After visiting relatives living in Taiwan that a good many of them have favorable impressions towards Trump, more so than Obama. It surprises me, because Taiwan is viewed more as a liberal country than a conservative, yet it seemed like the locals I interacted with, young and old, both saw Trump in a far more positive light than they viewed Obama.

Which leads to my question: Has Trump done more for Taiwan than Obama has during their respective terms in office? I'm not sure of my knowledge here, but I've heard that Trump has sailed more US ships through the straits in between Taiwan and China, more than Obama has. I know of his widely publicized phone call that acknowledged the leader of Taiwan. But other than that, has Trump actually contributed more than what Obama has? I would assume there are larger factors at play that would constitute support of Taiwan such as military aid and other similar factors

3 Answers 3


While any answer is going to involve some share of opinion, I think Trump’s popularity on this issue comes more from a general sense that he’s willing to stand up to China, rather than any of his policies that specifically benefit Taiwan, which have largely been continuations of those of his predecessors.

In Trump’s favor, his trade war has significantly cut trade between the US and China, putting pressure on their economy. Many have rightly criticized previous administrations for talking tough about China’s human rights abuses, but then undermining their message by continuing to trade freely with them. If you see China as an existential risk, Trump’s willingness to put tariffs on their trade looks like a real effort to stand up to them.

The counterpoint on this is that, since the trade war is about “trade fairness”, not Taiwan or Hong Kong, there is no reason to think that the pressure will result in anything but benefits to the US. In fact, since a real trade war would hurt the US economy and Trump’s re-election chances, his need for a victory here may have caused him to de-prioritize other concerns, such as when he promised not to speak out about Hong Kong as long as trade talks were progressing, and his reluctance to sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act:

Last Friday, in an interview on “Fox & Friends,” Mr. Trump said, “We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi.” Last June, Mr. Trump promised Mr. Xi in a telephone conversation that he would not speak out in support of the Hong Kong protests as long as trade talks were progressing


Another point to consider is Obama’s negotiation of the TPP (which Trump withdrew from) which would have also put significant pressure on China through a multilateral trade deal with their competitors in Asia. While he doesn’t get credit for it, since it was never ratified, the TPP might have had put similar pressure on China.

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    I think this answer could be improved by writing what Trump intended with his China policies, instead of claiming he actually achieved them. For example Trump clearly intended to put pressure on the Chinese economy through trade sanctions. Whether he succeeded is debatable.
    – quarague
    Nov 28, 2019 at 12:53
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    "Mr. Trump promised Mr. Xi in a telephone conversation that he would not speak out in support of the Hong Kong protests as long as trade talks were progressing." I wonder how much this is an incentive for Xi not to reach a trade agreement too fast...
    – Evargalo
    Nov 28, 2019 at 16:29
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    @quarague - is it debatable that the policies have put severe pressure on China? No, I don't think it is debatable. What is debatable is - is this enough pressure to force China to change their policies regarding intellectual property; following WTO agreements; etc... (I personally think it is not enough and that it will have to be ramped up.)
    – Mayo
    Nov 29, 2019 at 14:25

Yes, President Trump has done more for Taiwan in 3 years than President Obama did in 2 terms, both in terms of diplomacy and defense.

According to an April 2019 CFR report (emphasis mine),

In the past nine months, U.S. ships have sailed through the Taiwan Strait six times. During the Obama administration, passages were far less frequent, at just one to three times per year. Even though the Taiwan Strait is an international waterway, China is sensitive to the U.S. military’s presence and considers any transits of U.S. ships through the strait “provocative actions.”

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is said to be encouraging Taipei to purchase dozens of F-16s, a sale that, like other major arms deals, would require congressional approval. The last time the United States sold these fighter jets to Taiwan was 1992. If the sale goes through, it would mark another departure from the Obama administration, which declined to sell the jets to avoid escalating tensions with Beijing. But experts say a sale would be put on hold until after the United States seals a trade deal with China.

Moreover, the same trend can be seen diplomatically. From the same CFR report,

In 2018, the United States unveiled $250 million worth of upgrades to a de facto embassy in Taipei despite Chinese objections.

Finally, I think this headline from the Wall Street Journal says it all:

President Obama Says Donald Trump Should Deal Cautiously With Taiwan, China

A headline that when contrasted with President Trump's phonecall, indicates that the two maintained different positions regarding their support for Taiwan. Hence it is no surprise why the Taiwanese see President Trump so favorably.

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    I think your point on selling military aid seems to generalize the rest of military aid sent under the Obama administration. This Reuters article seems to indicate that a significantly larger amount of military arms sold under Obama's term than Trump's term.
    – yuritsuki
    Nov 28, 2019 at 1:45
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    I have a hard time understanding how sailing US ships around, or wanting to sell it fairly obsolete jet fighters, is really doing anything for Taiwan.
    – jamesqf
    Nov 28, 2019 at 3:59
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    @jamesqf There's an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to freedom-of-navigation - when a country lays claim to seas as "territorial waters", driving a warship through those waters pretty much destroys that claim under maritime law. "We own this!" "No you don't, those guys over there just drove a warship right through it and you didn't do a damn thing." Which is why sometimes the nation claiming that portion of the ocean actually does "do something".
    – Just Me
    Nov 28, 2019 at 5:49
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    So increasing the frequency of passage of the Taiwan Strait by US warships is, in fact, an absolutely huge statement of direct support of Taiwan, whereas failure to perform those passages is pretty de facto acceptance of Chinese territorial claims of the waters surrounding Taiwan.
    – Just Me
    Nov 28, 2019 at 5:52
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    @JustMe is there any significant difference between sailing the straits once a year vs 8 times (Worst Obama vs 4/3 the nine month Trump figure)? How many times each year do you have to sail somewhere to show someone else doesn't own it? Irish squatter's rights require a continuous uninterrupted occupancy of 12 years. Is there a standard for claiming territorial waters or denying such a claim?
    – Jontia
    Nov 29, 2019 at 14:13

Trump has been more confrontational with China. So Taiwan probably, but not necessarily correctly, sees him as more likely to support them if they get into one of their occasional disputes with China regarding Taiwan's status.

Keep in mind though with Obama that he did start things rolling with the "pivot to the Pacific" change in US military doctrine, which was all about managing China's rise.

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