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The relationship between the United States and China will be a central issue for Joe Biden's presidency, Alexander Görlach writes. And the United States will have to make clear exactly where it stands on Taiwan.
The hard-line course that Donald Trump has taken as president toward the People's Republic of China is one supported by many US Democrats, as well. Amid all the domestic political turbulence of the Trump era, the issues of Hong Kong and Taiwan — two places continually threatened by Beijing's authoritarian grip — were among the few areas that did not provoke bitter contention between Republicans and Democrats. Both parties have joined to approve the measures taken to censure and penalize China's violations of human rights.
Once the results of the US presidential election are confirmed, Joe Biden will certainly not close Christian churches in the United States and make the Americans learn Chinese to appease the Communist Party — one of the many outlandish reelection campaign claims Trump had made. In fact, the opposite is likely to be the case now that the conciliatory foreign policy strategy of the Obama administration is considered to have failed. It will likely be a thing of the past for the Dalai Lama to be given a second-class welcome in Washington while Beijing rolls out the red carpet for the Iranian mullahs, for example.
The linguist and theologian Alexander Görlach is a senior fellow with the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs and senior research associate at the Cambridge Institute on Religion and International Studies. From 2014 to 2017, he was a fellow and visiting scholar at Harvard University, and in 2017-2018 he was a visiting scholar at National Taiwan University and City University of Hong Kong.
If the United States wants to put itself on adequate footing against China, it will have to credibly earn back its role in international institutions. In the past four years, China has increased its influence within the United Nations and propagated a version of "human rights" that excludes civil liberties. In the World Health Organization, China used its influence to downplay the coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic. It will now be up to the World Trade Organization to exert pressure on China.
The most important China-related issue for the Biden administration will be that of Taiwan. The independent democratic island nation is being threatened with annexation by Beijing. Trump placed more importance on relations with Taiwan than any president had in the four decades before him. Nonetheless, even under Trump, the United States failed to make concreteit's the country's long-standing security guarantee to Taiwan, which originates from a time when the island had more economic clout with the US than the People's Republic had. Would this guarantee include US military intervention should Taiwan come under attack from the mainland?
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The Biden administration will have to make it quite clear from the outset whether it is ready to go to war for Taiwan's sake. For the United States, the island nation is not just a bulwark against the People's Republic across the water: Taiwan is also one of the top producers of computer chips for the entire world. But, above all, Taiwan, like Japan and South Korea, is a democratic partner in East Asia.
Donald Trump's election defeat means that the world stage will see the departure of someone who fawns over autocrats and holds the democratic system in contempt. It is good news. But the next steps of his successor will be decisive in creating the basis for a sustainable long-term revitalization of the democratic order of the free world.
This commentary has been adapted from German.