstanding import restrictions on U.S. beef and pork that had been a main impediment to a potential deal from the American side, Mr. Wu said.
“We believe that this step will be an important starting point for closer economic partnership between Taiwan and the U.S.,” Mr. Wu said.
The move could prove lucrative for American farmers, providing new access to a market that is already the No. 7 customer globally for U.S. agriculture exports despite a population of just 23 million.
“Georgia pecans contributed a large portion of this. You can find Georgia pecans in almost every local supermarket in Taiwan,” Mr. Wu added, offering a nod to his audience.
But more importantly, Mr. Wu said deeper economic ties are a strategic imperative as Taiwan grows more worried over Chinese actions like the imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong and crackdowns on its ethnic minorities.
“If the Chinese actions in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia are not stopped, we are concerned that China will take Taiwan as its possible next step.”
Mr. Wu described recent acts of provocation as proof that China may be preparing for an invasion of the self-ruled island it considers a province.
“This is high time,” Mr. Wu said of the need for a trade deal with the U.S. “Look at the economic situation around the world right now. We need like-minded partners to work closer with each other. And if you look around East Asia, there is no partner more reliable than Taiwan.”
In pre-recorded remarks and in a question-and-answer segment with the ACIR President Robert Kennedy and programs director Tony Cuzzucoli, Mr. Wu framed economic cooperation in security terms, noting that Taiwan’s deep investments in the mainland make it more vulnerable to retaliation.
Taiwan, he said, is on the “front line” for democracy in Asia as China continues to conduct “ideological warfare” globally, exporting ideas using both its direct economic leverage and more subtle “influence operations.” He accused China of interfering in Taiwanese elections and condemned the mainland’s Confucius Institutes throughout the world as propaganda organs — aligning with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on that issue and others.
Mr. Wu thanked the U.S. for actions sanctioning Chinese officials over Hong Kong and Xinjiang, saying the U.S. has taken the sole concrete action to counter China despite widespread “international condemnation” of its actions.
While stressing that Taiwan hopes for continued peace, he said in a conflict it would prevail as a democratic “David” over China’s authoritarian “Goliath” thanks to international support, including American arms sales that have ramped up under the Trump administration.
As an example of the benefits of Taiwan’s open society, he pointed to its success fighting COVID-19; the island has had just seven deaths from the virus on some 500 cases, despite its proximity to China. By most accounts, normal life has resumed there, and Taiwan has been a donor of personal protective equipment around the world — including 119,000 masks to Georgia.
Enhancing bilateral trade that already stands at $87 billion would be a vote of confidence for Taiwan as a guardian of democracy in Asia, Director General Yi-lung Elliot Wang of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta said in an ACIR webinar Thursday that included a debut of the video with the foreign minister.
“As the U.S. is trying to decouple with China, it means that U.S. needs to decrease the dependence on the Chinese market. So do Taiwanese companies. That’s why we need a bilateral trade agreement, to help the Taiwanese companies to find another big market other than the Chinese one,” he said, noting that Taiwanese firms make 80 percent of U.S. intermediary electronic products in China.
“I think Taiwan can play a very big role on this front to help U.S. companies,” Mr. Wang said.
This momentum should lead to Taiwanese firms moving plants back into Taiwan or even all the way to the U.S. market, Mr. Wang said, as has been the case with massive Taiwanese projects like TSMC’s planned $12 billion semiconductor plant in Arizona.
Mr. Wang said Taiwan also seeks to go beyond the trade of commodities and manufactured goods, instead looking at complementary service industries like tourism, fintech, smart cities and others.
Mr. Wu, the foreign minister, spoke to the Atlanta audience virtually from Taipei after having to cancel an in-person visit in March.
The Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia is the presenting sponsor of Global Atlanta's Diplomacy Channel. Subscribe here for monthly Diplomacy newsletters.