On its face, this question seems preposterous. After all, the Communist Party of China is dead set to impose its ‘one China’ framework for ‘peaceful unification,’ by force if necessary. How could the leader of China and his party possibly prefer to help re-elect a Taiwan president whose party only accepts a “one China” concept if it is accompanied by a separate and distinct “one Taiwan”?
As we enter 2019, a new election cycle is underway in both Taiwan and the United States. Since the 2018 midterm elections in the United States and the municipal elections in Taiwan, there has been a great deal of commentary and analysis, with many drawing inferences from the results to size up the prospects for both president’s re-elections in 2020.
In recent years, many friends have suggested that Taiwan could become the Switzerland of East Asia. This is an idea that comes with many risks of its own, and one that I do not believe Taiwan can afford.
Of course, on the base level, there is very little that Switzerland and Taiwan have in common. Switzerland is a landlocked nation at the heart of Western Europe, sharing borders with multiple major nations. Taiwan is an island nation, off China’s shore, looking out into the Pacific Ocean.
In recent years, we have seen a wave of candidates and initiatives around the world that have been characterized as “nationalist” by both proponents and critics. From President Trump’s victory in the United States and the UK’s passage of Brexit to Jair Bolsonaro winning in Brazil’s recent election. Voters appear to be turning toward promises of independence and national pride.
Last week US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a pivotal speech at the American University in Cairo titled, “A Force for Good: America Reinvigorated in the Middle East.” While the speech was a political and policy counterpoint to the one delivered by former President Barack Obama in 2009, it contains key points that transcend partisanship and the region to which the message was addressed.
Dominating the US news for the last three weeks has been the government shutdown and fight over funding for the border wall. Democrats refuse to fund the wall, President Trump insists on it. Stalemate ensues, and the United States is stuck in the longest government shutdown in history.
The United States fiscal year 2019 budget is 4.407 trillion dollars. The estimated cost of the border wall is 5.7 billion dollars. In essence, Democrats have forced a government shutdown in protest of what would be .1% of the federal budget.
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.
Keen observers in Taiwan have noted a significant uptick in recent US statements of support. Some have seen the Trump administration as generally more favorable to Taiwan, given the President-elect’s willingness to receive President Tsai’s congratulatory phone call and given the President’s willingness to sign significant pro-Taiwan legislation into law without modification or caveat. Notwithstanding that general trend, with which I agree, the source and content of recent statements has indeed been notable.
You wouldn’t know it, based on current headlines, but the United States Congress is poised to conduct a critical review of the full spectrum of US policy issues related to China, on a scale not seen since the normalization of diplomatic relations with Beijing 40 years ago.
In the immediate term, all eyes are fixed on negotiations related to the government shutdown and measures to secure our southern border. The disposition of US forces deployed to Syria and Afghanistan also is a near term focus. But soon enough, once the full committees and relevant subcommittees have settled in and conducted initial business, the new Congress is likely to take a deep dive on China.
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.