Last week’s comments in the Financial Times (FT) by an unnamed “senior” official in the administration of US President Barack Obama expressing “distinct concerns” about stability in the Taiwan Strait if Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) is elected president in January caused a storm of indignation among DPP supporters.
The race between Tsai and her main opponent, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), is a very close one, with the implication that any outside interference could tilt the game. It is one thing for authoritarian and undemocratic Beijing to meddle in Taiwan’s elections with money, political pressure and statements on its preference for Ma. It is another one for Taiwan’s principal ally, the democratic US, to do so.
Leaving aside the questionable decision by the FT to run an article based on the comments of an unnamed US official — knowing that doing so would play into the hands of individuals who want to influence Taiwan’s democratic process — the incident confirms yet again the institutional bias that faces Tsai as she enters the election.
The US Department of State has denied any involvement in the “leak” and reaffirmed its position that the Obama administration is neutral in the election. However, history shows us that Washington’s policy on Taiwan and China has often been marked by personal feuds, turf wars, secrecy — and yes, leaks to the press. Unsurprisingly, this latest incident points to the National Security Council (NSC), which has long vied with the State Department for influence over foreign policy.
Under the administration of former US president Richard Nixon, when the US took its first steps toward normalization of relations with China, then-US national security adviser Henry Kissinger spearheaded a policy that often left then-US secretary of state William Rogers in the dark. A similar situation emerged under former US president Jimmy Carter when the US switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing, with then-US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski engaging in a battle with former US secretary of state Cyrus Vance and his staff. This pattern was repeated during the administration of former US president Ronald Reagan, with former national security adviser Richard Allen fighting it out with then-US secretary of state Alexander Haig.
Based on his reputation as a “consummate insider” and a “harsh political operative,” Obama’s national security adviser, Thomas Donilon, sounds like he could easily repeat the exploits of his predecessors. While Donilon is unlikely to have been the senior official who contacted the FT, one thing is almost certain: Whoever did had Donilon’s blessing.
However, this latest incident occurs in a very different context. Under Nixon and former US presidents Gerald Ford, Carter and Reagan, accommodation with China was based on the need to counter the Soviet threat and Washington approached the matter from a position of strength.
Now that the Soviet Union has disappeared, the NSC is focused on stability in cross-strait relations, a position compounded by the relative weakening of the US vis-a-vis China, the result of a struggling economy and an overstretched military.
Consequently, pressure by Beijing on Washington to seek stability in the Taiwan Strait has more traction at the White House than in the past, which would explain why the quotes in the FT article read like they could have been written in Beijing.
However, none of this gives the US official who approached the FT the right to betray not only an ally, but also the very democratic principles that the Obama administration purports to defend.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang (張忠謀) has repeatedly voiced concern over the weakening cost competitiveness of its US fabs and challenged the US’ “on-shore” policy of building domestic semiconductor capacity. Yet not once has the government said anything, even though the economy is highly dependent on the chip industry. In the US, the cost of operating a semiconductor factory is at least twice the amount required to operate one in Taiwan, rather than the 50 percent he had previously calculated, Chang said on Thursday last week at a forum arranged by CommonWealth Magazine. He said that he had
Former president Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), also a former chairman of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), has said that he plans to travel to China from Monday next week to April 7 to pay his respects to his ancestors in Hunan Province. The trip would mark the first cross-strait visit by a former president of the Republic of China (ROC) since its government’s retreat to Taiwan in 1949. Ma’s trip comes amid China’s increasing air and naval incursions into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone, and at a time when Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) continues to seek to annex Taiwan. Ma’s trip could be
The International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant issued on Friday last week for Russian President Vladimir Putin delighted Uighurs, as Putin’s today signals Chinese President Xi Jinping’s (習近平) tomorrow. The crimes committed by Xi are many times more serious than what Putin has been accused of. Putin has caused more than 8 million people to flee Ukraine. By imprisoning more than 3 million Uighurs in concentration camps and restricting the movement of more than 10 million Uighurs, Xi has not only denied them the opportunity to live humanely, but also the opportunity to escape oppression. The 8 million Ukrainians who fled
Disruption is coming to the agriculture sector. Around the world, livestock farmers are leaving the land, policymakers are targeting the harmful environmental and social effects of industrial meat production, and consumers are shifting away from meat to embrace healthier, more sustainable alternatives. With the sector approaching a crossroads, decisionmakers in government, industry and civil society need to heed the lessons gained from major transitions in other industries and start preparing. Preparation requires a careful inventory of farmers, workers and consumers’ needs. While farmers are growing older and leaving the land for other pursuits or retirement, the agriculture sector is struggling to