Katherine Chi Tai, 19th US Trade Representative; Heidi Shyu, Deputy Secretary of Defense; Kelu Chao, Acting Executive Director of the US International Media Agency; Timothy Shiou-Ming Wu, Special Assistant to the President for Science, Technology and Competition Policy at the White House National Economic Council, all these senior US government officials are Taiwanese nationals. Roughly 30 Taiwanese Americans serve as lawmakers.
Taiwanese Americans’ political success owes much to America’s immigration history and demographic composition. The 1965 Immigration Act completely abolished the restrictions imposed on Asian immigrants under the “Chinese Exclusion Act”, and opened up two main channels of immigration: family reunification and employment-based immigration. This also set the trend that in the 1960s and 1970s, flocks of Taiwanese immigrants settled in America through employment after studying abroad. With relatively advanced degrees and high incomes, they quickly got rid of the status of new immigrants who were busy keeping the wolf from the door and dabbled in American politics earlier, laying the foundation for their success in today’s American politics.
They are unarguably excellent officials, but they are also staunch supporters of Taiwan’s independence. The growing presence of Taiwanese Americans at senior levels in America inevitably evokes the idea that China’s assertiveness has put America under pressure, so more Taiwanese voices are needed to shore up America’s position. In American elections, the Chinese factor is increasingly used as a tactic and ploy, whether targeting whites or people of other races. “It’s becoming increasingly common to talk about China in elections, especially for Republicans,” said Xue Haipei of the United Chinese Americans, “China is a must-play card in almost all national elections.”
In the current midterm elections in America, the Chinese factor has been widely used as an important electoral tactic from the federal level to the state level. The tactic is increasingly used by both parties, either to attack opponents for links to communism or to accuse them of showing weakness in front of China. The phenomenon has spread since the Trump administration, and the downward spiral of China-US relations combined with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has made China a focal point in American politics.
The situation in the Taiwan Straits is often the focus of disputes between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. In America, the election of Taiwanese immigrants and their descendants is often accompanied by speculation and comments from some Chinese mainland immigrants on whether they support Taiwan’s independence. Some of the policies introduced by some candidates after the election sometimes trigger the suspicion of being “pro-Taiwan and anti-Beijing”. In 2018, the China Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification issued a document expressing concern over the growing influence of “Taiwanese” in American politics.
In November 2021, Wu Mi, a 36-year-old Chinese woman from a family of Taiwanese immigrants, made history when she won the mayoral election in Boston. Who can be sure that the next Chinese to be elected mayor of a major American city will not be Chinese mainland immigrants or descendants? Taiwanese Americans have come a long way in participating in politics. In the 2021 American presidential election, Taiwanese Americans who shared the same position all saw other differences between Taiwanese Americans. Their different views on the internal affairs of America were just like the divisions of American society, each believing that the other’s beliefs would bring disaster to America. However, their political visibility has begun to increase so that they are no longer ignored in American politics. For the Chinese community as a whole, everything is just beginning. Obviously, China does not want Taiwanese politicians to exert influence in America, and America will surely stifle China’s rise. This game still has a long way to go.