(LT): Were you surprised by the outcome of the US elections?
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文): For any ruling party there should not be the question of surprises as it should always be prepared for any contingency. Throughout the process of the US elections, we had contingency plans prepared because it is not an issue of choosing sides or betting on the wrong horse. A political leader should be ready to deal with all possible outcomes. It is just like how we handled the ruling by the [Permanent Court of Arbitration] in The Hague on the South China Sea dispute: We were prepared with different possible courses of action.
LT: Many nations have been apprehensive since the US elections and several, such as Japan and South Korea, have already been in contact with US president-elect Donald Trump. Do you feel that Trump’s expressed interest in pulling US troops out of East Asia or having Japan and South Korea share the cost of stationing troops in those nations will affect the state of Taiwan-China relations?
Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times
Tsai: I believe Trump will give more thought to his overall strategy for the Asia-Pacific region after being elected. What he will do will be related to his strategic outlook. I believe his team will also make a comprehensive evaluation of the situation and plan their strategy accordingly.
Everything Trump discussed during the election will be incorporated into his strategic plan. Therefore, I do not feel it is necessary for us to jump to any conclusions at this point.
Normally, after a transition to a new government, things stabilize. I think it will take at most six months, maybe even less, to gain a clear picture of Trump’s strategic plan.
LT: How much does your administration understand about possible US foreign affairs personnel appointments under Trump? Has there been sufficient interaction and the establishment of a relationship of trust?
Tsai: What you have to remember is that for much of the previous Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration [of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) from May 20, 2000, to May 20, 2008] the Republican Party was the governing party in the US. It was natural to have frequent contacts between the administrations of the two nations; I believe we have points of contact that we can connect with.
LT: Trump is atypical and connects with the Republican Party differently compared with traditional politicians. Has the government grasped that uniqueness?
Tsai: Trump certainly is unique. However, diplomacy and national security are very professional domains, and I believe that he will rely on professionals. These professionals do not appear overnight, but have been in the domain for a long time and their appointments will provide the possibility of discerning the possible directions of the Trump administration’s policies.
Most importantly, there is a long-standing basic framework for Taiwan-US relations, including the Taiwan Relations Act. There might be some changes or adjustments due to different leaders coming to power, but the framework provides some effect on the stability of our relations.
LT: You have made it clear since your inauguration on May 20 that cross-strait relations will focus on maintaining the “status quo.” Will that policy see changes because of the new situation presented by the US elections?
Tsai: Until now, maintaining the “status quo” has been the most beneficial policy for every faction involved. However, this will not be a static maintenance, but one that will be constantly balanced by changing circumstances while adhering to the core of maintaining the “status quo.”
Changes in the US government will of course bring about some variables and we will rebalance the “status quo” in line with the changes introduced by those variables.
Some have said that Trump being in power will cost Taiwan the bargaining chip of US deterrence against China in cross-strait affairs. This is not only wrong, it also twists matters out of perspective.
No matter which party comes to power in the US, the US’ highest standards on cross-strait policies is the maintaining of the “status quo” as that policy is most in line with the interests of the US and other nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
Taiwan is the stalwart defender of regional peace. I must restate the basic stance of the government on cross-strait affairs: The upholding of Taiwanese democracy and peace across the Taiwan Strait.
I am also in favor of more progressive and active moves on cross-strait dialogue that would see the establishment of long-term stable peace across the Strait, provided that such action is made on the basis of deepening the democratic system.
We believe that such a stance will be accepted and supported by both parties in the US, and this has nothing to do with the concept of befriending the US to contain China. We also hope that US-China relations will remain stable and amicable, as it is in line with overall interests and benefit to Taiwan.
LT: It is believed that with Trump as the US president, Taiwan’s chances of obtaining arms deals will be greatly increased, but at substantially higher prices. What is the government’s response?
Tsai: The Republican Party has traditionally supported the positive development of Taiwan-US relations, and in the Republican platform passed this year, the party took the unprecedented move of affirming the “six assurances” given to Taiwan, and party leaders stated their support for the export of defensive armaments to Taiwan and its participation in international organizations.
I believe that the Trump administration will continue the tradition of supporting arms sales to Taiwan and strengthening Taiwan-US military cooperation, which is in the national interest of the US.
With regard to costs, we must accept the understanding that each nation must shoulder the greatest responsibility for its own defense, and to share with all nations in the region the responsibility to maintain regional peace and stability.
This returns to the question: How does a nation form an overall regional strategy? How does it adjust its strategy to events?
Peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and the region as a whole are in the interest of all nations, and a shared responsibility of all nations involved, which is to say that the US too has its share of responsibilities.
Although Trump’s statements are strongly tinged by protectionism, his isolationism is limited to trade and economics; [I] have not heard that his isolationism extends to military strategy. Of course, Japan and South Korea are concerned that they might be forced to develop nuclear weapons, but at the moment, it is still too early to reach any conclusions.
LT: Trump is clearly opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and some believe that China will exploit this opportunity to further its economic and political leadership in the region. What are your thoughts?
Tsai: This region has actors in addition to US and China. There are other nations with substantial power and say in economic, political and international security issues. Even though the US and China play larger roles, it cannot be said that other nations have no influence in the region. If the US is to reduce its role, it is certain that an equilibrium in the Asian-Pacific region will still be naturally formed.
Every nation has a certain amount of power and the region will not allow unilateral hegemony. Even the US is not a unilateral actor and its policies involve joint decisionmaking by many nations.
The US continues to hold a decisive influence in trade and economic affairs; therefore, changes in the US attitude toward the TPP will not cause its economic influence in the region to totally recede. After all, the US’ status as a powerful economic entity is not in doubt.
Translated by staff writer William Hetherington, Jake Chung and Jonathan Chin
This is the first of a two-part interview. Part II will be published tomorrow.
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