The size of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) victory in Saturday’s elections should induce Beijing to reconsider its hardline stance, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) chairman Richard Bush said.
Bush said the elections — which saw a decisive defeat for the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) — had a “throw the bums out” flavor.
Reacting to the victory of DPP president-elect Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and the party’s newly won control of the legislature, Bush said the results were no fluke and occurred because of growing skepticism about engaging with China.
“If Beijing can adjust its strategy and Tsai is willing to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) halfway, a mutual accommodation between them is not impossible — but it will not be easy,” he said.
Now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Bush said that future developments would show whether the election results reflected a fundamental shift in political attitudes and not simply dissatisfaction with President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) policies and their consequences.
“A more fundamental shift would not only change the balance of power within Taiwan, but also the continued feasibility of China’s approach to reaching its goal of unification,” Bush said in an analytical essay published on the Brookings Institution’s Web site.
As the election results became known in Washington, praise for Taiwan’s democracy and president-elect Tsai came flooding in from leading members of the US Congress.
Republican presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio said Taiwan was charting a democratic course that China might eventually follow.
“This occurs at a time of growing challenges to regional peace and security, due especially to Beijing’s assertiveness in the region,” he said.
“As Dr Tsai settles into her new role, the United States must be prepared to stand by Taiwan to provide moral support, enhance economic links and deepen our political engagement and our security cooperation including additional arms sales in the face of possible Chinese threats and attempts at intimidation,” Rubio said.
US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward Royce released a letter to Tsai, promising that his committee would work toward a strengthened security relationship and the inclusion of Taiwan in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Taiwan had built an economy that punched far above its weight and created the only democracy in the Chinese-speaking world, the committee’s ranking Democrat, Representative Eliot Engel said.
Former committee chairwoman Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen released a letter to Tsai in which she said Taiwan was a “beacon of freedom” in the Pacific.
“In a time of rapid geopolitical change, including an increasingly aggressive and ambitious China, we must redouble our efforts to strengthen our relationship,” she said.
The election results provided the US with a renewed opportunity to “ensure Taiwan is an integral part of the US safety and security network in the region,” committee member Representative Steve Chabot said.
Other statements of support were issued by US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific Chairman Matt Salmon, and senior member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin.
The election marked a turning point in domestic Taiwanese politics and also great-power politics, Foreign Policy magazine said.
It said Tsai should appoint a multi-partisan Cabinet reflecting increasingly diverse political demographics and that Taiwan had become one of the most important drivers of change in all of Asia.
Tsai should fend off Chinese bids that threaten economic independence and strengthen Taiwanese industries so that firms do not seek so much outside capital, the magazine said.
Formosan Association for Public Affairs president Peter Chen (陳正義) said that now Tsai had “lit up Taiwan” the nation would “burn as a beacon of freedom and as a model for other countries in Asia.”
Several experts on the US’ Asia policy speculated about the strength of Washington’s defense commitment to Taiwan.
Law professor Julian Ku addressed the debate on Saturday in the journal Lawfare.
“Ultimately, the core of any security guarantee is not legal obligation, but political will,” he said.
“Legally speaking, Taiwan lacks an ironclad US security guarantee against attack by China, but this is true for just about everyone else as well — including NATO,” Ku said. “Whether the US will come to the defense of Taiwan or any other country is largely contingent on questions of diplomacy, military facts and political will.”
“Hopefully, Taiwan’s new president understands this,” he said.
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