Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Encourage US ties while they still last

By Peng Ming-min 彭明敏

“Timeliness and favorable circumstances” might be how most Taiwanese feel about Taiwan-US relations, but that might be naive and wishful thinking.

Admittedly, high-ranking officials, such as national security adviser John Bolton, have expressed Taiwan-friendly views before assuming office, some even proposing that the US officially recognize Taiwan’s status as a country. It is difficult to say if they will fulfill their past commitments, but their friendly stance is unlikely to change.

The Taiwanese public of course hopes that President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will take advantage of the amicable atmosphere and contact high-ranking US officials to work on Taiwan’s international status together.

The distance between the government and the public is greatest in the field of foreign affairs, as it is generally thought of as secretive and hidden from the public. Ordinary people have very few channels to make their opinions on the topic heard, except through legislators making inquiries at question-and-answer sessions at the legislature.

The workings of foreign policy are perhaps beyond the general public, but the ministry’s attitude is not hard to grasp: It is grounded in the aspiration of “maintaining the ‘status quo’” and a fear of upsetting China.

Everyone knows that Taiwan’s security depends on the US and Japan’s support and defensive assistance, but the government is afraid of becoming too close to the them — especially militarily, to avoid provoking China.

The necessity of such “fear” should be closely scrutinized. Chinese officials, regardless of rank, are allowed to promote unification when visiting Taiwan, yet their Taiwanese counterparts dare not say a thing about “freedom, democracy and human rights” in China.

After describing himself as “a pragmatic political worker for Taiwanese independence,” Premier William Lai (賴清德) was accused of “being irresponsible,” but most Taiwanese were touched by his courage and respected his honesty.

Government and media outlets once dared not call China “China,” referring to it as “the mainland” instead, and were afraid of referring to Taiwan as “Taiwan.” It was not until China made a series of aggressive moves that they suddenly woke up and started talking about “China” and “Taiwan.” This will hopefully continue to be the case.

Staff in US President Donald Trump’s administration frequently changes and it is far from certain how much longer Taiwan-friendly officials will remain in their positions. Most Taiwanese feel that the government should take advantage of the current situation.

First, the government should encourage contact between high-ranking officials from the two nations and discuss how to improve Taiwan’s international status, especially in terms of its participation in non-governmental specialized organizations such as the WHO or the International Civil Aviation Organization.

Second, the government should promote military ties with Washington and discuss stationing US troops here. US troops have frequently visited Taiwan over the past 150 years and have even been stationed here, so they are no strangers to the nation.

Third, as Chinese military aircraft and warships frequently encircle Taiwan as a form of psychological warfare, the Tsai administration should invite the US Seventh Fleet to conduct routine patrols and surveillance in nearby waters to alleviate public anxiety.

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