• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Taking Sides in the Taiwan Strait

    In an article entitled “China and US on Edge over Vote in Taiwan,” today’s Financial Times (FT) quotes a “senior US official” as saying Taiwan DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen “left us with distinct doubts about whether she is both willing and able to continue the stability in cross-Strait relations the region has enjoyed in recent years.”

    The article goes on to quote the official as saying that it was “far from clear…that she and her advisers fully appreciate the depth of (Chinese) mistrust of her motives and DPP aspirations.” According to the FT, the official made the comments after meeting the candidate in Washington this week.

    Presumably—and judging by many previous statements from not just this Administration but prior ones—the U.S. rightly favors “stability” in the Taiwan Strait. However, to declare Tsai a danger to stability is wrong on several scores.

    One, it is clearly taking the side of her opponent in the upcoming January election. The KMT, party of incumbent President of the Republic of China Ma Ying-jeou, makes the same criticism of her, and like night follows day, it immediately seized on the comments from the Obama Administration.

    There is a very high premium in Taiwan politics on maintaining the confidence of the country that is essentially the guarantor of its security—the United States of America. The last DPP president, Chen Shui-bian, lost that confidence, and the loss was a contributing factor to the KMT’s victory in 2008.

    Two, Tsai Ing-wen is far from a radical advocate of Taiwan independence. If anything the criticism from within her party is that she is not strong enough in her advocacy of the party’s central plank, certainly nothing like President Chen and the real DPP firebrands.

    In the current presidential campaign, Tsai has assiduously sought (successfully perhaps because of her nature) to project reasonableness and responsibility. To the extent that she embodies the DPP spirit on cross-Straits issues, she is reflecting an extraordinary polarization in Taiwan’s politics over the very nature of its national identity: whether the island is part of one China separated by history and incompatible political systems or Taiwanese, culturally Chinese, but destined to live forever politically separate from the mainland.

    Three, the White House comments reflect an all-too-well-trained instinct for carrying China’s water on cross-Straits issues. It is the PRC that is dictating the terms of the “stability” the U.S. is concerned with maintaining. It is the PRC that declares any deviation from the trend in the direction of unification “destabilizing” and threatens to resort to force to preclude any movement counter to this trend—as it alone perceives it. And judging by the White House response to its encounter with Tsai this week, the PRC’s perception is the only one it cares about.

    There is another problem with the White House comments: Tsai Ing-wen may still, despite this blow, be elected president of Taiwan next year.

    Taiwan needs the U.S. A President Tsai would have no option of distancing Taiwan from America. But without trust in the U.S., which has also suffered a blow from this calculated public assessment of Tsai, the relationship can easily descend into a cycle of manipulation and retribution that serves no one’s interest. After all, where does a political figure like Tsai go when her efforts to be reasonable and responsible have been rebuffed?

    The concern for “stability” is a legitimate concern in any situation where America may be called in to restore balance by force. But to tar one side of these elections in Taiwan as uniquely damaging to American interests when the only evidence to that effect are self-interested complaints from China is wrong and extremely shortsighted.


    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    4 Responses to Taking Sides in the Taiwan Strait

    1. Joseph Gause says:

      The Republic of China (Taiwan) was a signatory to the United Nations Charter, and an original member of the U.N. Security Council. When we recognized the PRC, and withdrew diplomatic recognition of the ROC, we dishonored an old ally and friend.

      • agkcrbs says:

        And what did it change? Taiwan has remained a relatively free, democratic, independent entity to the present day. All the UN sell-out did was embolden an imbalanced China against her weak opponents, and perpetuate the West's shameful cowardice in the history books. I'm confident that a somewhat wiser U.S. would act differently today (but not the Obama administration, apparently).

    2. right one says:

      It was right to abandon the ROC for PRC in the UN for the China seat. However, the USA should have PUSHED harder and convice the Chiang Kai shek regime and to the General Assembly to have a NEW TAIWAN SEAT IN THE UN. That means no ROC but a Taiwan Republic or something as that. THE China UN seat change still did not affect diplomatic ties until the peanut head Carter switched diplomatic ties in the middle of the night when Congress was not in session. Pathetic. Now we have Carter term number 2 under obama.

      • T.Doom says:

        Wishful thinking. As much as I want to agree with you, I just want to point out that it's not even a possible scenario.

        Chiang Kai shek and his Nationalist cronies were born in China, raised in China, fought for China, and only regard the island of Taiwan to which they've retreated as a stepping stone to kick out the communists and reclaim mainland China. He imposed martial law against the local residents of Taiwan (a.k.a. "Taiwanese") and barred the development of local culture (e.g. banned Taiwanese TV shows, banned Taiwanese language in schools, banned anything that would imply an identity separate from China (i.e. Chinese vs Taiwanese).

        It wasn't until his son who succeeded him in "presidency" that those bans were lifted and local cultures were "returned" to its people. No way in hell would he accept anything other than the name "China" to represent his government, much less "Taiwan". Even to this day the Nationalists still clings on to the name "Republic of China" to represent Taiwan and condemns any attempts at solidifying a "Taiwanese" identity.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.