China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 16, 2016
Executive Summary: Trump's election has dramatically changed the Asian-Pacific security environment. The US is likely to reduce its Asian-Pacific strategic presence. The TPP is DOA. The United States may reevaluate its relations with Asian-Pacific nations. These nations may also reevaluate their diplomatic strategies. Asian-Pacific opposition to Beijing will no longer be so marked. Mutual cooperation and win-win policies will become mainstream. ASEAN nations will not be the only ones to move closer to Mainland China. Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other nations will also be forced to move closer to Beijing. Taiwan must review the situation pragmatically, and respond to changes in the external environment. Above all we must abandon our ideological shackles. Relations with the US and Japan are important. But even more importantly we must get along with the Mainland.
Donald Trump's policies conform to public opinion. The Tsai Ying-wen government bet on the wrong horse, and is now frightened out of its mind. It hopes the United States will honor its "Six Assurances". It hopes that a Trump Cabinet and its Republican friends will continue to support Taiwan. Frank Hsieh put it bluntly. The moment the United States withdraws from Asia, a crisis will erupt. Trump's presidency may well lead to an Asian crisis. According to Hsieh, Taiwan and Japan must cooperate more closely. An Asian crisis may or may not erupt. The real crisis is the mentality behind the DPP government's reaction.
Trump is a political novice. He has no political experience whatsoever. He thinks like an entrepreneur, and says whatever is on his mind. Pundits are finding it difficult to fathom his behavior. Campaign rhetoric is not the same as practical policy after a candidate has assumed office. But Trump's isolationism will not change. He lacks a detailed understanding of Asian-Pacific security situation. Upon taking office he will change Obama's policy path. Taiwan's international plight will worsen.
For Trump, domestic concerns take precedence over foreign concerns. Most important are the economy and unemployment. In order to avoid conflict in the South China Sea, Trump has not ruled out a timely olive branch to Beijing, and a joint quest for stability on the Korean Peninsula. When Trump telephoned President Xi Jinping, he praised China, saying "China is a great and important country". He adopted a soft approach, and urged cooperation between the United States and China for mutual benefit and win-win.
Trump is contemptuous of Obama's Asian-Pacific rebalancing strategy. He wants allies to bear the cost of their own defense. Japan and South Korea would bear the brunt of these expenses. Mr Abe has publicly refused to pay the full amount the US military is spending in Japan. Park Geun-hye is caught up in the Choi-gate scandal, and unable to deploy the THAAD anti-missile system. US military intervention in Asian-Pacific affairs is less and less likely. A strategic vacuum in East Asia will increase Mainland China's influence dramatically.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), one of the three pillars of Asia-Pacific rebalancing, has failed. The US war on terror at the beginning of the century provided Mainland China with new strategic opportunities. It is once again free to pursue these opportunities. Trump is eager to resume trade negotiations. Beijing can use the opportunity to establish a multilateral trade regime for the "Asia-Pacific Free Trade Area" (FTAAP), covering TPP and RCEP member countries. Beijing's influence in global economic governance will increase dramatically. Taipei will be increasingly marginalized in the Asian-Pacific region. Obama refused to become one of the 57 founding members of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). During the election, a Trump senior adviser criticized this decision as a strategic blunder. AIIB president Jin Liqun recently claimed that once Trump is in the White House next year, he may join the AIIB. The trend is clear.
Relations between Taipei and Washington, between Beijing and Washington, and between Taipei and Beijing have long been closely linked. The Tsai administration has neglected cross-Strait relations and put Taiwan's security in the hands of the United States. During Ronald Reagan's presidential campaign, he expressed his desire to restore diplomatic relations with Taiwan. After he was elected however, he signed the August 17 Communiqué with Beijing which seriously undermined Taipei's position. During Bill Clinton's election campaign, he blasted Mainland China's human rights record. After he was elected however, he helped Mainland China gain WTO membership. George W. Bush characterized Mainland China as a "rival" and publicly declared his obligation to defend Taiwan. After he was elected however, he praised Beijing as "great" and supported one China and opposed Taiwan independence.
Barack Obama called himself a friend of Taiwan. But when Taiwan sought to attend the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and Interpol annual meetings, Obama was all talk and no substance. Trump is a businessman committed to realism. Policies must be pragmatic. Taiwan is merely the United States' strategic pawn. Of course it is going to be relegated to the status of a bargaining chip in the United States' national interest.
"Abandoning Taiwan" may not be the mainstream view in American politics. But that does not mean it will not become that with changes in the larger picture. After President Carter established diplomatic relations with Beijing, calls to abandon Taiwan became louder. Pressure on Taiwan to negotiate with the Mainland forced then Premier Sun Yun-hsien to declare "Never fear to negotiate, but never negotiate out of fear". The DPP party and DPP government must not underestimate Trump's decision-making style. Republican think tanks support US arms sales to Taiwan. But is this an indicator of goodwill, or a sign that the United States is about to abandon Taiwan? Taiwan must be cautious. Is the purchase of advanced weaponry the only way to ensure Taiwan's security? How can one maintain cross-Strait peace and mutually beneficial exchanges? That is the real question.
The United States under a Trump administration can no longer be relied upon. Unilateral reliance on Japan is even more dangerous. Taiwan fishermen have lost their traditional fishing grounds. Taiwan fishing boats have been seized by the Japanese government. Nobuo Kishi is the younger brother of Shinzo Abe. He met with the Tsai government behind closed doors.
In utter disregard for the health of the people of Taiwan, he pressured the Tsai government into lifting the ban on food imports from the nuclear disaster area. This makes people wonder just what sort of quid pro quo deals were struck.
Tsai's loyalty to Japan has not improved Japan's treatment of Taiwan. Masaru Igawahara, Deputy Consul-General of Japan in Hong Kong, made clear that Japan's Taiwan policy will not change. No breakthroughs are in the offing. Igawahara said peace and stability in cross-Strait relations will help relations between Japan and the Mainland, as well as relations between Japan and Taiwan. The Tsai government's obsession with confrontation, he said, actually puts Taiwan at risk.
Trump's election has dramatically changed the Asian-Pacific security environment. The US is likely to reduce its Asian-Pacific strategic presence. The TPP is DOA. The United States may reevaluate its relations with Asian-Pacific nations. These nations may also reevaluate their diplomatic strategies. Asian-Pacific opposition to Beijing will no longer be so marked. Mutual cooperation and win-win policies will become mainstream. ASEAN nations will not be the only ones to move closer to Mainland China. Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand and other nations will also be forced to move closer to Beijing.
Taiwan must review the situation pragmatically, and respond to changes in the external environment. Above all we must abandon our ideological shackles. Relations with the US and Japan are important. But even more importantly we must get along with the Mainland.