US elections: Taiwan's trade links and international space uncertain with a Donald Trump presidency

TAIPEI - Mr Donald Trump's surprise electoral victory will add more uncertainty for Taiwan, even as the island's President Tsai Ing-wen congratulated the Republican President-elect and pledged to work with his administration.

Analysts say Mr Trump's isolationist foreign policy stance and strong opposition to multi-national trade pacts such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership will likely hurt, more than help, Taiwan.

Ms Tsai called the United States the most important democratic country in the world and Taiwan's "most solid" international partner, the Presidential Office said in a statement.

It also said Ms Tsai looked forward to working with the incoming Trump administration to ensure that the US-Taiwan relationship will "grow steadily and become an important cornerstone for maintaining peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region".

Taiwan wants to strengthen bilateral ties and continue to be a close and reliable partner of the US, the statement added.

But like the rest of stock markets across the region, uncertainty under a Trump presidency roiled the Taiwanese stock market on Wednesday (Nov 9), with shares closing down 2.98 points.

The American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), the de facto US embassy in Taiwan, has assured Taiwan that the development will continue in a "positive direction".

AIT director Kin Moy said that the US-Taiwan relationship has been "extremely resilient", whether under a Republican or a Democratic administration.

"I have a great deal of confidence that we will continue in a positive direction," Mr Moy added.

Analysts say a lot will also depend on how Mr Trump deals with China when it comes to economic issues. During the presidential campaign, he has said he will be tough on China for "stealing" jobs from the US and has threatened to slap tariffs on China's exports, which will hurt many Taiwanese businesses.

However, some expect that he will likely sit down to negotiate with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, who leads the world's second-biggest economy.

Professor Wang Kaocheng, dean of Tamkang University's College of International Studies, said: "He is a pragmatic businessman and knows it will be in the US interest to work, rather than create conflict, with the Chinese."

Mr Trump's protectionist trade policy and strong opposition to the TPP will also prove detrimental for Taiwan, which has been pushing to join the trade pact.

Ms Tsai has touted the TPP as Taiwan's chance to boost its trade links with the world and rejuvenate its economy. This comes at a time when relations with China deteriorated after Her China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took office in May after a landslide victory over the Kuomintang party (KMT).

She has refused to accept the concept of "one China", prompting Beijing to cut off all official communication with her new government. China sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory awaiting reunification.

The numbers bear this out. Since Ms Tsai took office in May, Taiwan has seen a 30 per cent drop in the number of Chinese visitors.

With Mr Trump in the White House, it is not clear how he will lean in terms of cross-strait relations and if Taiwan will be able to expand its shrinking presence in the international community.

International relations academic Yen Chen-shen of the National Chengchi University told The Straits Times that with Mr Trump as President, it is not clear if Taiwan can expand its presence in the international community.

"We don't know if Donald Trump cares about Taiwan and how he will react if cross-strait tensions should arise but I have little confidence as he has to deal with domestic problems first," he said.

But there are some, like former foreign minister Chen Chien-jen, who are optimistic.

Mr Chen, who was in office between 1999 and 2000, said: "He will not want to rock the boat too much but maintain stability. So he will still push for peaceful resolution to any cross-strait issues for the stability." jermync@sph.com.sg