Dark Cloud or Silver Lining: Barbara Schrage's Warning to Tsai Ing-wen
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 27, 2015
Executive Summary: As a Western expression notes, "Every cloud has a silver lining." The DPP and Tsai Ing-wen must acknowledge the true meaning of Barbara Schrage's comments. They must be wiser and less reckless. They must cease forcing Washington's hand. Constant evasion, and failure to offer a mutually acceptable cross-Strait policy, amounts to a refusal to see Washington's silver linings.
Full Text Below:
Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) executive director Barbara Schrage recently urged Tsai Ing-wen to offer a concrete and feasible cross-Strait policy in advance of next year's presidential election. She said that the people of Taiwan have a right to know. Former AIT Taipei Office Director Douglas Paal said that the 1992 consensus is Beijing's bottom line. Alas, Tsai Ing-wen's response was, "Comments by retired officials do not represent the US position."
Barbara Schrage said the United States respects Taiwan's democracy, and should not intervene in its election. But she also said continued cross-Strait cooperation was consistent with US interests. Therefore she looked forward to US government agencies, "current or future", quietly pressuring the DPP leadership, especially Tsai Ing-wen, to narrow the differences in cross-Strait policy. Barbara Schrage left the AIT early last year. Only then did she relinquish her responsibilities as executive director. She was responsible for Taiwan affairs for many years. In all that time she was always extremely guarded in her statements. Therefore, when she suddenly spoke so frankly and straightforwardly, this alarmed the DPP leadership.
Tsai Ing-wen's first response was fairly calm. She said she would endeavour to maintain the cross-Strait status quo. DPP Secretary-General Joseph Wu however, panicked. He immediately denied that this was the United States' official position. He blasted Schrage's comments. He even denounced the venue that Barbara Schrage spoke at, saying it was "sponsored by a pro-China group". He demanded that retired US officials refrain from commenting. The DPP reacted virtually the same way it reacts to political opponents inside Taiwan.
The DPP reaction was so vehement, the nightmare of September 2011, when Tsai Ing-wen was “ambushed” by White House National Security Council senior officials, may well repeat itself. At the time, Tsai Ing-wen and Ma Ying-jeou were running for president. Ma Ying-jeou governed for four years. The US repeatedly affirmed the Ma government's cross-Strait policy. By contrast, Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait policy consisted of vague references to a "Taiwan consensus". This is unconvincing to the public on Taiwan. It is even less convincing to US officials.
As a result, Tsai Ing-wen and her party left Washington early. She was still on the plane to Boston when the Financial Times quoted an unnamed senior US official, who said the Obama administration was worried that if Tsai Ing-wen was elected, that might strain relations with Mainland China. This took Tsai Ing-wen by surprise. It even affected the election results. The senior official in question was believed to be National Security Adviser Thomas E. Donilon.
At the time, Tsai Ing-wen was accompanied by Barbara Schrage. This time, speaking at the symposium, she mentioned this incident from the past. She said Tsai Ing-wen focused only on the process, and failed to offer any clear conclusions. What the US government wanted to hear, was concrete solutions to cross-Strait issues. Barbara Schrage was blunt. She said Tsai's remarks were disappointing.
Barbara Schrage pointed out Tsai Ing-wen's cross-Strait policy Achilles Heel. That was of course embarrassing. But the DPP should not have responded in such a negative manner. In fact, Barbara Schrage's comments were a gesture of Washington's goodwill.
Tsai Ing-wen is preparing to visit Washington. She will meet senior Obama administration officials. She will run into the same people who distrusted her in 2011, such as Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, and then National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Russel, who is currently Assistant Secretary of State for Asian-Pacific Affairs. Succeeding him is Evan Medeiros, a novice. The DPP hopes that Washington will allow Tsai Ing-wen to meet Undersecretary of State Anthony Blinken, just as it allowed Ma Ying-jeou back then.
Washington has observed Tsai Ing-wen for many years. It is no stranger to her thought patterns and habits. Its perception of her as "lacking in substance" remains unchanged. Therefore it intentionally asked Barbara Schrage to give Tsai advance warning, lest she repeat her past mistake of spewing hollow rhetoric. This was Washington's first gesture of goodwill.
Washington understands Tsai Ing-wen quite well. But four years have passed. Times have changed. It noted the outcome of the nine in one elections. Barbara Schrage's comments suggest that the US knows the DPP could win in 2016. Taiwan could undergo yet another change in ruling parties. The United States is prepared to accept a "President Tsai". This was Washington's second gesture of goodwill.
Barbara Schrage represents mainstream opinion in Washington. She is hoping that Tsai Ing-wen will demonstrate courageous leadership on cross-Strait policy. She is hoping that Tsai Ing-wen will not offer vague policies that fail to meet outside concerns. or introduce any unclear consensus that leads to international or internal Taiwan uncertainty. As we can see, Washington has not criticized her comments. This lack of criticism, was Washington's third gesture of goodwill.
As a Western expression notes, "Every cloud has a silver lining." The DPP and Tsai Ing-wen must acknowledge the true meaning of Barbara Schrage's comments. They must be wiser and less reckless. They must cease forcing Washington's hand. Constant evasion, and failure to offer a mutually acceptable cross-Strait policy, amounts to a refusal to see Washington's silver linings.
2015-03-27 02:07:34 聯合報 聯合報社論