Tsai Ing-wen's Perilous Diplomatic Strategy
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 27, 2016
Executive Summary: Obama has visited Vietnam and Japan in an attempt to firm up his “Asian-Pacific rebalancing" strategy. The new government has retreated from Chong Zi Niao Reef, and surrendered it to the Japanese. Having chosen sides, Tsai Ing-wen's diplomatic policy path is now strewn with obstacles. She faces more than just a few high hurdles on a race track. She is looking at a tightrope strung across a chasm.
Full Text Below:
No sooner had the Tsai Ing-wen government assumed power, then it retreated from Chong Zi Niao Reef. Taipei-Tokyo relations immediately warmed. Six former directors of the American Institute in Taiwan gathered in Taipei, and together shouted approval of Washington-Taipei relations. Tsai Ing-wen's diplomatic policy road map calls for an alliance with the US and Japan based on “shared democratic values”. This rosy picture blanks out a number of ugly realities. They include Ractopamine-laced US pork imports, irradiated foodstuffs from Fukushima, and Tsai Ing-wen's "cling to America's apron strings, cozy up to Japan, and keep the Mainland at arms length” thinking.
Between her visit to Washington last year and her May 20 inaugural address, Tsai Ing-wen has revealed her diplomatic strategy. It is diametrically opposed to Ma's. Tsai has subordinated cross-Strait relations to regional relations. Tsai's diplomatic strategy reflects her "first the world, then the Mainland" thinking. For her, cross-Strait peace is the product of an Asian-Pacific system of collective security. This reveals her “ally with the US and Japan to counter China” mindset. Her diplomatic strategy includes the New Southern Strategy, an “alliance of democratic values” with the United States, Japan and Europe, international cooperation on global issues, and head of state diplomacy.
On Tsai Ing-wen's diplomatic policy road map, foreign relations trump cross-Strait relations. Cross-Strait relations are less important than the cultivation of regional relations. Cross-Strait relations are subordinated to Asian-Pacific security. Tsai has been careful not to ruffle the tiger's fur. But by turning the policy of the past eight years on its head, and subordinating cross-Strait relations to regional security arrangements, Tsai Ing-wen is walking a dangerous diplomatic policy path.
Ma Ying-jeou's "diplomatic truce" and "flexible diplomacy" put cross-Strait policy first. During his term of office he negotiated Taiwan's international space and a cross-Strait peace agreement with Beijing. Now however, cross-Strait negotiations are on hold. Tsai Ing-wen contemplates cooperation with the Mainland only as part of her "New Southern Strategy", and the cultivation or regional relations. This of course is nonsense. The very reason for the “New Southern Strategy" is to eliminate dependence on the Mainland market. But given her refusal to address the essential issues, is cross-Strait cooperation even possible? Not to mention the marginalization her “New Southern Strategy” will face from Beijing's One Belt, One Road, and the AIIB. Politically she will find it even more difficult to overcome Beijing's pressure on ASEAN and India.
An “alliance of democratic values” is the magic incantation in Tsai Ing-wen's diplomatic strategy. Chen Shui-bian held high the banner of human rights in an attempt to insinuate the ROC back into the international framework of human rights. Tsai Ing-wen is placing even stronger emphasis on universal values in an attempt to join a global alliance of values. Her intent is to pit democracy against the human rights situation on the Mainland. With common values as her clarion call, she hopes to cozy up to the United States, Japan and Europe. She hopes to use universal values as her calling card to the international community.
But international diplomacy is based on the harsh realities of international realpolitik, not universal values. EU refugee and humanitarian policy offer a clear lesson in that regard. Obama's lifting of the US arms embargo against Vietnam is intended to counter the Mainland, and has nothing to do with human rights in Vietnam. Chen Shui-bian's "head of state diplomacy" ended up as a "diplomatic lost voyage". That memory lingers. Washington and Beijing's “joint management of Taiwan” makes a mockery of the any “alliance of democratic values”.
Tsai Ing-wen sees international cooperation on global issues as entree to the international community. Humanitarian aid, medical assistance, financial assistance, and anti-terrorism all figure in her "peace activist diplomacy". But in reality great power diplomacy is ubiquitous. For example, the WHO plays an important role in health maintenance, disease prevention, and disease research. Yet during the SARS incident, Taiwan was shut out of the WHO. Vaccinations were made difficult. The US and Japan were unable to open the door for Taiwan. Only when the Ma administration came to power, and the two sides of the Strait reconciled, was Taiwan truly integrated into the global epidemic prevention system and allowed to attend the WHA as an observer. The road to the WHA this year was strewn with obstacles, not without reason. Otherwise, why did the Minister of Health and Welfare never use the term “Taiwan” even once during his lengthy address to the WHA? Why did he consistently use the term "Chinese Taipei"?
With the exception of his peace initiatives for the East China Sea and South China Sea, Ma Ying-jeou made scant reference to values. Instead, through cross-Strait reconciliation, he made numerous diplomatic breakthroughs, including the number of allies and the number of countries that provide visa-free treatment for ROC tourists. For the Tsai government these were insurmountable hurdles. Foreign Minister Li Ta-wei has announced that the new government will engage in "head of state diplomacy". The planned visits of President Tsai to Panama and Paraguay, which transit the United States, will probably come off without a hitch. But cross-Strait relations may cool or even freeze. Even in the absence of severed diplomatic relations, current diplomatic allies may be difficult to retain.
Obama has visited Vietnam and Japan in an attempt to firm up his “Asian-Pacific rebalancing" strategy. The new government has retreated from Chong Zi Niao Reef, and surrendered it to the Japanese. Having chosen sides, Tsai Ing-wen's diplomatic policy path is now strewn with obstacles. She faces more than just a few high hurdles on a race track. She is looking at a tightrope strung across a chasm.