Trump's isolationist stance may adversely impact Taiwan's security

US president-elect Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Oct 28, 2016.
US president-elect Donald Trump appears at a campaign roundtable event in Manchester, New Hampshire, on Oct 28, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Uncertainty hangs over the future of Taiwan's security as US President-elect Donald Trump assembles his Cabinet.

Analysts said the incoming US leader's isolationist foreign policy stance may have an adverse impact on the island's security, given the frosty ties between Taiwan and China. At the same time, Taiwan may reap benefits if Mr Trump proves to be pragmatic and, thus, more willing to sell military equipment to the island.

Relations with Beijing deteriorated after President Tsai Ing-wen's China-sceptic Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) took office in May after a landslide victory over the Kuomintang party (KMT).

Professor Wang Kaocheng, dean of Tamkang University's College of International Studies, said that because of its "One China" policy, there is no guarantee that the US will come to Taiwan's rescue in the event of a cross-strait conflict.

"Mr Trump is after all a businessman who is more concerned about trade," he said. "He will not be too interested meddling in the geopolitical or security matters in this region, which gives China a freer hand to do what it wants."

But other observers pointed to Mr Trump's appointment of Mr Reince Priebus - one of Taiwan's strongest advocates in Washington - as his chief of staff. During the Republican National Convention in July, he led efforts to include the "Six Assurances" agreed by Ronald Reagan in 1982 to ensure the sale of defensive arms to Taiwan.

It is also likely that the Trump administration will still stick with the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, which commits the US to provide sufficient weapons to maintain Taiwan's ability to defend itself.

But Mr Trump's criticism of US allies, including Japan and South Korea, for taking free rides on US security guarantees, has deepened anxiety about Washington's commitment to security arrangements.

Defence analyst Wu Shang-wu said that if Mr Trump intends to prevent US allies from"free-riding" on US security, his administration may "provide wider options of arms sales" to Taiwan, including more offensive weapons like strike fighter jets and warships.

But this means Taiwan may have to shoulder more responsibility, said Dr Wu, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. "Taiwan's military... (with) its many insufficiencies... may have difficulties to fully adapt new arms to (perform) their supposed functions."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2016, with the headline 'Trump's isolationist stance may adversely impact Taiwan's security'. Subscribe