One month before the inauguration of president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), the administration of US President Barack Obama should welcome her to visit Washington.
After her inauguration on May 20, Tsai most likely would not be allowed to visit the US for four years, or eight years if she serves a second term. In the meantime, Tsai just completed the important task of naming key individuals to serve in her administration, including the national security adviser, as well as ministers of defense, foreign affairs, economic affairs and mainland affairs.
Eight years have passed since March 2008, when Taiwan conducted a tense presidential election along with controversial referendums on Taiwan’s membership in the UN, which I visited as an observer.
Upon winning the election, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) quickly announced his desire to visit the US before becoming president. However, the administration of then-US president George W. Bush did not entertain his wish, despite US relief about the election and the referendums.
Ma is nearing the end of eight years in the Presidential Office. While Ma has been allowed increasingly unfettered “transits” through the US, he has paid no formal visits.
Now, as a model democracy, Taiwan is about to achieve another peaceful transition of power from one party to another. On Jan. 16, the Democratic Progressive Party’s (DPP) Tsai won a remarkable 56 percent of the vote, beating the KMT’s candidate, who received only 31 percent.
In a significant, unprecedented development, the DPP also gained dominance of the Legislative Yuan, having secured 68 out of 113 legislative seats, while KMT legislators were cut down to 35 members.
The White House promptly said that “the United States congratulates Dr Tsai Ing-wen on her victory in Taiwan’s presidential election. We also congratulate the people on Taiwan for once again demonstrating the strength of their robust democratic system.”
The US National Security Council (NSC) told the Central News Agency that the US has a “profound interest” in the continuation of cross-strait peace and stability and looks forward to working with the new president and leaders from both parties to “further strengthen” the unofficial relationship between the US and the people of Taiwan.
In any such strengthening of US-Taiwan engagement, it is also important to recall that the US administration promised the US Congress that there would be ways to improve interactions with Taiwan.
In September 2014, on the 20th anniversary of the Taiwan Policy Review of 1994, US Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, and other members sent a letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry, calling for an expansion of engagement with Taiwan.
In response, the US Department of State acknowledged that it continually reviews and improves the interactions with Taiwan, but did not refer to specific ways of enhancing exchanges.
A visit by Tsai to the US would be a step toward improving interactions with Taiwan. As the NSC’s statement noted, the US has critical interests in stability in the Taiwan Strait. As part of its strategic “rebalance” to the Asian-Pacific region, the Obama administration has recognized Taiwan as an “important security and economic partner.”