While Taiwan is generally a very pro-United States country, there have definately been strains between the two over the past few years. Both sides are to blame for these strains and it is certain that better communication and understanding between the two can help to cultivate what has generally been a mutually beneficial relationship between the two countries.
United States Meat Products
A couple of years ago, after Taiwan signed an agreement with the United States to resume most beef imports, local discontent led the legislature to essentially reneg on the agreement, banning most forms of beef on the bone due to concern about Mad Cow Disease. Reports in local media became rampant about problems about Mad Cow in the United States, despite the fact that the number of cases in the U.S. could be counted on one hand and restrictions on exports on the U.S. side would have prevented any possibility of export of Mad Cow beef to Taiwan. In this case, the government here in Taiwan did a very poor job of communicating the issue to the people, allowing opposition politicians (yes, I disagreed with them on this) and the media to hype it all out of proportion.
Paylean is an additive often used in U.S. livestock to allow the growth of lean meat before slaughter. Lean meat is preferred in many markets as it is generally considered healthier. However, Paylean uses a drug called ractopamine. Residual traces of ractopamine, however, is not permitted in Taiwan. This has long been the case. In 2007, ractopamine-laced pork was found to enter the Taiwan market and just a few months ago, ractopamine-laced beef entered the market. In both cases, local protests led to the government to continue enforcement of the law and to restrict the import of U.S. meat products.
The United States has put pressure on Taiwan regarding both of the above issues. TIFA (Trade and Investment Framework Agreement) talks has been put on hold by the U.S. side as it sees Taiwan as not being a reliable trade partner. While in the ractopamine issue, Taiwan is clearly within its rights as the drug is banned here (and in many other countries, including the European Union countries), Taiwan really screwed up on the beef import issue. Taiwan signed an agreement with the U.S. and violated that agreement. No wonder the U.S., whose Congress has very powerful members from ranching states, is a little wary of negotiating a TIFA and an FTA with the Taiwanese government.
Fishing Boat Death
An ongoing issue has to do with Taiwanese fishing boat captain Wu Lai-yu’s (吳來于) death at the hands of the U.S. Navy during an operation off the waters of Somalia. As everyone knows, Somalia has become a haven for pirates in the aftermath of the fall of the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. What many don't know is that many believe that overfishing by some fishing nations (including Taiwan) were one of the reasons it started. Of course, it has taken on a life of its own since its very humble beginnings and now the western Indian Ocean has come to far surpass the Strait of Melaka as the world's leading pirate haven.
Numerous Taiwanese fishing boats had been taken. Wu's was being used as a mother ship by Somali pirates to attack other vessels. The United States Navy, under authority from the United Nations and supported by international anti-piracy laws, conducted an operation against the ship being used by Somali pirates. Unfortunately, Wu was accidently killed in the engagement.
Many Taiwanese were angry that: 1. Wu's body was buried at sea, something that is not constant with Taiwanese custom, and 2. the U.S. government seemed to take a long time to issue a report explaining the reasons for Wu. death. The U.S. government did seem to take an awful long time to issue the report, but this is pretty consistant with U.S. practice. The U.S. government often works slowly and in a case where something happens in the open waters with a naval detachment that is on active duty, it is not unreasonable for the length of time to be extended.
There is a Taiwanese call for an official apology and compensation from the U.S. government. While the official apology seems reasonable, I am not sure about compensation. It was a tragedy, but it was an accident. The operation was approved by NATO and the United Nations Security Council and had the goal of enhancing safety for all in the western Indian Ocean.
U.S. economic woes are a matter of concern to many in Taiwan. Both the unprecedented drop in the value of the U.S. dollar during the Obama administration along with the also unpredecented scare with a debt default is causing economic unease on Taiwan.
The U.S. is a major trade partner for Taiwan. Taiwan exports and imports numerous items from the U.S. This is generally a pretty complimentary arrangement as the two countries directly compete in very few areas. The U.S. imports Taiwanese high technology electronics, bicycles and other local manufactures. Taiwan imports large appliances and fruit/meat products, among many others, from the United States. The arrangement is good for both countries.
However, recent mismanagement of the United States economy (not all of it is the fault of President Obama) has resulted in a historic drop in the value of the dollar. While the Taiwanese government has worked hard to contain the damage, the U.S. dollar is at it's weakest against the New Taiwan Dollar in well more than a decade. This has made it very difficult for Taiwanese exporters in the U.S. market as this makes Taiwan exports more expensive for Americans to purchase.
Another looming problem is the U.S. debt situation. You may think what does this have to do with Taiwan. Well, as unlikely as it is, a U.S. debt default would almost certainly result in a further deterioration in the value of the dollar. Furthermore, as the fourth largest foreign holder of U.S. Treasury Bills, Taiwan would be left holding a lot of questionable U.S. debt.
Arms Purchases and the Military Situation
The Obama Administration seems to not be living up to its commitment to Taiwan. He spoke during the campaign of the need to provide more support to Taiwan. He also spoke strongly against China during the same campaign. I, like many others, took this as a hopeful sign that unlike past Democratic presidents, he would show stonger support for Taiwan. This hasn't been the case.
The Taiwan Relations Act obligates the U.S. to make available to Taiwan the military equipment needed to protect itself. China has armed itself to the teeth in recent years, facilitated in large part by the United States and other Western powers. Unfortunately, Taiwanese businessmen (who are generally pro-KMT) have also had a role in enabling this to happen. Obama has dropped the ball and now shown the strong commitment to Taiwan that he talked about in his campaign.
A recent episode in the Taiwan Strait further underscores the need for Taiwan to have access to advanced military equipment. A United States recon plane was operating legally in international airspace over the Taiwan Strait when Chinese fighter jets were scrambled and sent to investigate. Taiwan scrambled jets in response, but this notes that the Chinese are becoming more daring. Add to this increased Chinese naval activity in the South China Sea, East China Sea and Yellow Sea, it becomes increasingly clear that Taiwan needs to be able to increase its own deterrance capabilities.
On the whole, the relationship between the countries is good. Taiwanese generally respect the United States. However, it is clear that communication needs to improve between the two of them, a situation sometimes made difficult since the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Taiwan in 1979.