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Home Editorials of Interest Taipei Times Opportunities and risks ahead of Lai

Opportunities and risks ahead of Lai

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) met with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Thailand last weekend in talks described as “candid” and “fruitful.” Taiwan was one of the focuses of the meeting, along with the Iran-backed Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping, sparking speculation that the US might use Taiwan as a bargaining chip in return for China’s assistance in the Middle East. Beijing is Tehran’s largest trading partner.

Rest assured, no sitting US president in the current geopolitical climate could make concessions on Taiwan, especially with a US presidential election fast approaching. As Evan Medeiros, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Initiative for US-China Dialogue on Global Issues said recently, Taiwan has become “a democratized issue” in the US “which everyone wants to talk about.”

With former US president Donald Trump waiting in the wings, the last thing US President Joe Biden could do is to appear is weak on China.

However, this is not to say that Taiwan can rest on its laurels. Taiwan faces full-spectrum pressure from China to constrain its international space. In the wake of president-elect William Lai’s (賴清德) victory, it was expected that China would use its toolkit of economic and military pressure against Taiwan. Instead, it poached one of the nation’s allies, Nauru, and looks to be coveting another, Tuvalu. A leaked e-mail showed Chinese state-controlled China Global Television Network offering “a senior person in Tuvalu Broadcasting Corp” US$450 to write an opinion piece on Tuvalu potentially cutting ties with Taiwan.

China’s diplomacy since Lai’s victory has been shrewd. The Chinese ministry’s press release following the Sullivan-Wang meeting said: “The US side must abide by … its commitment of not supporting ‘Taiwan independence’ into action and support China’s peaceful reunification,” placing the onus of responsibility in “managing” Taiwan on the US, despite China being the sole driver of tensions.

Today, the legislature is likely to elect incoming-Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator-at-large Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) as speaker, which could be a crushing blow for Taiwan’s international participation. Under incumbent speaker, DPP Legislator You Si-kun (游錫?), Taiwan expanded its international space by building parliamentary ties with nations such as Lithuania and the Czech Republic. It is hard to see a KMT speaker, especially a pro-China one like Han, being as proactive as You in building the nation’s international ties.

The incoming Lai administration must think creatively on how to maintain the momentum built up over President Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) two terms in expanding Taiwan’s international space. Taiwan has become a global issue, the “front line of democracy” in Tsai’s words, on the side of democracies against the authoritarian challenges of China and Russia trying to reshape the international order in their favor. Lai needs a similar narrative.

Taiwan’s international participation depends not only on the nation’s domestic politics, but also the structure of international order writ large. It is a propitious time for Taiwan, with an activist US, Europe awakening from its geopolitical slumber and Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) reminding the world of Beijing’s revisionist intent. China’s deft diplomacy as of now is a tactical shift to draw less attention to it, not a strategic one.

In due course, Beijing is likely to return to its behavior of belligerence and aggression, reminding the democracies of the threat it poses to the world and the need to embrace Taiwan closer. This would provide opportunities for Taipei to reach out and deepen ties. The incoming Lai administration must be on its toes to capitalize on this.

Source: Taipei Times - Editorials 2024/02/01

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Ranking member of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee US Representative Howard Berman has written to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to appeal for the medical parole of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁).

“Releasing Chen from prison on humanitarian grounds would allow him to receive the thorough, long-term medical treatment that he needs and would aid in his physical and mental recovery,” the letter says.