United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
October 14, 2016
Executive Summary: The appointments of Chiang Chun-nan and James Huang as ROC Representative to Singapore were stillborn. The Tsai government's ill-fated "New Southern Strategy" reveals the shallowness of Taiwanese populist politics, as well as the unprofessional nature of its diplomacy. They simply do not pass muster. The Tsai government's diplomatic incompetence has been fully revealed.
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The appointments of Chiang Chun-nan and James Huang as ROC Representative to Singapore were stillborn. The Tsai government's ill-fated "New Southern Strategy" reveals the shallowness of Taiwanese populist politics, as well as the unprofessional nature of its diplomacy. They simply do not pass muster. The Tsai government's diplomatic incompetence has been fully revealed.
The Singaporean government refused to accept James Huang as ROC Representative to Singapore for three reasons. First, the Tsai government failed to consult Singapore's prime minister before Tsai government officials leaked the news of James Huang's appointment. Second, when James Huang's appointment made the news, DPP and Tsai government officials openly boasted that Singapore would become a "command post" to promote the “New Southern Strategy”. The Tsai government has not denied this. Treating a nation with which one has diplomatic relations as a strategic base is a diplomatic no-no. Singapore was naturally incensed. Third, in 2008 James Huang was dismissed for his involvement in the Papua New Guinea bribery scandal. Wu Sicai, one of the brokers in the scandal was a Singaporean national, and opened a joint account in Singapore with another broker, Jin Jijiu. The ROC filed suit in Singapore to recover the funds. James Huang's checkbook diplomacy is well known in Singapore, and does him no credit.
As the above analysis shows, James Huang's rejection as ROC Representative to Singapore is a major diplomatic setback for the Tsai government. This defeat appears unrelated to pressure from Beijing. Instead it reflects our own failure to comply with diplomatic professionalism and custom, and our own failure to respect Singapore's circumstances. Taiwan's self-indulgent populism is solely for domestic political consumption. When aired in public, this dirty laundry eventually proves to be an embarrassment.
James Huang's rejection has nothing to do with pressure from Beijing. Clashes have arisen between the Mainland and Singapore recently as a result of the South China Sea dispute. In the international arena, Singapore has long played a role as middleman and non-aligned nation. But on the South China Sea issue, Singapore's concern for regional strategic balance has led Beijing to conclude that Singapore has cozied up to the US and distanced itself from China. During the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in late September, Singapore proposed that the results of the South China Sea “arbitration” be included in the minutes of the General Assembly. The proposal was rejected. But the hawkish Mainland Global Daily blasted Singapore for the move. Beijing's Ambassador to Singapore Luo Jialiang minced no words. The Mainland and Singapore found themselves at odds with each other. Therefore they could not have joined hands to oppose James Huang's appointment. On the contrary, the decision was made by the Singaporean government on the basis of its own national interests.
James Huang was once Minister of Foreign Affairs. Chiang Chun-nan was merely a National Security Council Deputy Secretary-General. Strictly speaking, Huang is far more qualified. The government of Singapore accepted Chiang Chun-nan, yet rejected James Huang. That is indeed interesting. Leave aside personal qualifications for the moment. What angered Singapore was our government's rude, arrogant diplomatic response. This provoked it to say no. Naturally this includes forbidding Taiwan to use Singapore as a base of operations for its New Southern Strategy, thereby creating chaos among the ASEAN nations.
Similar problems arose during the Ma era. Shi Ya-ping repeatedly crossed Singapore's diplomatic line in the sand, upsetting relations between the two nations. He flew the national flag above the embassy on National Day. He sang the national anthem. He met with opposition parties. He even met with members of the Chinese Communist Party without Singapore's knowledge. His actions violated Singapore's political taboos. He was even reprimanded by Singapore's deputy foreign minister. Eventually the chill forced Shi's recall from Singapore. The Shi Ya-ping and James Huang incidents had something in common. Both men were the president's trusted advisors. But both their actions were too heavy handed for the host nation to tolerate.
On Taiwan, populist politics has degenerated to the point where nothing is taboo. Anything can be rationalized under the banner of "Love for Taiwan". The sole exception is diplomacy, where the superficial nature of Taiwan's populist politics is revealed for all the world to see. Shi Ya-ping raised the national flag and sang the national anthem without prior approval from the Singaporean government. James Huang treated Singapore as a command post for the Tsai government's New Southern Strategy. From a populist point of view, why not? The problem is, that when we talk about the New Southern Strategy, and about "standing tall and marching forth", can we really afford to ignore international norms or the norms of our hosts?
James Huang was appointed to Singapore in his capacity as director of the Office for New Southern Strategy. This in itself revealed the narrowness and bankruptcy of Tsai government thinking. Huang is in no position to explain why Singapore rejected him. Can he calmly return to his job as director? Early last year, James Huang joined the DPP as director of its International Affairs Department. In fact, he was waiting for the DPP to become the ruling party before taking to the diplomatic battlefield, as a "Level 12 Presidential Office Secretary”.
Look around. Whom among Tsai Ing-wen's foreign policy advisers still has the courage to step forward?