Thu, Dec 07, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan and the rest of the world

By Ben Goren

A by-product of Taiwan’s nearly 400 years of settler occupation, followed by the self-exile of the Republic of China from the UN for nearly a half- century, has been that Taiwanese more often ask how geopolitical events will affect them, rather than how Taiwan could and should influence the world.

Since the disastrous pride-induced walkout from the international stage in 1971, Taiwanese involvement on the world stage has been unofficially deep while officially minimal and, until 2000, generally self-pitying.

After Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) became president, Taiwanese saw the return of some national pride and self-respect in international relations and diplomacy, even if much of it was superficial and mostly designed for domestic consumption.

Between 2008 and last year, former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration voluntarily shrunk Taiwan’s visibility in an effort to appease China, a strategy that yielded some visa waivers and almost nothing else, including no symbolic expansion of its presence on the international stage.

Taiwanese were told to go through China to the world, discard dangerous illusions of any potential US or Japanese aid in the event of a conflict and make peace with a historically predetermined fait accompli.

Meanwhile, the US continued to wield its now-greatly dulled strategy of ambiguity, only succeeding in ineffectually rebuffing egregious disrespect heaped upon Taiwan by China in international organizations and events in the misguided hope that a pro-Beijing government in Taipei would reduce tensions in the Taiwan Strait, thereby allowing Washington to wash its hands of an ongoing irritation, which only the US Congress seemed to care about.

All the while, Taiwanese and friends of Taiwan watched everything the US and its allies did with great care, parsing over every word uttered in relation to Taiwan and its status and rights, in the search for any overt or subtextual statements of validation or abandonment.

In this context, then-US president-elect Donald Trump’s telephone call with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Dec. 2 last year understandably resulted in paroxysms of “insta-analysis”: Who called who first? What did this mean for the US relationship to Taiwan? Had official US policy changed? Would Trump beckon a new era bringing Taiwan in from the cold of its anachronistic ostracization? Was Tsai playing with fire? And finally, the perennial favorite: “How would this affect cross-strait relations?”

A year on and it seems, with the benefit of hindsight, that nothing much changed as a result. In that time, Washington has agreed to sell some more arms to Taiwan, Trump has not said or done anything further of any major substance with regard to Taiwan and the usual procession of foreign visitors from legislatures have come and gone — no doubt impressed with Taiwan’s “robust democracy” and Tsai’s diplomatic acuity and her commitment to “stability.”

In the now infamous words of British Prime Minister Theresa May, arguably the UK’s most inept post-World War II leader: “Nothing has changed.”

During the past year, people also saw dramatic events unfold in the Catalonia region of Spain. Again, perhaps pressed by an occupational requirement to comment, a flurry of opinion immediately took flight like a flamboyance of startled flamingos, much of it in the process by-passing major contextual differences in an effort to wring as much relevance as possible out of the issue to Taiwan.

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