The Republicans claimed a decisive victory during last Tuesday’s United States midterm elections when the party successfully regained control at both chambers in Congress.
The Republican Party now has at least 52 seats in the new Senate, with the possibility of increasing the number to 55 if the three undecided results in Virginia, Alaska and Louisiana also go their way. Additionally, the Republicans also increases their majority in the House of Representatives by claiming at least 243 seats out of 435.
As Republicans are traditionally perceived to be more pro-Taiwan than Democrats, some are hoping for a boost in support for Taiwan on Capitol Hill. However, according to Julia Famularo, a pre-doctoral fellow in international securities studies at Yale University, supporting Taiwan’s democratic consolidation and enhancing bilateral relations are largely bipartisan efforts, as China’s increasing aggressive behavior has demonstrated to a new generation of lawmakers Taiwan’s importance to US strategic goals in the Asia Pacific region.
Famularo says that “the relationship between Taiwan and the US has suffered from benign neglect for far too long” and that the Obama Administration still has much to do to invigorate the relationship with Taiwan.
The strongest potential benefit for Taiwan, says Famularo, lies in support for Taiwan to join regional trade arrangements. “If the GOP leadership can facilitate the renewal of the Trade Promotion Authority, then it might ultimately hasten Taiwan’s ability to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) or signal the possibility of a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) in the future.”
The TPP, which aims at lowering trade tariffs and regulatory barriers among a dozen or so nations around the Pacific rim, could add $77 billion in income to US companies by 2025 if passed. Taiwan has been pressing to become one of the members of the TPP, but it is not currently party to the TPP negotiations. Famularo emphasizes that “both the United States and Taiwan would need to commit to serious negotiations before either of these potential trade agreements could come to fruition, having a trade-friendly Congress is a positive first step.”
However, the United States will have to pay attention to other parts of the world at the moment. “Although many members of Congress would undoubtedly like to pay greater attention to the Asia-Pacific region, developing a strategy to combat and destroy the Islamic State (ISIL) will remain a high priority for both the executive and legislative branches of government,” says Famularo. The Banyan column of The Economist magazine agrees, citing that ISIL, Ukraine and the ebola virus have all “hijacked America’s attention” at the moment.
Ultimately, “the White House, National Security Council and US Department of State continue to hold the greatest role in shaping, implementing, and managing Taiwan policy,” Famularo says. “As a result, the reshuffle in the American congressional landscape is unlikely to have a substantial impact on the overall contours of the bilateral relationship between Taiwan the United States.”
In the meantime, President Obama and Taiwan’s APEC representative, former Vice President Vincent Siew, will join other Asian economic leaders to discuss regional economic integration this week. Siew, who met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday to emphasize Taiwan’s commitment to the 1992 Consensus, which states that both sides agree there is only one China. The meeting marks the first meeting between Taiwan and China’s high-level officials since President Ma openly showed his support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protest in October.
(Feature photo of a joint session of Congress.)