Thu, Apr 11, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: A welcome platform

President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) on Tuesday participated in a video conference with three Washington-based think tanks — the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the Brookings Institution and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars — as part of an event marking the 40th anniversary of the US’ Taiwan Relations Act.

National Security Council Secretary-General David Lee (李大維) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) joined Tsai, while questions were asked by former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, who served as the conference moderator; former American Institute in Taiwan chairman Richard Bush, now with Brookings; Abraham Denmark, director of the Wilson’s Asia Program; and Bonnie Glaser, the director CSIS’ China Power Project.

Tsai spoke of Taiwan’s progress over the past four decades, noting how the nation had transformed from a net recipient of aid to a high-tech powerhouse and a vibrant democracy.

She spoke of the shared values of the US and Taiwan, how their economic ties were complementary, not competitive, and of how the government is now seeking a bilateral free-trade agreement with the US.

She spoke of Taiwan’s “critical role in the heart of the first island chain,” and of how Taiwan was a force for good in the world, noting that the previous century has taught the world that “the forward march of democracy is not a given.”

She also spoke of the government’s plans to contribute to improving governance and training in Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region, and how its New Southbound Policy could complement Washington’s “free and open Indo-Pacific” strategy.

In an oblique reference to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), she rejected the idea that Taiwan’s values “can — or should — be dictated by economic carrots and sticks, particularly by authoritarian governments.”

Her government wants to protect religious freedom throughout the world, “because no one deserves to be punished or ‘re-educated’ for his or her own faith,” she said, in a clear reference to the CCP’s activities in China’s Xinjiang region.

She then went on to explicitly criticize the CCP for its increasing provocations, suppression and threats toward Taiwan: not because of her administration, but because it genuinely believes “the people of Taiwan do not have an independent right to participate in global affairs.”

Tsai used a teleprompter, and her answers to the prepared, softball questions were all scripted, giving her talk an overly stage-managed effect.

Who was the intended audience of these proceedings? Was it Beijing: with a cautionary reminder of continued — and increasingly vocal — US support for Taiwan? Beijing needs no reminding of this.

Was it the US administration? Not likely, for it is very aware of how valuable Taiwan remains to its interests.

Was it staff from the think tanks? No, this was no exchange of ideas, nor was it a fact-finding exercise to gain insights into what the president is thinking.

Was it a domestic audience in Taiwan? No. Wrong forum.

The audience was the wider international community. The conference was a welcome platform for Taiwan to present its case, despite the CCP’s best efforts to deny it a presence at international events. For that opportunity, thank you to the three think tanks, while Tsai’s team did a good job.

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