Appointment of Tien Hung-mao and James Huang
Reflect Tsai Ing-wen's Strategic Confusion
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 6, 2016
Executive Summary: Tsai Ing-wen has finally decided whom to appoint to two positions charged with regional relations and cross-Strait relations. The SEF Chairman appointment has been hastily finalized. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Hung-mao will assume the post. Chiang Shun-nan will not longer be appointed Representative to Singapore, due to his arrest for drunk driving. His position will be filled by New Southern Strategy Office Chief James Huang. Both individuals are experienced, but not necessarily the right man for the job. These appointments reflect President Tsai's desperation and strategic confusion. The results have been penny wise and pound foolish. Gains in one area have been at the expense of losses in another.
Full Text Below:
The Tsai government has been in office nearly 100 days. Tsai Ing-wen has finally decided whom to appoint to two positions charged with regional relations and cross-Strait relations. The SEF Chairman appointment has been hastily finalized. Former Minister of Foreign Affairs Tien Hung-mao will assume the post. Chiang Shun-nan will not longer be appointed Representative to Singapore, due to his arrest for drunk driving. His position will be filled by New Southern Strategy Office Chief James Huang. Both individuals are experienced, but not necessarily the right man for the job. These appointments reflect President Tsai's desperation and strategic confusion. The results have been penny wise and pound foolish. Gains in one area have been at the expense of losses in another.
Personnel appointments must be guided by strategic vision. They are the means by which strategic visions are realized. These appointments reflect Tsai Ing-wen's lack of strategic vision.
First take cross-Strait relations. President Tsai refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus, yet insists the two sides must maintain the status quo. Her appointees to the MAC and SEF may not be able to break the cross-Strait deadlock. But they must at least avoid worsening cross-Strait relations. The appointment of Katharine Chang as MAC Chairwoman was announced before May 20. Her appointment would not have provoked the Mainland. She was a relatively safe choice. For the same reason, James Soong or Wang Jin-pyng was slated to become SEF Chairman. But Tsai Ing-wen dragged her feet and refused to give the Mainland a straight answer. Eventually both Soong and Wang turned down this figurehead position.
The SEF Chairmanship appointment has been delayed 100 days. Instead of progressing, cross-Strait relations have regressed. A long string of incidents have touched sensitive nerves. They include the launching of a Hsiung Feng III missile in the direction of the Mainland, the South China Sea arbitration “ruling”, the deaths of Mainland tourists in a tour bus fire, and the Kenyan telecommunications fraud controversy. Add to this the new government's plummeting approval ratings and political pressure from Taiwan independence elements. The result was President Tsai promptly caved in and appointed green oriented Tien Hung-mao as SEF Chairman to appease Taiwan independence elements. Years ago, Tien Hung-mao reportedly drove Koo Kuan-min all over the US, helping him promote Taiwan independence. Today, a photo of him with former CCP General Secretary Jiang Zemin hangs in his office. Katherine Chang called his appointment “a gesture of goodwill toward the Mainland”. But whether the other side will see it that way is another matter.
Put bluntly, frozen cross-Strait relations, broken cross-Strait connections, and stalled cross-Strait negotiations, have little to do with SEF and MAC appointments. The real problem is that Tsai Ing-wen refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus, and hopes the Mainland will allow her to squeak by regardless. Last year Tien Hung-mao said that if Tsai Ing-wen refused to recognize the 1992 Consensus, cross-Strait communication channels would probably be interrupted. Can Tien Hung-mao mollify Taiwan independence elements? Can he obtain authorization from Tsai Ing-wen to give the Mainland a straight answer? Unless he can, the SEF will remain hanging, and Tien Hung-mao will remain unable to cross the Strait.
Strategic errors are difficult to correct at the level of tactics. Tsai Ing-wen may be attempting to stabilize the current situation. But the reduction in Mainland students, the reduction in Mainland tourists, the cancellation of cross-Strait agreements, and the negative impact on cross-Strait relations, are ongoing. Cross-Strait tensions may soon affect diplomacy and trade, including the New Southern Strategy. James Huang's appointment at this time reflects another strategic dilemma.
Tsai Ing-wen is anxious to promote her New Southern Strategy. That is why she positioned it within the Presidential Office. But for the past several months little has been implemented apart from sloganeering. In mid August, when the government announced the New Southern Strategy, it appeared ready to spring into action. Who knew that half a month later, the political star appointed to the Southern Strategy Office would suddenly be replaced by Chiang Chun-nan, who was forced to resign several months ago for drunk driving. This change sent two messages. The first was that Tsai Ing-wen's bag of tricks is empty. She has no other candidates she can trust, so she mobilized James Huang. The second was that the new government realized its New Southern Strategy was easier said than done. Therefore it decided to take advantage of the opportunity provided by personnel changes to change its policy framework.
James Huang has been appointed Representative to Singapore. The Tsai government can of course indulge in euphemisms. It can refer to Singapore as its “command post” to the New South. But can it really? What government is going to allow foreign diplomats to use their country as a command post? If James Huang wants to use Singapore as command post for the New Southern Strategy, will ROC officials in ASEAN and South Asian countries have to obey his commands? Will the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have to obey his commands? When two agencies differ on direction and priorities, whom must overseas officials obey? This is akin to moving the Hengshan Command Post to Kinmen, and moving the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to Tatan Island to take point. It is simply not feasible.
The delayed appointments of James Huang and Tien Hung-mao reflect Tsai Ing-wen's internal contradictions in foreign strategic thinking. That is why this clash between personnel appointments and harsh reality is so deeply worrisome.