Mon, Sep 24, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Ryan Hass On Taiwan: Navigating Asia’s diplomatic tides

There likely will be pauses in the downward spiral of US-China relations this fall — and perhaps even glimmers of hope — when senior-level officials meet to tee up an expected Trump-Xi meeting on the sidelines of the G20. While a chance remains that the two leaders will call a truce on trade tensions and commit to stabilize the bilateral relationship when they meet face-to-face, the more likely scenario is that the bilateral relationship will continue on a downward trajectory for the foreseeable future.

In short, the policy agenda in Asia will be crowded in the coming months. The United States’ ability to manage these cross-currents will be handicapped by a president that is distracted and disengaged from the traditional role of the office — serving as an agenda-setter and leader for the region. Trump conceptualizes his role differently from his predecessors. He openly questions the benefits of alliances and is unencumbered by traditional American values such as human rights and democracy promotion in his foreign policy. He is guided by nationalism, nativism, and unilateralism. Observers should take him at his word that he will always “put America first,” even if doing so comes at the expense of an erosion of American influence in Asia over the longer term.

So, what does this all add up to for Taiwan? Taiwan will continue to enjoy strong bipartisan support in Washington, including from President Trump’s staff. But Taiwan may be putting itself at risk if it raises its profile in urging greater US activism on cross-Strait issues to the point of inviting presidential intervention in policy decisions. Trump’s unawareness of past precedent, confidence in his own instincts, and overall unpredictability is a factor that both sides of the Taiwan Strait will need to calculate as they consider next steps in managing cross-Strait relations.

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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