Wed, May 22, 2019 - Page 4 News List

US expert warns of ‘path to disaster’

ALL IN MODERATION:It is becoming likely that Taiwanese will be forced to choose between independence and unification extremes, harming the nation’s stability

Staff writer, with CNA, NEW YORK

A US academic has voiced concern that Taiwan would not elect a moderate president next year, presenting a “plausible path to disaster in the Taiwan Strait.”

“At this moment, as Taiwan’s political parties battle over their presidential nominations, I am more worried about the future of the Taiwan Strait than I have ever been,” wrote Shelley Rigger, a senior fellow in the Asia Program at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, in an article titled “Taiwan on (the) Edge.”

“Ominous trends are building on all three sides of the [Taipei-Washington-Beijing] triangle, and conflict could be the result,” she said.

“It is by no means inevitable or even the most likely future, but for the first time in decades, I can see a plausible path to disaster in the Taiwan Strait,” she said, pointing to factors in Beijing, Washington and Taipei.

Beijing has tightened the screws on Taiwan, shutting out the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and increasing its military activity in the region, Rigger wrote.

The US Congress has shown support for Taiwan by passing the Taiwan Travel Act, Asia Reassurance Initiative Act and Taiwan Assurance Act, but “it’s not clear what priority the [US President Donald] Trump White House actually places on its friendship with Taiwan, relative to relations with the PRC [People’s Republic of China] and other considerations.”

Several actions taken by Trump have been damaging to Taiwan’s interests, including the US’ withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the imposition of tariffs on China, Rigger said.

The TPP withdrawal “demolished” Taiwan’s best chance to avoid economic isolation, and the tariffs against China could lead to huge losses for Taiwanese companies that manufacture or assemble products in China, she wrote.

“Taiwan doesn’t matter in a foreign policy guided by Trumpian principles of unilateralism and transactionalism. Taiwan’s value to the US is its democracy, a virtue on which this administration places little importance,” Rigger wrote.

Taiwanese voters have for decades refused to embrace extreme candidates or novel policies, but it is not clear whether that center could hold through the presidential and legislative elections in January next year, she said.

“My greatest concern is that there will not be a competent moderate on the ballot at all,” she said.

Tsai is moderate if judged by the standards of her Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but she is facing a fierce primary challenge from former premier William Lai (賴清德), Rigger said.

“A poll-based primary is likely to favor Lai, who will benefit both from the buzz surrounding his candidacy and the likelihood that KMT [Chinese Nationalist Party]-leaning voters will try to trick the DPP into nominating a candidate whose support is limited to one end of the political spectrum,” she said.

Meanwhile, the establishment KMT candidates — former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫), Legislator Wang Jin-pyng (王金平) and former Taipei County commissioner Chou Hsi-wei (周錫瑋) — could be marginalized by two upstarts — Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) and Hon Hai Precision Industry Co chairman Terry Gou (郭台銘).

Han’s answer to Taiwan’s economic troubles is to deepen ties with the PRC, while Gou’s success as a China-based manufacturer is a two-edged sword, Rigger said.

“For Taiwan’s more Sino-philic voters, his decades spent navigating the PRC business world are a plus. He has strong relationships with PRC leaders and he’s used them to build his company into a world-leading EMS [electronic manufacturing services] provider,” she wrote.

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