Wed, Apr 20, 2016 - Page 8 News List

Obama should invite Tsai to visit

By Shirley Kan

President-elect Tsai’s visit to the US would entail a concrete case of enhancing exchanges with Taiwan.

At the same time, this modest step would remain within the parameters of policy and not require a hand-wringing change in policy or a tortuous review of the decades-long “one China” policy on Taiwan.

US guidelines on the relationship with Taiwan do not allow its president, vice president, premier or vice premier to visit the US.

The Department of State allows such top officials to make transit outside of Washington, while there may be telephone calls with key officials and meetings with officials of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT). The guidelines restrict only contact with officials in the executive branch and not members of congress.

After her inauguration, Tsai would not be able to visit the US as she has on numerous occasions as an official and a private citizen. She has been an important interlocutor for many years, with a pleasant personality.

As president, she will be restricted from substantive face-to-face meetings with senior US officials.

A visit by president-elect Tsai would not be simply symbolic. The US and Taiwan have consequential issues to discuss in numerous areas of bilateral or international cooperation. Questions might cover how Tsai would strengthen Taiwan’s defense and boost its defense spending, after years of limited investment in Taiwan’s self-defense under Ma.

Other defense-related issues might include how to restore a regular, rational process for US arms sales to Taiwan. Some officials and observers on both sides have criticized the broken process, whereby more than four years passed between the past two occasions when Obama released pending notifications to US Congress on major foreign military sales to Taiwan in September 2011 and December last year.

Even before the concerns about Obama, some members of congress criticized Bush’s “freeze” on arms sales in 2008. While military-to-military cooperation with Taiwan has been more robust, some officials on both sides have criticized the limited value of some dialogues, including senior talks related to security.

In addition, there are different opinions in the US and Taiwan about what should be the priorities of Taiwan’s military modernization and US security assistance for the changes.

Tsai and her DPP might have concrete plans for economic reforms in numerous industries. Taiwan’s voters have expressed disappointment in Taiwan’s economic situation, especially for younger people.

US-Taiwan discussions also entail issues in economic areas, including problems left unresolved by Ma such as Taiwan’s failure to abide by trade agreements on agricultural products. For years, Taiwan has expressed interest in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

In addition, a critical question with serious potential implications for US interests concerns the meaning of the significant victory of Tsai’s Taiwan-centric DPP and voters’ rejection of the KMT that pursued close ties with the regime in Beijing.

The results in the presidential and legislative elections further corroborate signs of a fundamental shift in Taiwan’s political views. The political results followed two significant developments.

The Sunflower movement in the spring of 2014 showed the dissatisfaction of many younger people about Taiwan’s policies, including toward Ma’s approach on cross-strait economic agreements.

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