Tue, May 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Tsai: staying above the fray

A media interview can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it gives politicians a chance to explain their views; on the other hand, it can sometimes backfire and have the opposite effect. President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) interview with Reuters on Thursday has turned out to be an example of the latter.

This was not due to any mistake by Tsai; instead, it was Reuters’ doing. There was nothing inappropriate or wrong in Tsai’s responses to the reporters’ questions. Always cautious, Tsai gave appropriate and concrete answers to their questions. She was forthcoming and direct, and displayed the views and bearing becoming of a president.

She was not overbearing on the issue of relations between Taiwan, the US and China, and she gave voice to a Taiwanese identity without deliberately fawning on either the US or China. In short, her behavior was presidential and praiseworthy.

The problem was the reporters’ hypothetical line of questioning.

For example, the reporters asked Tsai: “Will you hold further conversations with [US] President [Donald] Trump? Are you expecting to?”

“We are of course hoping that we will have the opportunity to communicate directly with the US government at critical moments and on critical issues, and do not rule out the opportunity for another telephone conversation with President Trump himself, but this will be dependent on the overall situation and on the US government’s concerns when it comes to handling the affairs of this region,” Tsai said.

This is both a balanced and relevant answer.

However, the headline Reuters gave the report was: “Exclusive: Taiwan president says phone call with Trump can take place again,” and a Reuters reporter immediately asked Trump if he would call Tsai again.

Trump, unaware of the interview with Tsai, brushed the question aside and said that he was addressing the North Korea issue with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), and that he did not want to irritate Beijing with any other issues.

Trump’s response was reasonable: North Korea is the issue that the US most urgently needs to resolve and it needs China’s help to do so.

Another question posed by Reuters was: “Will you directly rule out purchasing F-35 jets?”

“Our military purchases will be directed by our defense strategy needs, and we don’t rule out any item that would be meaningful to our strategy. The F-35 is indeed one such item,” Tsai said.

A Reuters reporter directly asked Trump whether the US would sell F-35s to Taiwan, since Taiwan wants to buy them. Trump said that he had not been notified, that he needed to think about it and that he had to confer with his team.

Reuters’ handling of the report gave the impression that Tsai had suggested that a second telephone conversation with Trump should be organized, and that Trump had rejected the suggestion. However, the Chinese transcript of the interview on the Presidential Office’s Web site shows that Tsai only responded to the Reuters reporter’s question by saying that it would depend on the US government’s considerations, and that there were currently no such plans on either side.

The purchase of F-35 jets is also a hypothetical issue that lacks any substance.

Reuters had a great opportunity to interview Tsai, and several important issues were discussed during the interview. Too bad that all the good points have been drowned out by the furor over two non-issues.

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