(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?
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.”