Fri, Jun 22, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Trump-Kim meeting an opportunity for Taiwan

By Huang Tien-lin 黃天麟

The summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un finally went ahead last week. The buildup to the meeting had the whole world on tenterhooks. Its touted “success” will bring necessary change to East Asia, something that the history of the region makes inevitable.

Since China’s Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank was launched in 2016, the US has suffered a series of catastrophic blows to its political and economic prestige. After former US president Barack Obama lost face at the hands of Beijing, the situation began to shift in Taiwan’s favor.

Contrary to received wisdom from the pro-unification camp, time is on Taiwan’s side, not China’s, and there is cause for increasing optimism over Taiwan’s status and security.

The Trump-Kim meeting was proof that the heavens are looking kindly on Taiwan, which is about to turn from Asia’s dusty pearl into a shining diamond.

Here are five reasons for this optimism:

First, during the summit, Kim said: “The world will see a major change.”

His decision to forgo nuclear weapons is likely to extinguish a fragile tinderbox in northeast Asia, to the benefit of many countries in the region. The biggest beneficiary would be the US.

In addition to eliminating the specter of nuclear war, Trump announced that the US would end joint military exercises with South Korea, and that he might even consider withdrawing US troops from South Korea.

Japan would also benefit: Aside from the nuclear missile threat being removed, Tokyo could establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and benefit economically, while South Korea could build on its dream of uniting the two Koreas.

Second, defusing the northeast Asian powder keg would allow the US and Japan to stabilize the first island chain and the Taiwan Strait. In the past, Washington viewed North Korea as northeast Asia’s most volatile powder keg. If relations with Pyongyang continue to warm, Washington’s focus in the region would turn to the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea. Similarly, if the North Korea situation settles, Tokyo’s only concern would be the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai, 釣魚台), allowing it to focus more on security in the Taiwan Strait.

Third, Beijing might be unhappy with the detente between Washington and Pyongyang, as playing the North Korea card would no longer work. Beijing would have to prevent Pyongyang from building closer ties with the US, because Kim is not pro-China. Having been exposed to Western culture from a young age, this influence runs deep, and he might even feel closer to the US and Japan than South Korea does. If so, China might focus economically and diplomatically on South Korea.

Fourth, Taiwan has maintained reasonably good relations with North Korea and, after the Trump-Kim summit, relations could warm further. Due to its relationship with Beijing, Pyongyang is unlikely to quickly develop relations with Taiwan, but this would be normal.

Fifth, from Washington’s and Tokyo’s perspective, Taiwan is the jewel in the crown of the first island chain, and a high-tech manufacturing base that they cannot afford to fall into China’s hands. China dreams of breaking through the first island chain. If it can conquer Taiwan, it has effectively conquered Okinawa and maybe even all of Japan.

Beijing’s “Chinese dream” is a tragedy for humanity, and as the wheel of history turns rapidly toward the South China Sea and Taiwan, the Trump-Kim summit offers a major opportunity.

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