Fri, Jul 27, 2018 - Page 8 News List

Trump still a wild card for Taiwan

By Gray Sergeant

Last week, US Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver underlined Washington’s commitment to supply Taiwan’s security needs.

In a welcome speech for Taipei, Schriver stressed Taiwan’s importance as a partner in promoting a free and open Indo-Pacific.

He branded China, which has stepped up military maneuvers toward Taiwan, as the “most aggressive” player in the Taiwan Strait and urged Beijing to renounce its use of force.

He would not discuss future US plans in the Taiwan Strait when pushed by reporters and did not deviate from Washington’s longstanding policy of strategic ambiguity.

However, flexibility and greater latitude were the buzzwords of his talk, suggesting more inventive initiatives to strengthen ties with Taipei in the years to come.

This is no surprise given Schriver’s longstanding support for Taiwan.

Schriver in March 2016 told an audience in Washington that it was one of his “pet issues” to get presidential-level dialogue between the US and Taiwan.

Since joining the administration of US President Donald Trump at the beginning of the year, Schriver has been joined by other appointees with strong Taiwan leanings, most notably Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton.

In an article Bolton wrote a year prior to his appointment, he strongly urged a rethink of the US’ “one China” policy and even floated the idea of “stationing military personnel and assets” on Taiwan.

With these men in the administration it is no wonder that on a visit to Taipei, Alex Wong (黃之瀚), deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of State’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, assured President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) that US support for Taiwan had never been stronger.

This assurance would be all the more credible if it were not for the man who sits in the White House. Trump has been hugely inconsistent on Taiwan.

As president-elect he had a groundbreaking telephone conversation with Tsai only to ring alarm bells weeks later with his suggestion that the US might use the nation as a bargaining chip.

In a Fox News interview in December last year, Trump said: “I don’t know why we have to be bound by a ‘one China’ policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things, including trade.”

This sort of transactional policymaking, which is typical of Trump’s thinking, should worry Taiwan. It is an approach that is devoid of values and brings into question the US’ commitment to security assurances.

In the past few weeks, the world has seen renewed questioning of NATO from Trump, who has also been cozying up to the alliance’s greatest adversary, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In East Asia the picture is strikingly similar.

Despite his administration branding Beijing a strategic competitor and some fiery rhetoric from Trump himself, Trump has heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).

Likewise, while the US defense budget rises, there have been calls from Trump for South Korea and Japan to bear a greater burden for their own security.

Trump quickly canceled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, aimed at countering Beijing’s increasing dominance in the region and agreed to stop joint military exercises with ally South Korea in order to cut a deal with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

Shared liberal democratic values and traditional security commitments mean little to Trump “the dealmaker,” which should worry Taipei, despite the warm words from administration officials.

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