Soon after the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) suffered a crashing defeat in the elections on Nov. 29 last year, speculation was raised that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could win next year’s presidential election. That, in turn, has caused concerns over whether ties with China will sour and whether the White House would make efforts to influence Taiwanese voters as it did in 2012. Although there is no answer to the first concern at present, there is sufficient evidence to show that it is in the US’ national interests not to try to influence Taiwanese before an election.
On Sept. 14, 2011, Democratic Progressive Party Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) — the party’s candidate for the 2012 presidential election — had a meeting with members of the US’ National Security Council; the same afternoon, the Financial Times quoted a senior official as saying that the White House did not feel comfortable with Tsai’s position on cross-strait relations.
This statement was broadly seen as an unwarranted violation of diplomatic protocol; even the US Department of State distanced itself from the move and strongly criticized it.
On Jan. 12, 2012, two days before the presidential election, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) arrived in Taipei, and said in a TV interview that “if she [Tsai] won, the United States would have to massively and quickly engage to try to help her come to a formula that would preserve peace and stability … both Washington and Beijing would breathe a huge sigh of relief if Mr Ma were elected.”
Those comments were criticized as “irresponsible” and “inexcusable” by former Alaska governor Frank Murkowski. The comments also prompted a protest letter signed by 14 Taiwanese-American organizations.
The two incidents were widely reported in Taiwan. Taiwanese were frightened by the comments, as well as by the economic threats made by Taiwanese doing business with China. As it turned out, in that fiercely contested election, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) won re-election, an outcome presumably favored by the US.
It is understandable that while the US was fighting two wars, maintaining stability across the Taiwan Strait was one of its foremost national interests. Nevertheless, was this strategy to threaten Taiwanese before they walked into the voting booth the best strategy? Did the benefits outweigh the possible negative impact? Was there a better strategy that could have been followed?
Taiwanese have always had a high regard toward the US in many aspects, in its upholding the principles of human rights, democracy, freedom and justice, in its success in economic achievement, advancement in science and military strength, as well as appreciating how the US lent a helping hand when Taiwan was fighting for human rights, freedom and democracy during the Chiang Kai-shek (蔣介石) regime. Nonetheless, after these two incidents that were widely believed to have influenced the 2012 election, sentiment has changed.
There is a petition to propose a plebiscite — to be on the same ballot as next year’s presidential election — for Taiwan to become a permanently neutral power. The petition is led by well-respected constitutional experts, a former minister of national defense and former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮).
“In the 21st century, there is competition between the dragon China and the eagle America, and we Taiwanese do not want to be involved,” Lu said.