Interview with Douglas H. Paal: It is difficult to “cool down” the relationship between the United States and Taiwan in the next four years
With the change of government, there is more and more discussions about Sino-US relations, and many people worry that the Trump administration will take extreme actions to increase tensions between the two countries during the power transition.
Recently, Douglas, vice president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, gave an exclusive interview to the Global Times and expressed his views.
What do you think the Trump administration will do with China in the next month or so?
Baudaug: There are some rumors coming from within the White House, such as banning more Chinese companies, imposing sanctions on more Chinese, including Hong Kong people, and sending warships, aircraft and so on near China. There are many possibilities. It is worth noting that there is turmoil in important positions in the government, and the new candidates seem to have different goals from his predecessor. For example, former Defense Secretary Esper has been patiently and cautiously maintaining military dialogue with the Chinese side. I don’t know what policies or styles his replacement will have.
Is it possible for Pompeo to visit Taiwan?
Douglas: There are rumors in this regard. But after observing his behavior in the past few months, my opinion is that he will not really do so. Trump and Pompeo are very careful about Taiwan. They try to break the line without really crossing any red line.
Indeed, they seem to want to push the US-China relationship to a certain tipping point to force Biden from making more adjustments to what this administration has done. Maybe they did think about it (let Pompeo visit Taiwan), but I still think it’s just a rumor.
How will the outcome of the U.S. election affect Sino-US relations and cross-strait relations?
Douglas: What are the priorities of a new leader after taking office? If we look closely at what Biden has said, his priorities will be to fight the epidemic, restore the economy, deal with race issues and deal with climate change. In the fight against the epidemic and climate change, there is a lot of room for cooperation between the United States and China, and there is no reason for conflict. Other fields are actually not very relevant to the relationship between the United States and China. So I think China can be more patient and look forward to some changes.
It always takes a period of time for a new government to gain a foothold. My suggestion is that China can use this time to seriously consider how to reach out to the new Biden administration, such as making recommendations in areas that want to negotiate with the United States, or taking measures to ease tensions between the two countries.
What policy will the Biden administration adopt on Taiwan?
Douglas: I don’t think the relationship between the United States and Taiwan will “cool down” in the next four years. There are many bipartisan bills in the U.S. Congress related to Taiwan, and Biden has to follow them cautiously.
But the Biden administration will not put the Taiwan issue at the center of its policy. Taiwan is not the main topic in his campaign, and Taiwan’s priority in various polls is very low. Taiwan will be handled carefully and even “welcome” by the Biden administration, but will be dealt with on the broader background board of Sino-US interests.
There are signs that the Trump administration tried to take action this summer to make Taiwan a more confrontational issue, but it did not do so later. The United States and Taiwan have more interaction, but have not crossed the red line. As far as I know, Trump still hopes that the first phase of the trade agreement can be retained. He does not want to go too far on the Taiwan issue and ruin this result. The reports I see show that the Biden administration also hopes that the first phase of the trade agreement can continue to be implemented, which will benefit both economies more.
Which future events about Taiwan will attract the most attention of American policymakers?
Douglas: I think it will happen. If there is an accident, I hope that the United States and China can remain calm and not degenerate into a large-scale conflict. I think no one in the Biden administration would want to cause trouble on this issue.
In the past period, the United States and China have held another military dialogue under the leadership of the competent authorities of the two sides, and communication has greatly improved. Frankly speaking, in 2001, when the South China Sea crash occurred, communication between the United States and China was very poor, but since then, the two countries have done a lot of work to improve this. I believe that both countries hope to avoid some unexpected events through these mechanisms.