Last year, the White House issued an executive order banning US businesses from working with companies that are deemed a national security risk, the most notable of which being the Chinese telecommunications company, Huawei. The US has now extended the order until May 2021 and urged its allies to implement similar measures. The UK followed suit when 40 Conservative MPs rebelled in an anti-Huawei revolt in March to ban UK mobile providers from buying the firm’s 5G technology, a move that only 15% of the British public oppose.
As well as dealing a blow to China’s international relations, these sanctions have also caused tension in the South China Sea. Since Taiwan is such a large producer of semiconductors, the Chinese Government’s strong economic links on the island is seen as a national security concern by the United States. As a result of the US’ executive order, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC) has stopped taking new orders from Huawei. The US may, of course, be pleased, but Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. has lost one of its biggest customers. Despite the loss in business, however, a plurality of the Taiwanese public (43%) agree with the United States’ restrictions on Huawei compared to less than a fifth (18%) who disagree.
President Tsai has said that she wishes for Taiwan to generate greater economic self-sufficiency, a move that the majority (57%) of Taiwanese respondents support and only 13% oppose. This conviction is similar across age groups and political party lines; only 2% of respondents who voted for Tsai Ing-wen in the 2020 Taiwanese Presidential Election oppose a shift towards greater self-sufficiency. In this sense, while this change was a result of American pressure, it could be seen as a stepping-stone for Taiwan towards less economic reliance on China.
Moreover, as China seeks to exert more power on the island, President Tsai’s goal of greater economic self-sufficiency may indeed rely on the United States. The Huawei debacle is the perfect example of the broader question Taiwan is facing as China-US relations continue to harden; seek closer ties with China or with the US? We found that the Taiwanese public are more than twice as likely to favour closer ties with the US than with China, with a strong plurality (46%) thinking that closer ties with the US would best serve Taiwan’s long-term strategic goals, and only a fifth (20%) believing that closer ties with China would best serve Taiwan.
Moreover, respondents in Taiwan were twice as likely to support closer economic relations with the United States than with China.
The majority of the Taiwanese public hope for a future of greater economic self-sufficiency. In the meantime, allying with the United States appears to be a significantly desired means of pursuing this goal. Even if TSMC has lost one of its biggest customers in Huawei, the US’ decision to restrict business with Chinese technology companies appears popular among the Taiwanese public.