Making Friends in Politics and Diplomacy

This article first appeared in Taiwan’s Do Post.

My former boss, the Vice President of the United States taught me an important lesson when I first ran for the legislature in 2014. I worked for him for the first 5 years of the Bush administration, and we kept in touch over the years. When I decided to run, I called the Vice President and asked for his support. He offered an endorsement, but then warned me “don’t make it hard for me to be your friend.” This advice has stuck with me to this day.

At first, I was a bit taken aback. I was surprised, and it seemed like an unusual thing to say. I did not fully understand what he was telling me. He continued to explain - I was not the only person he knew in Idaho politics. He thought I would do a fine job in the legislature, but I should be mindful of the impact my words and actions may have on his relationships with others. It was important I did not put him in the awkward position of having to choose a side or otherwise compromise his friendship with those he values.

This was advice I tried, albeit not always perfectly, to follow, and it is advice that applies relations among people as well as among nations. Whether a leader in Taiwan or a friend of Taiwan, we all need to conduct ourselves, implement policies and treat allies around the world in a way that makes it easy for others to be our friends.

Many around the world - leaders in government and community - support Taiwan’s democracy, security and it’s right of self-determination. If they enter the fray and advocate for this core principle, it is important to behave in a way that will make it easy - and justified - to sustain their support.

In business, this manifests itself in creating a climate that is easy and welcoming for global companies, and working together with countries around the world to prevent intellectual property theft, as was done a few months ago when the United States Department of Justice and Taiwanese Ministry of Justice cooperated to indict United Microelectronics Corp. and others for targeting Micron’s trade secrets.

In government, this means being open - even suggesting agreements between nations that benefit not only Taiwan, but also the nation with which the agreement is being made. It also means, as Taiwan has done in the past, supporting democracy, the free market, and countries that have shown support for Taiwan.

In Taiwan’s tricky position globally, it needs as many friends - countries, leaders and average citizens around the world - as possible to support it’s right of self-determination.

Taiwan’s journey to independence has been, and continues to be, dependent on a broad coalition of supporters. With an increasing amount of scrutiny surrounding China’s malicious trade practices and aggressive actions, it has become easier to broaden this coalition. It is important there is always room for more to join, but to remember in an effort to win some, it is equally important to not make it hard for others to be a friend.