The announcement on Monday that the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) had tapped former representative to the US Joseph Wu (吳釗燮) to reopen and head the party’s office in Washington is an important development for the future of Taiwan’s relations with its principal ally.
Although, as some critics have already pointed out, it is unusual for the opposition party of a democratic ally to have an office in the US capital, Taiwan’s idiosyncratic — and at times precarious — position makes this essential. The disparity in power and resources between the DPP and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) alone is such that any counterweight to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) must be physically present in Washington to be heard.
Since the DPP closed its Washington office in 2000 when it entered the Presidential Office, the party has relied on a one-man liaison office to negotiate the vagaries of the always complex relationship between Taiwan, the US and China. That man, Mike Fonte, has done a wonderful job and earned the respect of many officials, but the immensity of the task, along with Taiwan’s uncertain future as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) accelerates the pace of cross-strait exchanges, requires more resources.
No sooner had the appointment been announced than observers began arguing that Wu should be permanently based in Washington, rather than regularly shuttle between Taipei and Washington as originally planned. While a case can be made for the need for a permanent presence, there are also important benefits to having Wu commute between the two capitals. Most importantly, his comings and goings will ensure that his views, and presumably those of his underlings, will not ossify, as often occurs when officials operate for too long away from home. There is no better way to ensure that the DPP envoy’s views remain relevant and current than to have him take stock of the situation in both cities. This will be taxing, but Taiwanese — and ultimately the US government itself — will be better served for it.
Wu will face many challenges. Chief among them will be finding ways to provide a version of Taiwan that differs from that given by TECRO officials and that on occasion will be inconvenient to the US, which is keen on seeing the continuation of the current stability in the Taiwan Strait. There will be times when Wu will find it difficult to gain access to certain circles in Washington and it is not impossible that on some occasions TECRO will use its influence to make his life more difficult. Wu will need to summon all his political savvy and connections to gain the ear of people of influence in Washington.
Given the very China-centric mood that prevails at TECRO today, one can only hope that US officials, academics and journalists will give Wu the opportunity to present a version of Taiwan that differs from the conventional story provided by Ma’s envoys. There undoubtedly are good, hard working people at TECRO, but under the current regime they are often forced to toe the line and give their US counterparts a false image of Taiwan.
At the other end of the spectrum, it will be Wu’s responsibility to ensure that the information he gives US officials about Taiwan is based on reality and acceptable to a superpower for who Taiwan is but a small problem in a constellation of challenging imperatives. Wu must present a sensible alternative to TECRO that avoids the rhetorical excesses that at times have undermined the DPP’s credibility in Washington’s eyes.
All these are formidable challenges. However, it is hard to imagine a man better placed to meet them.
Late last month, Beijing introduced changes to school curricula in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, requiring certain subjects to be taught in Mandarin rather than Mongolian. What is Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) seeking to gain from sending this message of pernicious intent? It is possible that he is attempting cultural genocide in Inner Mongolia, but does Xi also have the same plan for the democratic, independent nation of Mongolia? The controversy emerged with the announcement by the Inner Mongolia Education Bureau on Aug. 26 that first-grade elementary-school and junior-high students would in certain subjects start learning with Chinese-language textbooks, as
There are worrying signs that China is on the brink of a major food shortage, which might trigger a strategic contest over food security and push Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), already under intense pressure, toward drastic measures, potentially spelling trouble for Taiwan and the rest of the world. China has encountered a perfect storm of disasters this year. On top of disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic, torrential rains have caused catastrophic flooding in the Yangtze River basin, China’s largest agricultural region. Floodwaters are estimated to have already destroyed the crops on 6 million hectares of farmland. The situation has been
The restructuring of supply chains, particularly in the semiconductor industry, was an essential part of discussions last week between Taiwan and a US delegation led by US Undersecretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy and the Environment Keith Krach. It took precedent over the highly anticipated subject of bilateral trade partnerships, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) founder Morris Chang’s (張忠謀) appearance on Friday at a dinner hosted by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) for Krach was a subtle indicator of this. Chang was in photographs posted by Tsai on Facebook after the dinner, but no details about their discussions were disclosed. With
On Sept. 8, at the high-profile Ketagalan security forum, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) urged countries to deal with the China challenge. She said: “It is time for like-minded countries, and democratic friends in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, to discuss a framework to generate sustained and concerted efforts to maintain a strategic order that deters unilateral aggressive actions.” The “Taiwan model” to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic provides an alternative to China’s authoritarian way of handling it. Taiwan’s response to the health crisis has made it evident that countries across the world have much to learn from Taiwan’s best practices and if