Since taking office just three months ago, the Joe Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its strong support for Taiwan.
Just two weeks after the new president took office, a US Navy ship sailed through the Taiwan Strait to show the United States’ “commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to a Navy spokesperson. In his first official phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping less than a week later, Biden blasted China’s “increasingly assertive actions in the region during including toward Taiwan,” according to a readout from the White House.
While the US has many strategic reasons to continue building on the Donald Trump administration’s pro-Taiwan policies, there’s another, much less discussed, contributor to most policymakers’ unflinching support for the island: Taiwan’s lobbyists in the U.S.
As documented by my co-author Holly Zhang and I in “The Taiwan Lobby,” a new report released today by the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative, Taiwan’s foreign agents have, for years, been pushing Washington to adopt many of the policies the Biden administration and the new Congress are now pursuing.
For example, a recently introduced bill sponsored by freshman Rep. Young Kim (R-Calif.) to direct the secretary of State to work on the issue of Taiwan’s observer status at the World Health Organization (WHO) can be traced back to lobbying by former Rep. Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) and his firm Gephardt Group Government Affairs two years ago.
Likewise, this week’s announcement that the Biden administration’s first proposed arms sale to Taiwan will soon be submitted to Congress follows years of lobbying for arms sales by Taiwan’s lobbyists, including meetings with Department of Defense officials to “discuss Taiwan’s defense needs.”
With seven firms registered as foreign agents for the government in Taipei and its de facto embassy in Washington, Taiwan’s lobbying operation in Washington is dwarfed by those of other US-friendly nations, such as Japan and South Korea.
Still, the island of 23.5 million people punches far above its weight in influencing US foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific. Our report aims to ensure that policymakers and the public are conscious of Taiwanese lobbying when weighing which policies are in the US interest.
Listen to our November 2020 interview with Freeman on the Influencers podcast co-hosted by Foreign Lobby Report and LEVICK:
Other columns by Ben Freeman: