Tue, January 18, 2022

perspective

Taiwan caught in middle as Trump taunts China


Donald Trump is at it again. His penchant for speaking off the cuff and letting others pick up the pieces has now been applied to the “One China” policy – a cornerstone principle that has shaped the status quo in the Taiwan Strait.

So it seems.
As we are now witnessing, Trumpian foreign policy has two sides. On the one hand, there is the incoming US president’s tendency to issue brash statements that catch the Washington foreign policy establishment off guard, as he did when he accepted a congratulatory call from President Tsai Ing-wen.
But the other side is much more calculated and consists of a core group of cold-war warriors with far-right neo-conservative leanings, who are pushing for the US to take a confrontational stance towards China. The two aspects work in concert.
The architects of the “one China” policy formed their core beliefs amid a simpler ideological landscape: Capitalism versus communism, domino theories and proxy wars. What the neo-conservatives want is a return to those simpler times: A realist foreign policy that clearly distinguishes friend from foe, under which “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” This calculus worked for Taiwan during the cold war when the world economy was divided by ideology.
But it’s not so today, which is why Taiwanese politicians who were elated last week are now flinching in the face of an international spotlight shone on Taiwan by the Tsai-Trump phone call. Enabled by Trump’s brashness and the calculations of his advisers, the spotlight has revealed Taiwan’s geopolitical vulnerabilities and the Tsai administration’s dilemma over where to stand in the potentially shifting geopolitical order.
While Taipei believes it is making strategic moves to secure its interests under a Republican presidency, (which historically have “favoured Taiwan”), Trump’s remarks last Sunday – “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a one-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade” – are the first sign that Taiwan may be in a much more precarious position under post-Obama Sino-US relations.
We have reason to be concerned, not because of Trump’s capricious nature and personal antics, but because of who he has chosen to surround himself with. He has attracted numerous foreign policy hardliners associated with former vice president Dick Cheney, a proponent of aggressive, unilateral, (cue axis-of-evil soundbites), disastrous military campaigns used to further the gains of corporate elites through profitable government contracts.
We understand that any Taiwanese leader regardless of their party must garner favour with the United States for support – this has been a key policy for decades and will probably continue to be for years to come. But rather than play into perceptions of popular support, our government must carefully consider the real costs of “recognition diplomacy”.
Truth be told, Taiwan, like the rest of the world, is still sounding out Trump’s future steps. Taiwan, a nation that has been long-attuned to following America’s calls for free trade to ensure the continuity of its export-oriented economy – has been caught off guard by Trump’s proposed economic protectionism.
Trump’s vocal questioning of the “one China” policy is a means for neo-conservatives to gauge reactions, including those of Taipei. Is President Tsai Ing-wen prepared to bring Taiwan closer to the American sphere of influence? Is she prepared to further align Taiwan’s military posture with American foreign policy goals, should the call come to do so?
These are valid questions that need to be asked because they concern the future of the 23 million citizens on this island and beyond.
Taiwan may have a weak hand in the grand scheme of things, but it should not move to make its bargaining position any worse off. This means a willingness to call out mistakes and errors of judgement (by a friend or foe), but, more importantly, to understand that Taiwan also has an important role in the interconnectivity of the East Asia region, a strength that should not be so easily cast aside or overlooked.

Published : December 13, 2016

By : The China Post Asia News Network TAIPEI