US-China-Taiwan Relations
Trade and Human Rights
Taiwan is important economically as a trading nation. It has a GDP of about $820 billion, and about 70 percent of its GDP growth is attributable to exports. Its main trading partners are China, Japan, and the United States. Taiwan enjoys a sizeable trade surplus with China, a fairly large deficit with Japan, and more or less balanced accounts with the United States.

Taiwan also is one of the most free nations in the world. Freedom House gives it a score of 1 (highest) out of 7 (lowest) in terms of political rights and 2 out of 7 in terms of civil liberties. Taiwan is a fully democratic country. This means that human rights on Taiwan, while not perfect by any means, are generally acknowledged and respected.

If Taiwan were to be absorbed by China while the mainland is governed by the Chinese Communist Party, there is substantial risk that democracy and human rights would be degraded on the island because of social unrest. Unlike Hong Kong, where the transfer to PRC control was negotiated by London and Beijing in 1984, Taiwan is under the de facto control of the Republic of China (ROC). No third country can transfer sovereignty of the island to the PRC; any unification agreement must come through a negotiated settlement between the governments of the People's Republic of China on the mainland and the Republic of China on Taiwan. In 2011, roughly 53.5 percent of Taiwan residents preferred to maintain the status quo, while 27 percent favored Taiwan independence and 7.5 percent favored unification with China. Only half of those favoring unification believed Taiwan should be unified with China as soon as possible.

In its policy toward China and Taiwan, the United States must consider the adverse impact of Taiwan being forced to unify with the mainland against the will of the Taiwan people. This would be a major setback to the progress of global democracy. Taiwan's 23 million citizens are among the most democratic and free in the world. By way of size comparison, in the United States only California (37 million people) and Texas (25 million) have populations greater than that of Taiwan.

December 3, 2011