Diplomats should defend national interests. In terms of strategy, Representative to Japan Frank Hsieh (謝長廷) and Representative to the US Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) embody two diametrically opposed approaches.
Hsieh’s comments about Japan’s plan to discharge treated wastewater from the wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant into the ocean sparked unnecessary controversy, conveying a “wolf warrior” style of diplomacy — although he did not attack foreign targets, but domestic opponents.
Although Hsieh expressed the governemt’s concern about the wastewater to Japanese officials, he on April 9 wrote on Facebook that Taiwan’s nuclear power plants also discharged “untreated” wastewater into the ocean, causing harm to sealife. After his claims were challenged, Hsieh, a former lawmaker of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), revised his post and added documents that he thought would prove his point, while lashing out at those from the pan-blue camp who had criticized him.
The accusations from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) lawmakers who called Hsieh a “traitor” might not be substantiated, but his comments invite the question of whether he is acting appropriately as a diplomat or whether his behavior rather resembles that of a bellicose TV show guest.
Most Taiwanese scientists are reticent about the sensitive nuclear wastewater issue, and the Atomic Energy Council (AEC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Presidential Office have been busy putting out the flames fanned by Hsieh.
After local media reported that the AEC rebuffed Hsieh’s claims, the Presidential Office on Tuesday came out in his defense, arguing that the envoy’s and the agency’s remarks were not contradictory.
Under the KMT’s incessant attacks, the Presidential Office on Friday issued another statement to defend Hsieh, reiterating that he had expressed Taiwan’s concern about the plan to Japanese officials. The statement also restated that the government would monitor Japan’s wastewater disposal and called on the KMT not to stir conflict at a time when relations with Tokyo are improving.
Hsieh is still influential in the DPP, and this might be the reason he has been in office for five years — longer than many of his predecessors, who have typically left the post after four years.
Some commentators have said that Hsieh can only remain in office because Taiwan-Japan ties are sound — and because it keeps Hsieh busy, as he would otherwise meddle in domestic politics and cause more headaches for President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文).
However, as Taiwan-Japan relations might be entering a decisive stage, with Tokyo appearing more willing to adopt a position of “strategic clarity” toward Taiwan under Washington’s lead, Tsai should consider to what extent the approach taken by Hsieh — who for example called for joint military exercises between Taiwan, Japan and the US — advances the interests Taiwan shares with other nations.
By comparison, Hsiao, who also was a lawmaker, has proved herself better adapted to be a diplomat.
Facing another difficult situation — the one caused by the government’s lifting of a ban on the importation of pork products containing traces of ractopamine — Hsiao relayed the US’ concerns about a KMT referendum proposal that seeks to reinstate the ban, while also expressing Taiwan’s concerns about pork products from the US.
When KMT lawmakers speculated that Hsiao would be denied entry to US President Joe Biden’s swearing-in ceremony on Jan. 20, she brushed off their remarks and scored beautifully with a last-minute announcement that she would attend the event.
It is unsurprising that the foreign ministry on Facebook referred to Hsiao’s approach as “cat warrior” diplomacy, posting an image of what it called a “Taiwan diplocat.”
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