Summary: This is a big show solely focused on Taiwan-US relations, including the Chinese Communist mouthpiece Global Times speculates the US is planning to set up a consulate in Taiwan, Health Secretary Azar’s important visit, President Tsai is ramping up efforts to improve ties with the US and more tea leaf reading on Joe Biden’s Taiwan stance. Headlines have been moved to tomorrow’s show.
Chinese Communist mouthpiece Global Times speculates US to set up a consulate in Taiwan
With the election and other news eating up show time, several stories were put on the back burner, including some interesting developments in the Taiwan-US relationship.
Let’s start, however, with something amusing.
Chinese Communist mouthpiece Global Times ran an article entitled “US Embassy’s logo change sparks online speculation of playing Taiwan card”.
Let me read this hilarious section of the article:
The social media accounts of the US Embassy to China have dropped the word “China” from “Beijing, China” in its logo, sparking wide speculation among the Chinese public that the move aims to “tarnish the one-China principle” and attempts to play the Taiwan card to further provoke China.
Although the embassy on Wednesday explained that the change was part of a normal branding campaign and similar changes will be made to the logos of embassies in other countries, analysts said that Chinese netizens’ interpretation of American hostility is reasonable, given the country’s latest moves related to the island of Taiwan.
Chinese netizens suspected the change was meant to pave the way to the opening of a consulate in the island of Taiwan without mentioning China.
“Such an implicit change is not a blatant violation of the one-China principle, but a subtle betrayal, so it is pretty annoying,” a Sina Weibo user posted.
“Are you implying that the embassy is only for the Chinese mainland?” said another.
The logo of the US embassy on its Sina Weibo and Twitter accounts is based on the seal of the US, a bald eagle holding an olive branch in one claw and arrows in another, which remain the same in the new picture.
A netizen commented, “The major message was preserved: the US, a greedy predator, is using an olive branch to cheat its allies and arrows to hunt for its own benefit.”
The change in the logo was made shortly after US Health Secretary Alex Azar’s three-day visit to the island of Taiwan, with China-US relations deemed by many Western media outlets as being at a historic low since 1979.
I’m still trying to figure out how using an olive branch to cheat allies would work.
While it would be great if the US opened a consulate here, this article seems extremely far-fetched.
It was good for a laugh, though.
One interesting idea I saw once was for the US to appoint an Ambassador-at-large for Taiwan affairs.
Ambassadors-at-large usually are assigned a topic, for example there is one for International Religious Freedom, another for Women’s Affairs and another for AIDS.
Health Secretary Azar’s important visit
This brings us to U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar’s visit to Taiwan.
At first blush, it appeared to be entirely symbolic.
He is the highest ranked US official to visit Taiwan since diplomatic ties were cut in 1979, and the statement released by HHS was full of talk on Taiwan’s democracy–not typical health fare–and cooperation on the pandemic.
The cat is out of the bag on that one in the US.
Turns out some useful things did come out of the trip, including signing a first-ever memorandum of understanding (MOU) on health cooperation to expand cooperation on global health security, infectious disease control and vaccine development.
Collaborative efforts under the MOU’s framework will be conducted through science and research projects, personnel exchanges, training, consultations, and workshops and conferences.
In the list of specifics there were some useful things, like dengue fever vaccine research among other things.
Vice Premier Shen Jong-chin (沈榮津) said that Taiwan’s collaboration with the United States on COVID-19 pandemic control presents an opportunity for the development of a new industrial supply chain.
Azar said he discussed with Taiwan the possibility of Taiwanese healthcare supply manufacturers investing in the U.S. to bolster its productive capability in such products.
Earlier this year the US was alarmed to find that something like 80% of key medicines came from China, plus much of the key medical equipment needed to fight a pandemic.
That’s a lot of control over people’s lives to have concentrated in a hostile country.
Taiwan and the US could be good partners in lowering that risk.
There was one bizarre incident during the trip however, when Azar appeared to address President Tsai as President Xi.
That’s one huge faux pas.
Here’s how he described what happened:
“In my remarks, I referred to President Tsai five times, in one of those instances, I accidentally mispronounced.
I feel certain President Tsai took no offense because of course no offense was intended.”
President Tsai is ramping up efforts to improve ties with the US
About a week ago the president addressed two think tanks, the Hudson Institute and the Center for American Progress, by video conference.
This is significant as the two think tanks hosting the event are from opposite sides of the political divide in the US, showing bipartisan support for Taiwan.
Following the president’s remarks, a representative from each think tank held a video conference Q&A session with Taiwan’s new representative to Washington, Hsiao Bi-khim.
The president’s video was scripted, and nicely shot.
The follow-up Q&A, however, looked terrible.
The Hudson guy had the camera way below him, so it looked like he was giant.
The woman from CAP was a giant washed-out head, and both looked like giant school teachers looming over Hsiao.
Hsiao’s feed was the worst, the camera angle and the lighting made her look like a radioactive hobbit and the camera kept jiggling.
Their questions were good however, and did a good job of getting to why Taiwan is important in an American context.
Hsiao’s answers were excellent, very knowledgeable but to the point, and handling potentially tricky issues with diplomatic finesse.
The link to the video and transcript of the president’s remarks are on Report.tw.
I’d recommend listening to, rather than watching, the Q&A part, unless you’re fond of radioactive hobbits.
As an indication of how influential these think tanks are, China’s People’s Daily published the following:
A Chinese mainland spokesperson on Thursday slammed the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authority in Taiwan for using non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to attack the mainland, calling such moves “despicable.”
Ma Xiaoguang, spokesperson for the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, made the comments in response to an inquiry about the DPP leader’s recent video speech during a video conference hosted by U.S. think tanks.
Ma said the DPP authority has long been taking advantage of NGOs to maliciously attack the mainland under the pretext of “democracy and freedom,” wantonly undermining cross-Strait relations, and creating hostility and hatred among compatriots across the Strait.
In the President’s speech it’s clear she wants to deepen the relationship with the US, and she gives some indications on where she wants that to go.
She starts with a light joke, however:
“People say that the second term is supposed to be easier than the first. They must be people that have not experienced the year 2020 like we have.”
After giving a brief rundown of how Taiwan has been doing during the pandemic, she says this:
“When the rest of the world has been distracted in responding to one of the most significant crises in recent history, we’re seeing a growing effort to pose ever more challenging threats to free and democratic societies.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Hong Kong.”
She talks a lot about Hong Kong, which is presumably to underline the threat to Taiwan.
In her Hong Kong remarks, she added this:
“We also see the international community as having an obligation to speak out and act against the demise of Hong Kong’s freedoms.
I applaud the actions that the U.K., the U.S.,and many other democracies have taken and call on more like-minded countries to do the same.”
Here she neatly reminds the audience it’s an us-versus-them situation.
Later, she doubles down on that:
“The measures that have taken place against Hong Kong further exemplify how Taiwan is on the front lines of freedom and democracy.”
She follows that line with:
“ This has made it all the more incumbent for my administration to prudently manage cross-strait policy in the next four years so that we can maintain peace and stability while protecting our freedom and democracy.”
The part that follows is clearly designed to reassure the audience that Taiwan isn’t trying to rock the boat with China, saying in part:
“We will always be willing to work together in the interest of peaceful coexistence and to prevent a downward trend in cross-strait relations.
We will always acknowledge the historical and cultural ties that exists across the strait.
And we will never stop believing that there can be a better future ahead where both sides can share in each other’s successes and accomplishments.”
Then she pivots to why Taiwan has to defend itself:
“Our 23 million people have the right to determine our own futures, which is antithesis to the position Beijing has taken.
Consequently, we must ensure that cross-strait interactions do not jeopardize our freedoms, democracy, and way of life.
The people of Taiwan expect nothing less from their democratically elected government.
Upholding these principles requires us to be able to defend Taiwan against coercive actions.”
From there she goes into some detail on military buildup, describing the latest defence budget as the “biggest ever” and saying this was her administrations “number one priority”.
Again, she’s reassuring the audience that Taiwan is being responsible and preparing for its own defence, which many in the US have in recent years warned Taiwan wasn’t doing enough of.
Another bit of signalling was when she said “I am committed to accelerating the development of asymmetric capabilities,” which indicates to the US that she’s been listening to US advice on this.
But, after much talk of Taiwan’s military, she goes on with this appeal:
“As effective our military is, we cannot stand alone without support from the community of like-minded democracies.
I am proud that the relationship between Taiwan and the U.S.has never been closer.”
And follows with this pitch:
“In my second term, I will continue our cooperation with the U.S.
Foremost amongst my priorities is to establish a constructive security relationship built on the clear understanding of our shared interests in the region.
I am confident that our common acknowledgment of challenges in the region transcends politics and political parties.
Through more frank and robust policy level dialogue, we want to forge greater consensus on ways we can preserve peace across the Taiwan Strait”
In short, we need your help to survive.
That was the most key part of her pitch, but she also goes on with two other high priorities in the Taiwan-US relationship.
The first is a pitch for a Free Trade Agreement, in which she includes the following:
“For too long, closer trade relations have been hindered by technicalities that account for just a small fraction of two-way trade.
We want to work together to resolve these issues in a way that is safe for our consumers and also consistent with established scientific standards.”
In short, she’s hinting that she’s willing to give the US what it wants: the ability to sell pork that has been raised using the leanness enhancing agent ractopamine.
This has been a big sticking point in the past, with the US side believing that Taiwan’s position that it can’t import pork because of health concerns is simply unscientific and an excuse for protectionism.
It is widely used in North America, but banned in the EU.
The WHO has issued a standard for what it considers a safe amount.
In short, it’s controversial.
From the president’s comments, it appears she may be paving the way to allow for the pork imports, if they meet one of the international standards, perhaps the WHO guidelines.
This is interesting, because this will involve spending some serious political capital to get done.
She then suggests that she can get the people of Taiwan on board:
“I believe that the people of Taiwan can see the value and wisdom in building closer economic relations with the U.S., and conversely, we hope that the U.S.recognizes the broader strategic implications such an agreement will undoubtedly have.”
An FTA with the US would be a big deal, and could lead to other deals with other countries.
Taiwan is currently locked out of a lot of trade agreements, which means Taiwanese products are taxed more in many markets.
She also pitched Taipei AmCham the other day on an FTA.
Her final pitch started with this:
“My third priority is to work with the U.S.to strengthen engagements with other like-minded democracies.”
This was a fairly short part of the speech compared to the military and FTA parts.
Essentially, it was an appeal to be included in the international democracies club and to be allowed into international organizations.
The entire speech was carefully crafted, which is to be expected from the president–she’s a consummate diplomat.
The FTA portion also got some influential press, and there are many in Congress pushing for it to happen.
However, the US trade department hasn’t seemed very interested so far.
More tea leaf reading on Joe Biden’s Taiwan stance
Joe Biden is now officially the Democratic candidate for president, but there is considerable debate as to what his stances on Taiwan and China will be–especially Taiwan.
Historically, he’s flip-flopped on support for Taiwan–including voting against F-16 sales to Taiwan–and has been friendly to China.
More recently he’s been talking tough on China, but not a peep on Taiwan.
So, we’ve been hanging on every word that comes from his policy advisors.
Ely Ratner, director of studies at the Centre for a New American Security is the latest to comment.
He said the US needs to become more competitive and abandon its “American first” approach if it wants to forge closer ties with allies to counter challenges from China.
On Taiwan, this is what the South China Morning Post wrote about his comments:
He also singled out Taiwan, saying it was “the tip of top” of priorities and might become a major issue in relations with Beijing.
He said Washington might need to “rethink from the US” about future relations with Taiwan, how to maintain peace across the Taiwan Strait, preserving Taiwan’s democracy and avoiding real confrontation with mainland China.
So, what does that mean?
Well, your guess is as good as mine–this could be read in so many ways it’s impossible to tell.
Meanwhile, what is China’s take on Biden?
Their mouthpiece Global Times had the following:
Many Chinese analysts predict that China will need to deal with Biden in at least the next four years, and they noticed that the proposed Democrat platform on foreign policy showed that if Biden wins, the US will remain tough on China.
So Beijing should remain vigilant.
But tactically, the US approach would be more predictable, and Biden is much smoother to deal with than Trump — a viewpoint that is shared by many countries.
This is all the article had to say on Taiwan:
The Democrats could also make stricter rules to force Chinese IT companies to obey, and use an approach that looks more legitimate and decent to suppress Chinese high-tech industries, Diao noted, while tensions in the Taiwan Straits could be eased.
That suggests they think a Biden administration won’t be as strong a friend to Taiwan as the Trump administration.
Image courtesy of President Tsai’s Facebook page