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Taiwan and China
Tsai Ing-wen Reforms Taiwan’s China Policy

After just two weeks on the job, Taiwan’s new president Tsai Ing-wen is already breaking with the foreign policy of her pro-Beijing predecessor. Bloomberg reports:

On her first full day in office on May 23, Tsai created a mechanism with Japan to settle maritime disputes, signaling possible warmer ties with Japan, which also has territorial disputes with China. Her cabinet said it would work directly with Japan to resolve differences over fishing rights in waters near the Japanese reef of Okinotori, rather than taking a “legal approach.”

Also on May 23, Premier Lin Chuan issued an order dropping criminal charges against 126 protesters who broke into the cabinet headquarters in 2014 to demonstrate against a trade pact with Beijing. The same day, when confirming the appointment of the island’s new representative to the U.S., Tsai used the title “ambassador” rather than “representative” — terminology that will rankle China because “ambassador” connotes that Taiwan is a country, not a Chinese province as Beijing insists.

Although she’d often spoken about taking a new attitude toward China on the campaign trail, it wasn’t certain that Ing-wen would turn her Beijing-at-arms-length politics into policy. Taiwan’s economic dependence on the mainland and Tsai’s vow to honor public support for the status quo were expected to temper Tsai’s ambitions and the ambitions of some of her ardent supporters.

Yet Tsai doesn’t seem particularly risk-averse so far. Her decision to strengthen ties with Japan built on relations she had been developing even before she became president, when she angered Beijing by visiting Tokyo and meeting with Japanese officials. Tsai no doubt has her eye on Japan’s improving military capabilities, which could be a lifeline for Taiwan as the capabilities of its own military fall behind. But she’s also interested in finding new destinations for Taiwan’s exports. That focus on economics has led her to announce a “New Go South” policy aimed at strengthening ties with Southeast Asian nations, in part by addressing their concerns about the South China Sea.

The United States will have to figure out how to manage an emboldened Taiwan and an angry China.  The U.S. has been the final guarantor against PLA invasion since the fifties, and recent years have seen repeated affirmations of this relationship, from cyber security cooperation to arms deals. With Taiwan’s new “ambassador” coming to town, Washington is under pressure to signal where it stands as the decades-long conflict between Taipei and Beijing escalates.

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  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    Obama will kick the can down the road, because he is the “Worst President in American History”.

    • Andrew Allison

      Why the quotes? Whether it be the most miserable economic “recovery” on record, race relations, healthcare or unconstitutional executive action, he is a peerless failure.

      • Tom

        Two words: James Buchanan

        • Andrew Allison

          Not even close. He handled it badly, but the slavery pot was boiling when Buchanan took office. The Obama Administration’s assault on the Constitution and the Rule of Law is unprecedented.

          • Tom

            Buchanan’s handling of the run-up to the Civil War demonstrated criminal incompetence, including his backing Roger Taney on the Dred Scott decision–a decision more egregiously ludicrous than anything Obama’s come up with yet.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I don’t agree with the Dred Scott decision, but calling it ludicrous is entirely mistaken. Certainly a reasonable person (in 1857, and lets remember that is when we are talking about) could indeed be understood to hold the views of Taney, which means that this decision was not entirely outside the mainstream, however regrettable that might be to us.

            There is a difference between a bad decision (bad law) and a reasonably interpreted decision that nonetheless has bad consequences. Dred Scott clearly falls into the latter camp.

            With all of that said, I do think that we need to differentiate between Buchanan, an incompetent twit who bungled his time int he White House, and Obama, who seems to believe that he is making the most of it. The biggest difference is that I believe (and I will entertain serious debate from reasonable people) that while Buchanan loved his country, and genuinely wanted to do the best for it, Obama does not. My point is that with regard to Obama, we are perhaps confusing incompetence with malign intent.

          • Tom

            The problem with that logic regarding Dred Scott is that there are a lot of people who agree with Obama and what he’s done.
            I’m also not convinced that Buchanan loved the country any more than Obama does.

          • f1b0nacc1

            There were a great many people who thought that Buchanan was a terrific president at the time, and his response to Dred Scott was one of the reasons that they were pleased. We ‘know better’ today, but hindsight (and situational ethics) are wonderful things, as long as you are on the ‘right’ side. Who knows? Perhaps in 50 years, the idea that Obama was considered anything less than an outright criminal will be considered just as outrageous. I rather doubt that history’s judgement will be so clear-cut, but suspect that Obama will not be terribly well regarded by historians.

            As for Buchanan’s love for his country, unless he managed to lie quite convincingly to pretty much everyone who knew him, it seems quite likely that he did. His actions showed a rank incompetence and complete lack of understanding of the situation, but he behaved precisely as you would expect someone desperate to avoid a rupture with the southern states would behave. He spoke repeatedly and often of his love of the Union and his desire to preserve it…he did feel that it would be impossible to do so once a war began, and in some ways, he was right.

            Obama, on the other hand, was quite clear about his desire to ‘fundamentally transform’ the country, and has never been particularly shy about expressing his opinions about American’s manifold flaws. Like a woman who claims that she loves her boyfriend but wants to ‘improve him’, Obama has little, if any love for this country, only a desire to ‘improve’ it.

  • Blackbeard

    Interesting that she chooses to do this now. With America in retreat around the world, with western military budgets dropping everywhere, and with China probably looking for something to divert attention from their economic woes, this would seem to be a bad time to poke the dragon in the eye. What does she know that we don’t know?

    • f1b0nacc1

      Perhaps she is thinking better now than later?

  • JohnThackr

    In general, the DPP is more pro Japan than the KMT for reasons in addition to just anti PRC reasons. DPP support has always been drawn from those whose families lived on the island under Japanese occupation before it was given to the ROC. Somewhat surprisingly, though, they tend to have relatively fond memories of the Japanese occupation, at least because they used to contrast it with the KMT martial law. The dislike of the KMT makes them view the Japanese occupation with rose colored glasses.

    This is, of course, quite different than the Korean experience. It’s difficult to imagine popular Korean movies anything like some of the Taiwanese movies that have a balanced or even positive view of the occupation, such as Kano.

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