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Taiwan's Growing Political Turbulence Creates a Problem for Washington

May 15, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

U.S. policy goals over the decades since President Richard Nixon
initiated a rapprochement with the People’s Republic of China
(PRC) have been quite consistent. Officials in various
administrations, conservative and liberal, Republican and Democrat,
have sought to preserve the status quo between Taiwan and the PRC.
That means perpetuating Taiwan’s de facto independence, but
encouraging steps to reduce tensions between the island and the
mainland. As far as U.S. officials are concerned, decisions about
Taiwan’s ultimate political status should be put on hold
indefinitely. In essence, Washington’s
“Goldilocks” scenario favors a cautious relationship
between Taipei and Beijing that eschews both confrontation and
progress toward reunification. Unfortunately, growing political
volatility in Taiwan, impacting both the governing Democratic
Progressive Party (DPP) and the opposition Kuomintang Party (KMT),
poses a major threat to that goal.

It’s not the first time that there are troubling
developments in Taiwan from the standpoint of U.S. interests.
During the initial years of the twenty-first century, Taiwanese
President Chen Shui-bian alarmed U.S. officials because he seemed to
take too seriously the DPP’s official position in favor of
full-fledged, official independence for the island. Chen repeatedly
blindsided Washington with pro-independence initiatives that
provoked Beijing. U.S. leaders were more relaxed with Chen’s
successor, KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou, who pursued an array of closer
economic and cultural ties with the mainland. As the number of
cross-strait agreements grew, however, some hawkish elements in the
U.S. foreign policy community began to fret that ties between
Beijing and Taipei might be growing a little too close.

A majority of Taiwanese voters appeared to harbor similar
concerns, not only electing DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen as president
in 2016 but also giving the DPP control of the national legislature
for the first time. Tsai has proceeded more cautiously than Chen
did regarding independence, but Beijing’s disappointment and
anger at Taiwan’s retreat from Ma’s
conciliatory policies has led the PRC to adopt even more belligerent measures than during
Chen’s years in office.

Washington has seemed reasonably content with Tsai. Indeed, the
Trump administration and Taiwan’s admirers in Congress have
adopted measures to increase U.S. backing for Taipei in response to
Beijing’s bullying behavior. Support at
home for Tsai’s presidency, though, has ebbed, and the DPP
suffered major setbacks in November 2018 local
elections. Tsai was pressured to quit her post as party chair, and
she now faces a strong internal challenge for re-election as
Taiwan’s president from her onetime prime minister, William
Lai, who is competing with Tsai for the DPP’s
nomination
in an upcoming primary.

Washington has reason to see Lai as another Chen Shui-bian – a
potential loose cannon …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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