Half of Something can be Better than All of Nothing

This article first appeared in Taiwan’s Do Post.

In politics, gradualism, deal-making and compromise get a bad rap. They are seen as weak and unprincipled. In the United States, we experience this in every level of politics, where neither side will give an inch for fear that they will lose their base. The end result is gridlock.

There is a time to stand firm in one’s beliefs and principles. But there is also a time to make a deal, and when important issues are at stake, remember at times half of something can be better than all of nothing.

I’ve experienced this at nearly every point in my life, in policy at the White House and politics at the Republican Party. When we care strongly about issues at stake, it is easy to have an all or nothing mentality. But when this mentality results in no progress year after year, it’s time for a new approach.

On issues where sides are so far apart, it’s unlikely to get everything you’ve worked and hoped for. The next logical question becomes “what portion of what I want can I get today, tomorrow or next year so I can continue to move in the right direction?” Eventually, each individual step will add up, and accumulate toward the larger goal.

For those of us who believe strongly in our core principles, this can feel bad, like you have compromised your beliefs. In reality, a gradual approach can, and often does, get you closer to your end goal than a hard-line stance ever will. Accomplishing a key percentage of what you are after can be better than getting nothing, and sometimes, that is the only option on the table.

This lesson rings true in the United States’ hyper-partisan climate, where neither side is able to compromise on key issues facing the nation. But it equally applies to Taiwan’s position in the world.

There are certain things unlikely to happen in the near term, no matter the effort Taiwan and it’s supporters put into advocacy and lobbying. One such objective is membership in the United Nations. Another is full diplomatic recognition by many of the major countries around the world.

In light of President Xi Jinping’s recent comments, and China’s aggressive economic espionage, military tactics and territorial claims, many countries and leaders are turning to Taiwan and looking to make a deal. This doesn’t mean that in one fell swoop Taiwan will gain full diplomatic recognition, but there are concrete steps to improve relations with Japan, the United States, and other countries who support Taiwan’s right to self-determination.

These are not concessions, but simply a more gradual approach to the same end goal. Even without a formal free trade agreement, Taiwan can work to expand trade with allies. It can partake in exchanges with students from around the globe, promoting Taiwan’s culture. Taiwan can collaborate with the United States and other nations regarding cybersecurity and intellectual property, proving that they are a safe alternative to China for direct foreign investment.

These gradual steps not only help Taiwan reach its goals, but they show the rest of the world Taiwan is willing to work together and reach accommodations on issues that matter. In politics and policy, results matter.