TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan’s top China policy maker on Monday sought to reassure nervous lawmakers that Democrat Joe Biden will continue U.S. support for the Chinese-claimed island, which has benefited from strong backing by the outgoing administration of Donald Trump.
Tensions over democratic Taiwan have escalated dramatically since Republican Trump took office four years ago. China was infuriated first by Trump’s unprecedented call with Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen shortly after he won election, followed by increased U.S. arms sales and two visits to Taipei by top U.S. officials in recent months.
While that made Trump a popular figure with the public in Taiwan, China responded by increasing military drills near Taiwan, including flying fighter jets over the sensitive mid line of the Taiwan Strait, escalating fears of conflict.
In Taiwan’s parliament on Monday, several legislators expressed concerns about a Taiwan policy shift under a Biden administration, with some describing Biden as “China-friendly”, and others pointing to Biden’s opposition to a bill to strengthen Taiwan’s security in 1999.
Huang Shih-chieh, from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, said their main concern was whether U.S. support for Taiwan would change.
“Our biggest worry is that with a Biden presidency he may adjust his policy,” Huang said.
But Chen Ming-tong, who heads Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, repeatedly reassured lawmakers a fundamental change in U.S. support for Taiwan was unlikely.
“There’s no need to worry about a change of ownership in the White House,” he said. “Although there might be some changes in Biden’s tactics towards China, there will be no change in its China strategy.”
Chen noted it was former President Barack Obama, under whom Biden served as vice president, who pushed the “pivot” back to Asia to challenge a rising China, and that Biden was unlikely to challenge the current geopolitical structure of the U.S.-China standoff.
The United States and Taiwan share the same values, Chen said.
“Looking at (Biden’s) comments and support for Taiwan in the past, we can trust him to continue to reinforce the Taiwan-U.S. relationship.”
Chen said while Biden was “generally viewed as China-friendly” he had also made a lot of criticism about China.
“Some people only see one side of the story and overlook another.”
Taiwan officials have long worried that Trump was just using the island as a pawn to put pressure on China.
So Biden being in the White House may not be a bad thing for Taiwan, said Lai Shyh-bao, a lawmaker for the main opposition party, the Kuomintang, which traditionally favours close ties with China.
“With a Biden administration I think tensions in the Taiwan Strait will be lowered, because he will not think of Taiwan as a big chess piece, like Trump always did,” he said.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; additional reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)