With the presidential primaries over, the battle between President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is about to begin. As Ma cannot travel to the US, he is planning to hold a video conference with a think tank in Washington to address issues that concern the US, such as US beef. He is hoping to garner some positive press before the presidential election in January, such as visa exemption for Republic of China citizens or a new arms deal, to divert attention away from the many opinion polls showing Tsai in the lead.
Tsai’s nomination has been followed by rumors that, “following precedent,” she would visit Washington in her capacity as the DPP’s presidential candidate.
Taiwan-US relations are slowly beginning to have an effect on the presidential election campaign. However, rather than rushing to play the US card, the two sides would do better to offer thoughtful analysis of the recent personnel changes in US President Barack Obama’s administration.
Obama has also begun campaigning for re-election next year and in the past two months he has been reshuffling his national security and Asia-Pacific team. Over the next two years, these changes will have an impact on US global strategy and foreign policy.
These changes include nominating CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has announced plans to retire this year and had in January visited Beijing to repair US-China military ties. US Army General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in Afghanistan and a man whom Obama trusts, will take over the CIA. Panetta is a Democrat stalwart who served as White House chief of staff under former US president Bill Clinton. Coupled with his experience as CIA director, he will be able to bring stability to Obama’s foreign policy if the latter wins a second term. Osama bin Laden’s death added another to Panetta’s list of foreign policy achievements.
Petraeus carries a lot of prestige in the US military and when General Stanley McChrystal, then-commander of US forces in Afghanistan, early last year criticized Obama’s US troop pullout policy as inappropriate, saying it would have a negative impact on the president’s standing as supreme commander of the US forces, Obama asked Petraeus to take over to calm down the military.
There have also been changes to officials in charge of Asia-Pacific affairs, which affect Taiwan and cross-strait relations. US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, said to be part of the pro-China faction, and the US National Security Council’s senior director of Asian affairs Jeffrey Bader have both resigned. Last year, forces in the US Department of State, led by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, led to a tougher approach to China policy. US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Kurt Campbell is thought to have influenced Clinton’s statements on several visits to Asia, and in the future, the department is likely to direct the Obama administration’s China policy.
Thomas Donilon, who was appointed national security adviser last year, is an expert on Korean affairs and he has on several occasions used Beijing to apply pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Daniel Russel, a Japan expert, will replace Bader.