Trump Tsai Fever: Enjoy the Moment Before the Bubble Bursts
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
December 7, 2016
Executive Summary: Trump is arrogant and egotistical. Under his administration, the US will probably lack a clear and stable policy stance. He may adopt a confrontational strategy against the Mainland. He may provide Taiwan with a little more international breathing room. But his opportunism and caprice could result in him abandoning Taiwan at any time. Taiwan must assess the situation. It must take note of trends. It must not be reduced to a bubble in a breaking wave.
Full Text Below:
Tsai Ying-wen and Donald Trump spoke over the phone, and provoke a firestorm among the US, the Mainland, and Taiwan. Two things are certain. One. The Trump administration is a loose cannon, and does not care whether it collides head on with Mainland China. Two. Trump has no intention of following Obama's Asian-Pacific policy. Washington's diplomatic conventions mean nothing to him. So the next question is: What role does Taiwan play in this picture, and how can it derive the most benefit?
The Trump Tsai phone call provoked intense international concern. First impressions
suggest that it was a diplomatic victory for Taiwan. One. It raised Taiwan's international profile. Two. It established a channel for future communication with the new Trump administration. Three. The subsequent tug of war between the US and the Mainland give Taiwan an extra chip in cross-Strait relations. These can be considered positive developments.
But the person responsible for this Trump Tsai Fever is wild man Donald Trump. People everywhere remain skeptical about his consistency and the potential consequences of the incident. The key is whether Trump consciously used Taiwan to provoke the Mainland, or whether he was steered wrong by aides. Trump is reckless and often repeats the same mistakes. He has the instincts of a businessman. His support for Taiwan will not be based on considerations of justice. It will be based solely on calculations of advantage. If we wish to talk about advantages, the Mainland can provide thousands of times the advantages of Taiwan. This is a reality the Tsai government must acknowledge.
Consider what happened after the Trump Tsai phone call. The attitudes adopted by the US, the Mainland, and Taiwan, are intriguing. The Trump camp is still experiencing the thrill of victory. It has countered Beijing's protests head on. His economic advisers even spouted obscenities such as "F**k 'em". The Obama administration was shocked by the Trump Tsai phone call. On the one hand, it was concerned that Obama's Asian rebalancing policy would go down the drain. On the other hand, it reiterated the "one China principle" to mollify Beijing. Beijing's reaction, by contrast, was not to blame Trump, but Taiwan, for “engaging in trickery”. The PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs even asked Washington to deny Tsai transit privileges when she visits Nicaragua next month. Tsai told an American reporter that the phone call was merely a reflection of Taiwan's respect for the US elections, and did not represent any change in policy.
The DPP was initially elated. But Tsai Ing-wen has turned low-key. Clearly invisible diplomatic pressures have been brought to bear. Three days ago, Tsai's visit to Nicaragua and three other nations was supposed to transit New York. Political pundits speculated that she might even meet with Trump. The latest news however, is that she will not transit New York, but Houston and San Francisco instead. There will be no Trump Tsai meeting. The reason should not be hard to imagine. The current US president is Barack Obama. Before the official handover, Washington is not about to allow a replay of the Trump Tsai phone call that undermines Obama's authority ahead of schedule.
What worries many in the political world is that Beijing may not stop at interfering with Tsai's trip to Central America. They may take revenge and embarrass her. They may turn ROC diplomatic allies. Nicaragua in particular, may change diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing. If not for the Ma government's diplomatic truce, it would have recognized Beijing already. Therefore, the Tsai government must maintain a low profile. Otherwise, a phone call and less than a day's euphoria, may result in a string of retaliatory moves whose cost are not worth the candle.
Taiwan's prolonged diplomatic isolation has led some to use a points system or shallow pro forma ritual to tally wins and losses. For example: What title was given to some representative from Taiwan taking part in some international activity? How many national flags were displayed during some international event? Whom did James Soong meet and greet at APEC? Which cities did the president transit? Such petty pro forma gains and losses, sway popular sentiment again and again. Such clashes are not unimportant. But in terms of the ROC's survival and development, their form outweighs their substance. Far more important is strategy. Do we have a strategy that is more inclusive, one that is more politically and economically sophisticated, and more indicative of the nation's progress? We need a strategy that is less prone to intimidation, frustration, or incitement. This is why we have repeatedly stressed that cross-Strait policy is so important.
Trump is arrogant and egotistical. Under his administration, the US will probably lack a clear and stable policy stance. He may adopt a confrontational strategy against the Mainland. He may provide Taiwan with a little more international breathing room. But his opportunism and caprice could result in him abandoning Taiwan at any time. Taiwan must assess the situation. It must take note of trends. It must not be reduced to a bubble in a breaking wave.