Tuesday, October 27, 2020 | 8:00 PM EDT - 9:15 PM EDT

Zoom webinar | Margaret Lewis, Shelley Rigger

In August 2020, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II visited Taiwan, the highest level American cabinet officer to do so since the establishment of diplomatic relations with the PRC. A month later Under Secretary of State Keith Krach followed, representing the U.S. government at former President Lee Teng-hui’s funeral. What do these high-level visits suggest about the Trump administration’s policies toward Taiwan and the PRC, and about cross-strait relations?

The National Committee held a virtual program with Professors Margaret K. Lewis and Shelley Rigger on October 27, 2020.

Below are the five key takeaways from the presentation.

  • Margaret Lewis:  Regardless of who wins the U.S. presidential election, the U.S.-Taiwan relationship will likely remain strong. However, there is disagreement about whether the United States’ current “strategic ambiguity” approach should move toward “strategic clarity.” While some advocate for a clarified alliance between the United States and Taiwan, that move should be thought about very carefully as strategic clarity also has risks.
  • Margaret Lewis: The United States supports Taiwan rhetorically, but it is not certain that the United States would back up its declarations. The United States needs to show, not just tell, its support.
  • Shelley Rigger: If the U.S. election happened tomorrow in Taiwan, President Trump would win. Trump has very strong popular support in Taiwan, especially amongst those who advocate stronger action in opposition to Beijing, and who view the Trump administration as supportive of an expanded role in the world for Taiwan.
  • Shelley Rigger: Beyond pledges of military support, Taiwan needs help emerging from its economic isolation. A bilateral economic agreement between the United States and Taiwan would make a big difference.
  • Margaret Lewis: If President Trump wins re-election, a concern is that he will treat Taiwan as a pawn in his dealings with the PRC, as his approach is often very transactional. It is concerning to have Americans be pro-Taiwan only because they are anti-China or, more specifically, “Communist China” and supportive of Taiwan as “free China.” This is a dangerous outlook. Taiwan should be treated with serious consideration, not as a bargaining chip between two superpowers.

Margaret K. Lewis

Margaret K. Lewis is a professor of law at Seton Hall University. Her research focuses on law in China and Taiwan with an emphasis on criminal justice. Professor Lewis has been a Fulbright senior scholar at National Taiwan University, a visiting professor at Academia Sinica, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a Public Intellectuals Program Fellow with the National Committee on United States-China Relations, and a delegate to the US-Japan Foundation’s US-Japan Leadership Program. She is spending the 2020-21 academic year in Taiwan as a visiting scholar at the Judge’s Academy and a visiting professor at Academia Sinica.

Her publications have appeared in a number of academic journals including the Columbia Journal of Transnational Law, NYU Journal of International Law and Politics, Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, and Virginia Journal of International Law. She is also co-author of Challenge to China: How Taiwan Abolished its Version of Re-Education Through Labor with Jerome A. Cohen.

Professor Lewis received her J.D., magna cum laude, from the NYU School of Law, and her B.A., summa cum laude, from Columbia University, and also studied at the Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies in Nanjing, China.

Shelley Rigger

Shelley Rigger is the Brown Professor of East Asian Politics at Davidson College. She has a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University and a B.A. in public and international affairs from Princeton University. She has been a visiting researcher at National Chengchi University in Taiwan (2005) and a visiting professor at Fudan University (2006) and Shanghai Jiaotong University (2013 and 2015). She is a non-resident fellow of the China Policy Institute at Nottingham University and a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI). She is also a director of The Taiwan Fund, a closed-end investment fund specializing in Taiwan-listed companies.