Taiwan is expected to face heavier economic pressure from the US over access to its markets, but should also work toward playing a more significant role in the US’ grand Asia-Pacific strategy, analysts said yesterday during an examination of projected Taiwan-US relations under US President Barack Obama’s second term.
The challenge for Taiwan in its relations with the US following Obama’s re-election will be two-fold — economic and political — and the economic issue appears to be more urgent, academics told the forum, which was organized by Taiwan Thinktank.
Because the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a comprehensive, high-standard free-trade agreement — is expected to be the US’ main economic focus in the Asia-Pacific region, Taiwan — which has expressed its strong desire to be part of the pact — should brace for difficult challenges ahead, said David Huang (黃偉峰), a researcher at Academia Sinica who served as Taiwan’s deputy representative to the US.
Describing the US’ economic policy as “economic patriotism,” Huang said that while that is not exactly protectionist, the US would be almost certain to ask its trade partners to create a positive environment for US businesses.
The US could demand that Taiwan further open its markets to certain products to show its determination to liberalize trade before proceeding with TPP talks, as well as the resumption of Trade and Investment Framework Agreement talks, Huang said.
On the political front, Huang said President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) intended to adopt a strategy of “equidistant diplomacy” in his dealings with Taiwan, China and the US, but it “was easier said than done.”
Ma’s biggest mistake in handling the Diaoyutai Islands (釣魚台) dispute was to drag Beijing into the equation as an effective claimant and to force the US — which is obligated to side with Japan due to their bilateral security pact — to question Taiwan’s motives in the dispute.
The Obama administration is likely to apply less pressure on Taiwan to strengthen its national defense capabilities over the next four years, but it expects Taiwan to keep it informed — or hold prior consultations — on issues related to the cross-strait peace treaty, as well as affairs connected to the East China Sea and the South China Sea, said Lin Cheng-yi (林正義), a researcher at the Institute of European and American Studies at Academia Sinica.
Panelists at the forum agreed that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) could play an influential role in Taiwan-US relations as well, despite it not being the governing party.
The DPP has to realize that it will face three “competitors” — the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Beijing and Washington — in future elections, in particular after obvious US interference in January’s presidential election, Lin said.
That was why the opposition party should try to make the US a neutral party in future elections and, at the same time, monitor the Ma administration by making it work harder to assess the change in Taiwan’s external security environment in the Asia-Pacific region and to reassure the US that Taiwan is an “economic and security partner” as US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton described it last year.
Huang said the DPP — as a party which claims to have always sided with the people — could try and stay one step ahead of the KMT by pushing a set of economic policies framed as part of a “compassionate liberalization” in which substantial measures for industrial upgrading and the mitigation of potential impact on local businesses would be addressed following any future free-trade agreements.