Ketagalan Media: US-Taiwan Relations in 2020

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By Ambassador Stephen M. Young (ret.), who served as a US diplomat for over 33 years, with assignments in Washington, Taipei, Moscow, Beijing, Kyrgyzstan, and Hong Kong. He is a member of GTI’s Advisory Board.

So let’s start with Taiwan. While Beijing is not pleased to see President Tsai granted four more years, it has no one but itself to blame for the current state of cross-Strait relations. Neither appreciating nor understanding democratic processes, the authoritarian state there was hoping it would see Tsai’s defeat and a return to KMT rule that might reinvigorate trends toward “reunification” of the two sides of the Strait. That is precisely what drove many voters in Taiwan to give the DPP and its standard-bearer another term. China has focused more on threats and bullying than positive incentives, and the people of Taiwan have rejected that alternative.

Tsai has many challenges now. She must strive to bring people together again after a fractious electoral campaign. After celebrating with her supporters, she would be wise to reach out to those who did not vote for her and offer them a coherent strategy for managing Taiwan’s economy, in the face of continued hostility from its huge neighbor. At the same time, Tsai needs to reinforce relations with Washington, while preparing for the uncertainty of our fall elections. She is fully capable of these tasks.

President Tsai’s conciliatory remarks after her electoral win were wisely aimed both at her opponents in Taiwan and the leaders of the PRC. Yet there will be skeptics on both sides, particularly in Beijing, where Xi Jinping placed his wager on a different outcome.

The KMT—if it is to survive as the second leading party on the island—needs to bring in new blood. It should also look to its friends in the United States for support. Given the generally skeptical attitude toward Xi’s China in America today, that strategy would argue against continued Pollyannish reliance on the good will of communist China, and its authoritarian leader for life. Otherwise, I suspect the KMT will fracture and could be headed toward long-term decline.

Meanwhile, the United States approaches its own democratic process, which this fall will elect a new Congress and President. It is likely that the legislative branch will remain divided, with a Republican Senate balanced off by a Democratic House. The critical question is who will win the presidency. If Mr. Trump is reelected, a generally pro-Beijing policy is most likely, though mixed with ongoing trade tensions.

Trump has shown little interest in pushing for change in Chinese domestic politics. A President from the Democratic Party would likely adopt a sharper tone toward Xi’s autocratic policies. But in the end, accommodation of our huge economic and trade ties with China will constrain whoever wins the American election to continue trying to work out our differences amicably, whenever possible.

President Tsai has sought to reduce Taiwan’s dependence on cross-Strait trade, a wise policy given these variables. But the fact is that China’s economic reach makes it the most significant player in most of Asia. So her “go south” strategy cannot be totally separated from the China factor. That said, there is much she can do to reduce Taiwan’s direct dependence on cross-Strait relations. Focus on US trade relations is vital to any such strategy.

Full report:

US-Taiwan Relations in 2020

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