US won’t desist from playing Taiwan card

Global Times | 作者: Zhang Tengjun | 时间: 2018-11-29 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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In Taiwan's "nine-in-one" elections held on Saturday, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) received a drubbing from the Kuomintang (KMT) that grabbed 15 out of a total of 22 mayoral and county magistrate seats, some of which had been long-held by the DPP. Through the vote, the people of Taiwan have sent a clear warning to the administration of Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP that they are not happy with a flailing economy and glaring political struggle. 

In November, the ruling parties of both the US and Taiwan fared poorly in midterm elections. In response to the defeat, Tsai quit the DPP chief's position. In his congratulatory tweet, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Taiwan local elections an example of democracy in action for the Indo-Pacific region - a brazen show of support for the island. However, who needs support most is actually his boss - President Donald Trump, after elections put Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives. 

The US and Taiwan have seen each other as military allies that share democracy and values and are partners in handling ties with the Chinese mainland. The Trump administration has taken a slew of measures to help Taiwan expand its international footprint. But this has done nothing except ratcheting up tensions across the Taiwan Straits. 

Over the last two years, they have been trying to intimidate the mainland through closer political and military cooperation, which however only cemented the mainland's determination to resolve the Taiwan question. The local elections have reminded the Tsai administration that the only wise choice is to give up a confrontational policy and return to the 1992 Consensus. Taiwanese people have proven through their votes that undermining relations with the mainland does no good to Taiwan.  

Where the US-Taiwan relationship is headed after elections this month depends on how they view the current situation. The Trump administration apparently hopes to maintain and even strengthen the current cooperation with Taiwan because it values the economic benefits from bilateral military cooperation and can also play the Taiwan card with the mainland. Trump has defined China as the US' strategic rival and the biggest challenge in the long run, intensifying attempts at containment. The shrewd US president won't give up any opportunity of playing the Taiwan card. 

Hawks within the Trump administration will likely continue pushing him to take reckless measures over Taiwan while pro-Taiwan members in the US Congress will be more eager to help their "Taiwan friend," creating all kinds of trouble for the mainland. The US is becoming more damaging to cross-Straits ties. 

Now the key question is whether the Tsai administration will be determined to join the US to confront the mainland. The latest defeat of the DPP must have warned Tsai where Taiwan's future lies - with the mainland or the US. But if her government persists in being confrontationist rather than regarding the wellbeing of Taiwan people, it will likely spell an end to hopes of being re-elected in 2020.

The US and Taiwan will have to prepare for the 2020 general election in the next two years. The Trump government, well aware of Beijing's bottom line over Taiwan, only uses the island as a tool to provoke the mainland. US-Taiwan relations depend on where Washington's ties with the mainland go. People in Taiwan need to have an explicit understanding of the US role when contemplating cross-Straits relations. 

The Tsai administration now has to choose whether to recognize the 1992 Consensus, and its choice will decide the future of the DPP that cannot afford another defeat. While KMT candidate Han Kuo-yu was voted to be mayor of Kaohsiung because of his campaign of restoring the city's past glory, Taiwan authorities should think carefully about how to market products made on the island and attract mainlanders so as to bring benefits to the people of Taiwan.


The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. 



Source: Global Times, November 28, 2018.