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.
“For Sino-skeptics, however, the prospect of Terry Gou — a man who became a billionaire by building a business in the PRC — as president is deeply worrying,” she added.
Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) is another unpredictable element, Rigger said, although he has not yet declared his intention to run for president.
Ko, an independent, tends to have vague positions on issues and “he can sound naive” on cross-strait relations, she said.
“There’s no question that Beijing would prefer to see any of the KMT candidates prevail over Lai or Tsai. PRC leaders also have reached out to Ko, who seemed, for a time, to be the best chance for unseating the DPP, but electing Han, Gou or Ko could set Taiwan up for even more trouble,” Rigger said.
It is increasingly likely “that next January, Taiwanese will be asked to choose among extremes: a pro-independence DPP candidate, a pro-unification KMT candidate and an independent whose ability to hold his own in interactions with Beijing is untested,” she wrote.
“If that is the outcome, Taiwan will not remain the stabilizing force that it has been since at least 2008,” she said, adding that it could lead to different reactions from China and the US that could only complicate relations within the triangle.
“With all three sides of the triangle in a heightened state of uncertainty and flux, managing relations is more important than ever. None of the three sides seems particularly well-situated to pulling off that difficult task,” Rigger wrote.
TOO TIRED: Investigators found that the pilot’s lack of alertness could be attributed to a lack of sleep the previous night, when he had slept with his child It was a copilot’s inappropriate operation of the aircraft and the pilot’s insufficient alertness that led to a hard landing of a China Airlines cargo flight on Dec. 13, 2018, the Taiwan Transportation Safety Board said yesterday. Flight CI6844, a Boeing 747-409 which departed from Hong Kong International Airport, landed on the pre-threshold area of runway L5 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, about 21m before the head of the runway, an investigation report said. The hard landing damaged three runway lights, but none of the personnel on board sustained any injuries, the report said. When approaching the runway, the copilot failed to maintain
DISTRUST WARRANTED? The WHO is under China’s control and has become a useless organization, while data from China cannot be trusted, a Control Yuan member said China’s demand that the novel coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, Hubei Province, not be referred to with names like the “Wuhan pneumonia” betrays its lack of confidence in itself, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) told lawmakers yesterday. Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Tsai Yi-yu (蔡易餘) asked Su, during a interpellation at the Legislative Yuan in Taipei, for his view on China’s attempts to redeem its national image in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. These included China’s efforts to “bleach” its image, including having WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus publicly praise its handling of the COVID-19 outbreak, and thanking it for buying time
REPEAT OFFENDER: The man went outside for exercise on Wednesday and then left his home on Saturday with his girlfriend, officials said A New Taipei City man has been fined NT$400,000 (US$13,221) and ordered into government quarantine after breaking home quarantine for a second time on Saturday. The 25-year-old man, surnamed Chen (陳) returned to Taiwan on Sunday last week and was ordered to home quarantine until Sunday. He was seen leaving his home on a scooter with his girlfriend on Saturday, three days after he was fined NT$200,000 for going outside to exercise, police said. Chen has now been placed in a quarantine center arranged by the district office and health center of the district where he lives, police said. Police warned the public
Taipei residents who stay at hotels in the city during their 14-day mandatory quarantine period are eligible to apply for the city’s NT$7,000 subsidy, with online applications to be launched next week. Taipei Deputy Mayor Vivian Huang (黃珊珊) on Monday said Taipei residents who have COVID-19 Health Declaration and Home Quarantine Notice dated after March 19 and a quarantine hotel receipt for the dates covered by the quarantine period, would be eligible for the subsidy. The Taipei City Government on Sunday told the Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) that so many city residents are under home quarantine that about 90 percent of