In July 2018, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced $113 million for new economic and energy initiatives to flesh out the administration’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) strategy. Nearly a year later, what impact have these initiatives had for US engagement in Southeast Asia? At a time when US leadership is strained and China’s commitment to a rules-based international order questionable, which countries will serve as anchors of this order in the Indo-Pacific region? Many onlookers have struggled to define exactly what that policy will mean for hot-button issues such as increased tensions across the Taiwan Strait.
As many analysts have pointed out, cross-Strait issues concern not only the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, but also the entire Indo-Pacific region, because it may be the only issue that could provoke a conflict between the United States and China. At a deeper level, China still presents a distinct challenge to the United States. US leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate must focus on how their nation will deal with its strategic plan in the Indo-Pacific, the associated security concerns, and evolving regional security realities.
As China is a rising power focused on expanding its maritime territory in a regional cauldron of nationalist sentiments, it is important to recall the significant role that the US-Taiwan partnership has played not just for those two entities but also for the entire Indo-Pacific region. Taiwan has historically played an important role as an ally of the United States and has significant importance as a security factor in Washington’s relations with Beijing, and with other nations in the region.
In light of the evolving dynamics across the Taiwan Strait, Congress ought to study the feasibility of establishing a commission similar to the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Created through a congressional mandate in 2000, the USCC is responsible for monitoring and investigating national security and trade issues between the United States and China. The commission holds regular hearings and roundtables, produces an annual report on its findings, and provides recommendations to Congress on legislative actions related to China.
Congress must develop a comprehensive strategy to confront the unprecedented challenge that the Chinese government poses to security and prosperity in Taiwan, in the Indo-Pacific and worldwide
If the United States intends to counter Chinese expansionism, then it needs a new commission that will advise Congress so that its members will have some idea as to what the impact on national security is of free and open access to the Indo-Pacific region. China’s global rise has undoubtedly put at risk the national security and economic interests of the United States, its allies, and its partners. Congress must develop a comprehensive strategy to confront the unprecedented challenge that the Chinese government poses to security and prosperity in Taiwan, in the Indo-Pacific and worldwide.
Considered an extension of the US-led Indo-Pacific security concept to the region, the realization of the FOIP strategy is nebulous. From a Taiwan perspective, FOIP is simply a recasting of the maritime security agenda, and it is not obvious how Taiwan could make a contribution to any grand strategy. The congressional commission suggested above would monitor the national-security implications of the bilateral trade and economic relationship between the US and Taiwan, and provide recommendations, where appropriate, to Congress for legislative and administrative action.
Pompeo has said it is clearly in America’s strategic interest to deepen engagement in the Indo-Pacific region. More than one-third of the global population is there. Four of the world’s six largest economies are there as well, in China, Japan, and India – and of course, the United States. Taiwan’s activities in the Indo-Pacific region are largely supportive of the goals of the US FOIP strategy, and Taipei has openly expressed willingness to partner with Washington at a time when Beijing has a clear and growing commitment to exploiting the Indo-Pacific region for strategic gains. The United States needs to establish a concept or plan for cooperating with Taiwan in the region.
Irresistible forces will hit Taiwan this year. Participation in internationalization is Taiwan’s only economic option. A congressional commission with a legislative mandate is not a panacea. But without it, nothing is possible. A commission similar to the USCC is a prerequisite for Taiwan’s participation in the international economy. Willful blindness to international power politics, globalization, and the rise of China can only lead to Taiwan’s marginalization under capitalist competition.
From the point of view of its Indo-Pacific strategy, the United States sees China as the biggest challenge to American hegemony, so the administration will actively look for partners who can ally themselves with the US in the region. Japan is now America’s most solid ally. But Washington needs to build closer ties with Taiwan to strengthen the United States’ ability to conduct its Indo-Pacific strategy.
Beijing is attempting to lead regional trade and financial integration. The Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives must not ignore the impact regional economic integration may have had on Indo-Pacific economic security. The House leadership should craft a congressional commission similar to the USCC to bolster the prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region. A congressional commission with a legislative mandate would enable Taiwan to advance its bilateral trade with the US and also to contribute even more to the Indo-Pacific community and boost prosperity and stability in the region and the world.
The danger of a cross-Strait crisis is increasing as a result of developments in the United States, China and Taiwan. Rather than waiting for the situation to deteriorate before taking action, US lawmakers should consider a congressional commission to avert a cross-Strait crisis, as well as to be better positioned to deal with one effectively if it cannot be avoided.