Taiwan Tati Cultural and Educational Foundation

 
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size
Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times A quiet, but strong Obama

A quiet, but strong Obama

E-mail Print PDF

When the US House of Representatives passed much-needed (if troubled) healthcare legislation on Saturday, US President Barack Obama was offered a reminder of how relentlessly unromantic politics can be. His challenge was not to win over Republicans, but to stop Democrats from jumping ship. This, despite the Democratic Party gaining executive power with a clear mandate for reform.

Obama’s appeals to something more patriotic than “all politics is local” maneuvering only swayed one Republican; meanwhile, dozens of Democrats voted against the legislation, and for those who wavered, lobbying on points of self-interest as much as national interest was the order of the day.

Even so, the House of Representatives vote was a much-needed, if temporary, victory for the White House as Obama prepares to set out on a four-nation tour of Asia, including China and Japan. The Japanese leg of the trip is less problematic than it seems. The leftist government of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is quite predictably moving back to the center of reality of Japan-US relations; not even a fuss over US troop deployment in Okinawa amounts to as much as some observers fear.

It is in China that Obama’s mettle will be tested. North Korea’s weapons program may be the main game, but it is quite easy to overstate what can be achieved on this matter on this tour; the same applies to the other leading issues on the table.

For Taiwanese, the primary concern instead is what signals, if any, Obama will send on cross-strait relations. There is no reason why Obama and his aides would wish to make an impression with Beijing on Taiwanese affairs — other than to quickly acknowledge and deflect China’s perennial fears of a hardening of cross-strait policy. One thing that President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) time in office has delivered to Washington is a relative lull in the unification debate that gives it breathing space to do this, and so work cooperatively with China on practical matters.

It is therefore unrealistic to expect anything resembling Taiwan advocacy during Obama’s trip to China; if nothing else, this would be most undiplomatic on a first presidential tour of the US’ primary economic and military rival. The best Taiwan can hope for is a proxy discussion on human rights, though even this is likely to be low-key.

For the moment, Taiwanese can settle for a sotto voce approach by the US on cross-strait tensions. They do not expect gratuitous pronouncements of limitless military support and platitudes on shared values. They cannot expect the US to be a cheerleader when so much in the Taiwanese political environment is unstable and lacking in consensus.

What Taiwanese do expect is a US president who will not weaken himself and his country — and the region’s stability — by confusing diplomatic goodwill and compromise on key strategic points. This Chinese government remains canny, ambitious and ruthless; no sober observer should assume that its development as a world power entails reciprocal goodwill, least of all to a government whose power and wealth it covets but whose founding principles it despises.

Taiwanese are all too familiar with news of well-meaning envoys visiting China and leaving with a full stomach and a pat on the back for repeating slogans that the Chinese then use for domestic and international propaganda. In recent years the British and Australian governments have proven themselves to be particularly vulnerable to this. It is hoped that the Obama team, for its part, will resist the temptation of gaining “concessions” on unrelated issues by nodding along as Beijing inevitably introduces policies or slogans that injure Taiwanese interests.

In Asia, as with domestic politics, the key for Obama is to keep his allies on side and quietly let his rivals know who’s boss. However imperfect, that’s how things get done.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2009/11/10



Add this page to your favorite Social Bookmarking websites
Reddit! Del.icio.us! Mixx! Google! Live! Facebook! StumbleUpon! Facebook! Twitter!  
 

Newsflash

China’s Xinjiang region was hit by a wave of violence at the weekend that saw 10 people killed by knife-wielding assailants and another four shot dead by police, state media and authorities said yesterday.

The unrest happened in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar in two separate attacks and local residents said yesterday the city center was under lockdown, with security forces patrolling the streets.

Xinjiang has seen several outbreaks of ethnic violence in recent years as the mainly Muslim Uighur minority bridles under what it regards as oppression by the Chinese government.