Can Taiwan Become Bargaining Chip Between U.S. and China on North Korean Issue?

As United States President Trump completes his five-nation trip across Asia, foreign policy experts in Taiwan are keeping a close eye on the words exchanged between the former real-estate mogul and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Some fear that U.S.-Taiwan relations would be downgraded in exchange for a stronger Chinese stance against North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. Katherine Chang, the minister for mainland affairs, tells the Washington Post that Taiwan could become a “bargaining chip” in such a case.

Currently, China views Taiwan as a breakaway province and has not ruled out force as a path to reunification. The U.S. has historically backed the “One China Policy” by refusing to diplomatically recognize Taiwan even though it has maintained an unofficial relationship involving trade.

Taiwan was not mentioned by either Trump or Xi during a joint news conference following their meeting on Thursday.

However, a number of Trump’s advisers have been known to be sympathetic to Taiwan’s concerns and grievances. In early December, Trump broke away from decades of tradition by making a congratulatory phone call to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen following her election victory. But, Trump has since said he will not engage with the Taiwanese president again without checking in with China first.

Furthermore, Trump and Xi have been enjoying an improved relationship, with Trump even saying both shared “great chemistry.” During a news conference in South Korea on Tuesday, Trump said Xi had “been trying very hard to solve the problem” with North Korea. In fact, the U.S. president has enjoyed some success where predecessors have failed on the North Korean issue. China, which is Pyongyang’s biggest trading partner, recently agreed to cut coal exports with the nation and sever ties with its banks.

When Trump was defending his call with Tsai Ing-wen, he had said that the U.S. stance on the One China Policy would depend on whether he can “make a deal” with Beijing on trade and other issues.

Still, the U.S. and Taiwan have enjoyed some good relations including a $1.42 billion weapons deal agreed on earlier this year. This is one of the reasons some diplomats feel a major shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan is unlikely.

Taipei is also looking forward to increase defense spending, establish a bi-lateral trade agreement with the U.S., and end all trade with North Korea.

But whether Taiwan can become a bargaining chip in the North Korean issue strongly depends on Xi’s decisions.

“Many have debated here in Taiwan whether President Trump will trade Taiwan in exchange for China’s position in North Korea,” said Alexander Huang, chairman of Taiwan’s Council on Strategic and Wargaming Studies. “But my hunch is that even if President Trump makes such an offer, President Xi would say no: ‘Taiwan is not in your hands. It’s in mine.’”

About Andrew Burke 145 Articles
Editor-in-Chief Andrew Burke is a lifelong aficionado of all things Chinese. He studied Mandarin while living in Taiwan for six years and now works as a digitization specialist at the Yenching Library, which specializes in Asian books and documents, at Harvard University where he also studies topics related to China, Chinese, Asia and foreign affairs.