Following the abolition of the limit of two consecutive terms for China’s president and vice president, which has made Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a virtual emperor, US President Donald Trump’s decision to sign the Taiwan Travel Act takes on a special significance.
Over the past few years, Xi has been making strenuous efforts to expand China’s military power in the East China and South China seas, while stepping up its verbal and military intimidation of Taiwan. The removal of term limits makes Taiwan and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region feel even more threatened than before, and this turn of events has had a serious impact on US strategic interests in the Western Pacific.
Consequently, it appears that Trump wants to use the signing and implementation of the Taiwan Travel Act to raise relations between Taiwan and the US to a quasi-state-to-state level, to stem the expansion of China’s military power, uphold security in the Taiwan Strait and maintain a balance of power in the Indo-Pacific region.
Considering the background against which it was written, although the Act only encourages visits between Taiwanese and US officials, its legislative purpose is to encourage officials from the two sides to have more interaction and urge Taiwan’s representative offices in the US to conduct their business more actively, thus breaking free of restrictions associated with the US’ “one China” policy and upgrading Taiwan-US relations.
Taiwan’s offices in the US should think hard about what they can do to facilitate visits between senior officials and bring about an overall upgrading of Taiwan-US relations. Following are some suggestions as to how this can be achieved.
The first suggestion is to arrange for President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to have occasional video conferences with senior US foreign affairs and national security officials, members of Congress, members of well-known think tanks and important media outlets to talk about issues, such as trade relations and bilateral military and diplomatic ties, and about Asia-Pacific regional security, to demonstrate Taiwan’s importance and create an environment conducive to Tsai visiting the US.
The next idea would be to join hands with prominent US think tanks and departments concerned with foreign relations and national security to hold meetings about strategic cooperation between Taiwan and the US, and to discretely invite the ministers of foreign affairs, defense and economic affairs or senior officials from those ministries, to attend such meetings and talk with senior US officials and academic experts and visit the US departments of state, defense and commerce, military facilities and major companies to discuss issues such as Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, US-Taiwan military cooperation, signing a bilateral free-trade agreement and participation in regional economic organizations.
A third suggestion that fits in with the Tsai administration’s Five Plus Two Industrial Innovation Plan is to build and strengthen connections with US businesses in the fields of biomedicine, new technologies, “green” energy, “smart” machinery and defense technology, and build platforms for US-Taiwan cooperation in these areas.
When the time is ripe, the ministers of science and technology and economic affairs, as well as business leaders, could be invited to the US, visit related US businesses and sign cooperation agreements with them.
The fourth idea, which matches the government’s plan to improve Taiwan’s investment environment, is to invite business delegations led by senior US trade and commerce officials and state governors to see Taiwan’s main industries and negotiate about investing and setting up factories in Taiwan, as well as issues such as trade cooperation.
The fifth suggestion would be to invite the North American Taiwanese Medical Association to hold joint seminars with medical centers in places like Los Angeles, Houston and New York City. This would provide opportunities for the minister of health and welfare to sit down with medical representatives and senior officials of the US Department of Health and Human Resources, and talk about how healthcare and health insurance are implemented in Taiwan and the US.
With the endorsement of figures from the US medical field, Taiwan’s healthcare and medical successes could be offered for reference and use by the World Health Assembly, thereby putting more cards in Taiwan’s hand for its bid to join the WHO.
The sixth idea is to expand cultural exchanges. Arrangements could be made for the minister of culture to speak at US arts and cultural establishments, such as the Asia Society, and talk about US culture’s considerable influence on Taiwan and how Taiwan has given expression to the US ideals and concepts of democracy, freedom, creativity and innovation.
Stressing close cultural ties would strengthen the friendly relations that already exist between the two nations.
The seventh idea would be to encourage visits between Taiwanese mayors and county commissioners and their US counterparts, set up twin or sister city agreements, and promote exchanges and cooperation between local industries, cultural organizations, farming and fisheries.
If Taiwan’s representative offices in the US can make space for cooperation between Taiwan and the US at an official level, it would motivate the US government to put its new law into practice. Visits between Taiwanese and US officials will help build a close alliance between the two nations and create win-win situations for both sides.
Michael Lin is a retired diplomat who served in the US.
Translated by Julian Clegg
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