Fri, Oct 27, 2017 - Page 8 News List

A transit that is more like a visit

By Shirley Kan

This weekend, the US is to welcome President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) during her “transit” in Honolulu. She is to stop in Hawaii’s capital on her way to visit the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands, nations in the South Pacific that maintain diplomatic ties with the Republic of China (ROC).

Tsai’s transit/visit in Honolulu benefits from three trends.

First, this stopover by the nation’s president is part of an evolution of visit-like “transits,” involving significant security and other advance preparations, as well as public activities and overnight stays.

Since 1994, the US response to requests from the nation’s presidents to come to the US has evolved from initially denying former president Lee Teng-hui’s (李登輝) entry, to allowing restricted transits for former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), to relaxing restrictions in favor of visit-like “transits” for the safety, comfort, convenience and dignity of former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Tsai.

In 1994, the US allowed Lee to make a refueling stop and rest only in Honolulu’s airport. Then, US Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 53 to support Lee’s visit in 1995 to Cornell University, his alma mater.

Since then, there has been a need to correct the misperception — part of China’s political warfare — that Lee “provoked” the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to “respond” to a “surprise visit” with military exercises and missile launches in the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995 to 1996.

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) military threat to Taiwan has been growing since the early 1990s, not just because of Lee’s visit.

PRC rulers had by 1993 already decided on a new Main Strategic Direction that built military capabilities to target Taiwan. In 1994, the PLA conducted a command post exercise that used the scenario of an invasion of Taiwan.

Second, since Lee’s experiences from 1994 to 1995, the US Congress has permitted Chen, Ma and Tsai to come for numerous “transits” in various cities, meeting with members of Congress and other Americans for direct engagements.

In July, senators Cory Gardner and Tom Cotton introduced the Taiwan security act that included support for senior defense and diplomatic visits between the US and Taiwan.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on Oct. 12 approved the Taiwan travel act, introduced to encourage visits between officials from the US and Taiwan at all levels.

Third, under Tsai, the Democratic Progressive Party leadership has evolved to stress the “status quo” and stability, while facing the difficult situation of continued PRC threats.

In her Double Ten National Day address, Tsai said that “since May 20 last year, we have exerted maximum goodwill in order to safeguard the peaceful and stable development of cross-strait relations.”

In addition to Tsai benefiting from the trend toward visit-like transits, Honolulu is the most appropriate transit place from the historical perspective of Taiwan’s engagement with the US and Polynesia.

Tsai is to visit an important site that serves as a connection to ROC founding father Sun Yat-sen (孫逸仙), whose portrait is prominently displayed in government offices, including in the formal room of the Presidential Office where Tsai receives foreign visitors.

During his formative years of academics and activism, Sun traveled from China to study in Honolulu, including at Iolani and Punahou schools. The Punahou school is former US president Barack Obama’s alma mater.

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