Sun, Jul 21, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Benefiting from new US policies

By Michael Lin 林正二

In her stopover en route to visit Taiwan’s Caribbean diplomatic allies, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) met with several representatives to the UN at a reception at the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in New York. Tsai also attended the US-Taiwan Business Summit organized by the US-Taiwan Business Council and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council, and met with several US political figures.

It was a significant diplomatic breakthrough, as it was the first time that a Taiwanese president met with diplomatic allies’ permanent representatives to the UN in the US, as well as the first time that a president conducted public activities at TECO.

Ever since the US severed diplomatic ties with Taiwan and recognized the People’s Republic of China, the US’ “one China” policy has prevented Taiwan’s president, vice-president and premier from visiting the US while in office; they can only do so during transit stopovers on their way to diplomatic allies — so-called “transit diplomacy.”

Although Taiwanese presidents and high-level officials are received by the US government for reasons of convenience, comfort, security and respect based on the Taiwan Relations Act, they cannot move around openly or accept interviews with the US media, and accompanying Taiwanese media outlets have similar restrictions.

However, Taiwanese officials take advantage of the rare stopovers in the US to raise Taiwan’s visibility in the international media. This includes meetings between the president and renowned US academics, with their discussions later being published in mainstream media.

If there are US media particularly friendly to Taiwan, the publication of editorials or articles welcoming Taiwan’s head of state can be arranged ahead of time. Such media outlets have a circulation of more than 300,000 in the US, which they consider medium-sized.

This is Tsai’s first stopover in New York. Thanks to the Taiwan Travel Act, passed into law by the US Congress last year, the regulations restricting public activity and interviews when former presidents Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) transited through New York are no longer in place.

Since US President Donald Trump took office, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has spared no effort in expanding China’s military influence over the East China Sea and the South China Sea, escalating verbal intimidation and saber rattling against Taiwan, removing term limits on his office, threatening Taiwan and Asia-Pacific nations, and damaging US economic and trade interests.

In response, the US has adjusted its “constructive diplomacy” to comprehensively counter China’s influence. It also passed the Taiwan Travel Act and elevated relations with Taiwan to a quasi-diplomatic level to balance the expansion of the Chinese Communist Party’s military power, safeguard security in the Taiwan Strait and US’ interests in the Western Pacific, and balance forces in the Indo-Pacific region.

This is the background for the diplomatic breakthrough during Tsai’s New York stopover. Taiwanese officials in the US can use this opportunity to make full use of the Taiwan Travel Act and cast off the shackles of the US’ “one China” policy.

They can work with the transit diplomacy of the president and other government leaders as well as ministers, mayors and county commissioners visiting the US from the perspective of diplomatic strategy, regional security, economic and trade cooperation, cultural exchanges and international visibility.

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