Simone Gao: President Trump signed the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act in August, and there were a number of pro-Taiwan military elements in it. Do you think it’s enough?
Ian Easton: I think it would be very positive. For the most part is the sense of Congress, the only thing that Congress actually mandated the Department of Defense to do is to produce a report. Pretty much everything else in there is the sense of Congress. It’s an expression of the aspirations, the hopes of the American people, an expression of support for Taiwan and for U.S. national interests in the western Pacific. But it’s very good. The language, if you look at it and you break down everything from supporting a potential hospital ship visit to Taiwan, to reaffirming the Taiwan Relations Act, and Reagan’s Six Assurances to Taiwan, it’s the bedrock for U.S.-Taiwan relations in the absence of official diplomatic ties. Everything from supporting regularized arms sales to Taiwan, increased arms sales to Taiwan, increased communications at the highest levels between our two militaries. There’s a lot of very important initiatives that are in there. And if the Trump administration did act upon all of those, I do think it would make a very, very positive impact. I worry, however, that because of longstanding bureaucratic inertia, it may be slow. And so I’m not sure that all of the good things that are suggested by Congress will actually happen over the next year.
Simone Gao: Can you elaborate on just how important Taiwan is to the U.S. strategically?
Ian Easton: Well, for the United States, Taiwan is important strategically on two different levels. One is the level of–it’s really the level of principles and values. Taiwan is a like-minded country for the United States. It’s a democracy, it values freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, all of the core elements of American principles, all the things that our Founding Fathers and all the generations that have come since then, all of the intrinsic values that we have, the things that we hold to be sacred as a nation, and all the things that have made us very, very successful as a nation, the Taiwanese government, the Republic of China government, agrees with. Also, as a matter of geostrategic interest, this is less about values and more about our own cold, rational calculations of how do we maintain our power and our influence and our economic prosperity. If you look at Taiwan, its location, it’s situated in the middle of the first island chain, which is critical geography. It sits at the nexus of the world’s most heavily trafficked maritime lines of communication and airlines of communication. It occupies essential geostrategic terrain. This is a place that the United States simply cannot afford to lose on that basis as well.
Simone Gao: How can the United States really help Taiwan instead of just making symbolic gestures? For example, do you think downgrading the U.S. diplomatic relations with countries who dump Taiwan diplomatically for China is a good way to help Taiwan maintain its international space?
Ian Easton: Well, I think anytime the United States government, and especially the U.S. State Department, which until recently has been very, very accommodating to the regime in Beijing, anytime that they protest, anytime that they demarche the Chinese or they demarche countries or corporations or organizations that are cooperating with Beijing, I think that’s a good thing. However, having said that, I think that it is not fair for the U.S. government to take its own anger out, if that’s what it is, or its own disappointment out on those particular countries because we’re talking about countries in Central America and South America who are under tremendous stress economically, politically, and diplomatically. And it makes little sense for the United States, the strongest country in the world, to use those countries, and in effect to bully those countries when the true target of the problem, the root of the problem is the People’s Republic of China. It’s Beijing. It’s Beijing that is acting irresponsibly. It’s Beijing that is changing the status quo in the Taiwan Strait and around the world. It’s Beijing that is isolating and alienating Taiwan and silencing Taiwan on the world stage. And so it would make more sense, at least in my own opinion, for the U.S. government, and the State Department in particular, to express its dissatisfaction and its disappointment with the regime in Beijing directly, and not to go after smaller countries in Central America or South America, or in the future it could be Africa or in the South Pacific.