US key to Tsai’s cross-strait policy
By Paul Lin 林保華
Taibei Tiames 2016.7.3

With her visit to Central and South America, President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has initiated her “pragmatic diplomacy,” but her transit stop in Miami, Florida, stole the spotlight.

About 145km south of Florida is Cuba, whose air space Tsai flew through on her way to Panama. Not long ago, “the earth moved and the mountains shook” in Cuba when US President Barack Obama became the first US president in 55 years to visit Havana since the two nations severed ties in 1961. Did this act as encouragement for Tsai?

The US has taken several actions to indicate the warming of Taiwan-US relations.

American Institute in Taiwan Chairman Raymond Burghardt recently said that neither former Straits Exchange Foundation chairman Koo Chen-fu (辜振甫) nor former Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits president Wang Daohan (汪道涵) mentioned the existence of the so-called “1992 consensus.”

The US arranged for Tsai to visit the Port of Miami during her trip, which was unprecedented in the history of Taiwan’s “transit diplomacy.” She also met a record 15 members of the US Congress and had a lengthy discussion with Republican US Senator Marco Rubio.

“I was pleased to welcome Tsai on her first trip to the US since her inauguration as Taiwan’s president,” Rubio said in a statement on his Web site.

What a high-profile reception it was.

Tsai identified herself as “President of Taiwan” when leaving a message in a visitor’s book in Panama. Although she added the title “ROC” (Republic of China) in parenthesis after Taiwan, she drew strong criticism from the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT). During former president Chiang Ching-kuo’s (蔣經國) time in office, the US omitted the title “ROC” from its 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, and as Rubio identified Tsai as “Taiwan’s president,” why does the KMT not protest against the US, too?

Without the US 7th Fleet’s protection, would those KMT officials have survived to this day, or would they be in Chinese labor camps now?

The US should not be forgotten when looking at Tsai’s cross-strait policy, as she is cooling relations with Beijing while warming ties with Washington.

Tsai has been proactive during her time in office and has made efforts to stabilize the morale of the military, which is crucial to Taiwan’s national security. During visits to military bases, she has not only addressed a wide range of issues, but also reminded troops not to forget their original reasons for joining the military, in the hope of awakening their sense of duty to defend the nation. Before her US trip, Tsai promoted 37 lieutenants and major generals to stabilize national security.

Military stability is closely related to growing tension in the South China Sea. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is set to hold its annual Beidaihe meeting this month to discuss personnel affairs, with any developments to be announced at the CCP’s 19th National Congress next year. Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) must act tough to show that he is the true leader of the CCP. This is the reason Beijing threatened to fire on foreign jets or warships that provoke China. This threat was issued more to comfort a domestic audience, but Taiwan should still prepare for the unexpected.

China Military Online reported that China’s South China Sea fleet launched a 48-hour non-stop combat drill on May 22 and May 23 in the “west Pacific Ocean.” This area actually refers to the Philippine Sea to the east of the Philippines, where the disputed Okinotori atoll lies. Beijing has also taken to calling the area the “second South China Sea,” making its ambitions clear.

The drill was launched two days after Tsai’s inauguration. If the Chinese navy entered this area, it would be able to surround Taiwan and the Philippines from the water, which is why and US and Japanese warships followed the drill closely.

In addition, there is no natural barrier between the region and Guam or Japan, which are equidistant from Taiwan and the region where the drill took place. At that time, Taiwanese media were busy debating whether Okinotori is a reef or an island. Taiwanese warships in the region are protecting not only Taiwanese fishing boats, but also the nation.

In the middle of last month, Minister of National Defense Feng Shih-kuan (馮世寬) was criticized for saying that soldiers should smile when sacrificing their lives during war, with a female legislator expressing sympathy for marines and their tough training regimes. Such reactions are the negative consequences of the long-lasting peace that Taiwan has enjoyed.

Sacrifice and tough training is the price that Taiwan has to pay for its difficult situation and for protecting its sovereignty and independence, not to mention its goal of becoming a “normalized” nation.

Paul Lin is a political commentator.

Translated by Eddy Chang


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