It is “highly unlikely” that the US will favor a candidate in Taiwan’s presidential election next year, senior adviser for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) Bonnie Glaser told a Washington conference on Wednesday.
The US would not pressure candidates to take a specific position over another, or try to push candidates into linking their political policies to US interests, she added.
“Much has been said in the Taiwan media about the US government putting pressure on candidates to say things or not say things and I honestly feel that is not a correct understanding of how the US interacts with people in Taiwan,” Glaser said.
She was addressing a conference on Taiwan’s “shifting political landscape” organized by the Brookings Institution and CSIS.
Asked later to enlarge on her statement, Glaser said there had been reports in Taiwanese news media outlets that the US had pressured Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to accept the so-called “1992 consensus.”
The “1992 consensus” refers to a supposed tacit understanding between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Chinese Communist Party that Taiwan and China acknowledge there is “one China, with each side having its own interpretation of what that means.”
Glaser said the assumption behind the reports is that the “1992 consensus” is the only way to maintain stability in cross-strait relations.
She said there were a number of ways to maintain stability and that she was “very doubtful” that any US official had tried to dictate any particular position to Tsai.
“Of course, there are expressions of concern about how it will be done — but there is an open-mindedness to listen to other proposals,” she said. “Ultimately, this is something that has to be worked out between the DPP and the US. I am just doubtful the US will say it has to be the ‘1992 consensus’ and that’s it... That is not my understanding.”
Tsai plans to visit Washington soon and US officials would engage with her “about what she thinks,” Glaser said.
The officials will want to know how Tsai intends to maintain the “status quo” with China, Glaser said.
“I don’t think what has been said so far is all we are going to hear from Tsai Ing-wen and US officials and people like myself are looking forward to what she has to say,” Glaser said.
Glaser said she was struck by how many Americans and people from other countries were so certain of the outcome of next year’s presidential election.
“I myself think that predictions are premature; there are many uncertainties and unknown factors,” she said.
Glaser said the election would be close and that the youth vote and voter turnout in general would be critical.
The candidates’ policies toward China would be more important than in local elections last year, but it was hard to say if the cross-strait relations issue would be decisive, Glaser said.
It is an “unfortunate reality” that without some cooperation between China and Taiwan, it would be potentially very difficult for Taiwan to enter the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal because China could pressure existing members to stop it, Glaser said.
She said that as a result of pressure from China, there was “pretty much a freeze right now” on Taiwan discussing new trade agreements with other nations.
“Candidates will have to strike some balance between economic policies and policies toward [China], because they are connected,” Glaser said.
The US had two important interests in Taiwan’s presidential election, she said.
One is seeing the elections conducted in a “free and fair” manner.
“The US has a deep interest in the democratic process in Taiwan and any kind of anomaly that causes the elections not to be free and fair, the US would be concerned about,” Glaser said.
The second interest, she said, is in the preservation of cross-strait stability and keeping communication channels open between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait.
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