ANALYSIS: Diplomatic ally predicament requires new thinking - Taipei Times
Sun, May 13, 2018 - Page 3 News List

ANALYSIS: Diplomatic ally predicament requires new thinking

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter

Having witnessed the nation’s loss of three diplomatic allies in the two years since President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) took office, Taiwanese have either grown numb to such incidents or developed a penchant for knee-jerk reactions that mostly revolve around blaming Tsai’s non-conciliatory approach toward China.

Since her inauguration in May 2016, Tsai has made it the cornerstone of her cross-strait policy to neither subject Taiwan to the “one China” framework, as demanded by Beijing, nor take provocative actions to unilaterally change the cross-strait “status quo.”

While her adherence to this policy might be what has driven Beijing to poach Taipei’s diplomatic allies and further isolate the nation in the international arena, that is not the only reason: China’s actions also stem from its long-term, more extensive aim of projecting the image internationally that Taiwan is one of its territories and that Beijing is the sole legitimate government representing “China.”

That is why similar incidents also occurred under Taiwanese leaders seeking to appease China, such as former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), albeit with lower intensity and frequency.

Fixating on Tsai’s cross-strait policy against this backdrop would hardly help Taiwan shovel its way out of this diplomatic predicament, particularly given the limited wiggle room that either side of the Strait has provided the other for ending the stalemate.

It is time to search for a solution from a fresh perspective.

“China is not stealing Taipei’s diplomatic allies simply because Tsai won’t accept the ‘1992 consensus,’” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to a tacit understanding between the KMT and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that both sides of the Taiwan Strait acknowledge there is “one China,” with each side having its own interpretation of what “China” means.

Glaser said Beijing’s behavior is also prompted by a series of “desinification” actions and pro-independence rhetoric from Tsai’s government, as well as the strengthening of Taiwan-US relations, especially in ways that are visible, because it challenges China’s sovereignty claims and threatens to undermine the CCP’s legitimacy.

Stealing diplomatic allies is just one of the tools that China has at its disposal to punish Taiwan, she said, adding: “There is very little Tsai can do to stop it.”

Steve Tsang (曾銳生), director of the London-based SOAS China Institute, said that while there is little Taiwan can do to prevent its diplomatic allies from being enticed by the world’s second-largest economy, the Taiwanese public’s response plays a decisive role in China’s willingness to continue its diplomatic game.

“The general reactions from Taiwan play directly into the hands of Beijing. They become an incentive for Beijing to continue to snatch Taiwan’s remaining diplomatic allies one by one, in order to maximize political embarrassment and trouble for President Tsai,” Tsang said.

If Taiwan ceased to care about its remaining diplomatic allies and its electorate could no longer be relied on to “make the right noises,” Tsang said there would be little value for Beijing to manage the switches controlling the nation’s diplomatic recognition.

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