Perhaps more worrisome for Taiwan, they will also lack first-hand knowledge of Taiwan’s international concerns and regional security issues. Considering that the US is Taiwan’s primary security guarantor, this reduced attention could have dire consequences in the not-too-distant future.
In some ways it is happening already. A few years back a friend of mine served at the US Department of Defense. He would often take part in inter-agency roundtable meetings on cross-strait issues. These are meetings that bring together country managers from the different US government agencies — the State Department, Treasury Department, CIA, Department of Defense and so forth. Generally about 10 or 12 people would take part in each meeting. When my friend started his job and first started taking part in the meetings there were usually three or four people that would remind the group to keep the US-Taiwan relationship in mind and to take into account Taiwan’s interests and concerns.
By the time my friend’s assignment ended three years later he said that there was only one person left who showed concern for Taiwan’s interests and US-Taiwan relations — that was my friend himself. The rest of the officers had retired and been replaced by younger staffers that were more inclined to focus on US-China relations and to view Taiwan as little more than a troublesome impediment to better relations with Beijing.
The worrisome trend is that more US officials will overlook Taiwan and Taiwan’s concerns and will increasingly view Taiwan and cross-strait issues through Beijing’s lens. This is the view that they will have been exposed to over and over during their time living, working and studying in China. It is a view of Taiwan that downplays Taiwan’s thriving democratic system, closely fought elections and free press. It is a view that denies the Taiwanese complex feelings on their national identity. And it is a view that flatly dismisses the reasons for Taiwan’s deep wariness toward unification with the People’s Republic of China and its one-party state.
Certainly, there is no reason to discourage Americans from studying in China, but Taiwanese and US policymakers, as well as others concerned with US-Taiwan relations, need to ensure that Taiwan is not left by the wayside. Proactive policies to encourage the next generation of policymakers in the US and elsewhere to know Taiwan are crucial.
Taiwan and Taiwan’s friends in the US need to think beyond traditional language scholarships to develop innovative new programs introducing Taiwan to future policymakers and thought leaders.
The privately funded Robert Bosch Foundation Fellowship Program has successfully introduced generations of US public policy leaders to modern Germany, while the Mike Mansfield Fellowships to Japan have, since 1994, trained many of the US government’s leading Japan hands.
Similarly creative and innovative programs are desperately needed in the US-Taiwan relationship to ensure that knowledge of Taiwan and support for Taiwan remains as fulsome in the US going forward as it has been thus far.