Mon, Jan 01, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Stephen M. Young On Taiwan: Port calls and diplomatic outbursts

Yet it comes at the same time that we read recent reports of PRC surveillance and military planes flying close to Taiwan’s airspace to the north and south of the island. These can only be characterized as provocative gestures designed to threaten and intimidate the government and people of Taiwan.

One has to ask if this is a realistic policy designed to influence internal politics on the island. If so, I suspect it serves only to heighten suspicion on the part of Taiwan’s more than 23 million citizens that China means them no good. It also comes at a time when President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and her government have been extraordinarily cautious in avoiding any actions that might provoke or alarm the Chinese government and the Communist Party that runs it.

President Trump has gotten off to a good start with China, beginning with his early April meeting in Florida with Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), and more recently his “State-Plus” visit to Beijing in the fall. Mr. Xi has been clever in playing to our president’s ego. Thus far candidate Trump’s bombastic complaints about China have not been transformed into actual policy, now that he is sitting in the Oval Office. It was also a relief that Mr. Trump’s trip to Beijing did not — as far as we know — result in any new concessions on Taiwan.

I understand why Beijing doesn’t particularly like democracy, given that the institution substitutes the wisdom of the voting public in place of the dictate of a small coterie of unelected mandarins in the CCP Politburo. But why China hasn’t made more of an effort to deal with the Tsai government that took office a year ago in May is still rather puzzling. There has been little effort to actually engage Taipei on a variety of important economic, commercial and political issues. Ultimatums and threats — and now military shows of force — have substituted for diplomacy.

Trade between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait has also declined, which harms both economies. Tourism too has dropped, despite the many benefits of Chinese citizens learning more about Taiwan and even trying to diminish tensions across the Strait.

Could it be that the leaders in Beijing fear what exposure to Taiwan’s open and democratic society might do to their own citizens? I have read anecdotal accounts that PRC visitors to Taiwan are fascinated by the bare-knuckle evening political talk shows on Taiwan television, something their own state-controlled broadcasts studiously avoid.

Back to the outspoken Mr. Li. Other than a brief story in the bombastic Global Times (環球時報), I am unaware of any higher level echoes of the diplomat’s threats in PRC media. At the same time, we have not seen anything suggesting Mr. Li was called on the carpet for taking upon himself to publicly announce what could be taken as a new “red line” toward Taiwan. One wonders what his next job might be.

The 1979 Taiwan Relations Act (TRA) was purposely general in delineating American defense commitments to Taiwan after the break in relations. But the view among experts in the US government and Congress is that any outright military threat to the island would likely trigger a major American military reaction.

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