Mon, Aug 13, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Ryan Hass on Taiwan: Reading the political winds: the case for discretion

While it is reasonable to question the wisdom of President Trump’s actions, it would be a mistake to doubt whether he believes what he says. President Trump has been making similar complaints to anyone who would listen for the past four decades. His views are not poll-tested positions to maximize voter support. Rather, they are authentic grievances about how he believes America has been mistreated in the world.

None of this diminishes the challenge Taiwan faces as pressure intensifies from the mainland. Nor does “America first” mean Taiwan alone. Washington recognizes Beijing’s increased efforts to squeeze Taiwan and is undertaking efforts to push back. Taiwan still enjoys deep support on a bipartisan basis throughout the US government. And the United States maintains a fundamental interest in cross-strait peace and stability, and continues to act accordingly.

But the realities of US domestic politics do mean Taipei should be prudent about appealing publicly to the Trump administration to do more for Taiwan. It would not benefit Taiwan to become associated in parts of the American public consciousness with other “needy” partners who expect the United States to solve their problems.

Taiwan has invested decades in building relationships with American lawmakers and policymakers. Taiwan also has some of the best diplomats in Washington. It should rely on those professional channels to identify ways to strengthen ties where possible, and solve problems when necessary. Now is not the time for Taiwan to employ megaphone diplomacy to press the United States to do more on its behalf. The more Taiwan draws public attention to its appeals, the less it might like the response it receives.

Ryan Hass is a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Foreign Policy program at Brookings, where he holds a joint appointment to the John L. Thornton China Center and the Center for East Asia Policy Studies.

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