Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Nelson Report: Remarks on Tsai Ing-wen

Here they are...


CHINA/TAIWAN...the principal reservation the US has had about Tsai Ing-wen, the likely next president of Taiwan come Jan. 16, is that she has not been sufficiently reassuring on the subtleties of cross-Strait tensions, given the unavoidable backdrop of the previous DPP administration under Chen Shui-bian. [MT: Another example of how China's deployment of the idea of "tensions" manages Washington's response to Beijing and to Taipei. Nelson himself is entirely free of this problem, he is merely describing.]

The unfortunate intervention of the NSC back in 2012, you will recall, saw these reservations actually put in writing to then-Financial Times reporter Anna Fifield, now with the Washington Post based in Tokyo.[MT: This is a reference to that incident in which a high ranking Obama Administration official attacked Tsai Ing-wen during the election, deeply harming the US and Taiwan].

SO it was no accident that Dr. Tsai's major US speech during her tour last summer came at CSIS, where she answered veteran policy player Dave Brown's question with her now much-studied declaration not to do anything to upset the status quo...and that includes sticking to the existing Taiwan constitution.

All by way of putting into context Tsai's reaction to a high-profile challenge to the status quo by the KMT government under Pres. Ma, per the official ROC press release:


OC Minister of the Interior Chen Wei-zen presides over a ceremony marking the opening of a wharf and lighthouse on Taiping Island...

Here's a Chinese media account of Tsai's comment on this (from China Review ...as a Loyal Reader comments,"ironically our Chinese friends tend to have the most comprehensive quotes"):

DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen said, we have sovereignty over Taiping Island, but as a member of the region we should cooperate with the region and maintain the regional peace and stability. We also hope to sustain regional cooperation to allow resource sharing and joint development to certain extent. This is our most fundamental approach."

Hummm...pretty sophisticated, we thought. It shows appreciation of both US and Chinese concerns, while reinforcing US policy regionally, and endorsing the resource-share ideas welcomed when raised by Pres. Ma, back during the fisheries agreement with Japan.

(It also reminded us of the response by then-candidate Abe before his first term as PM, when we asked him at a Brookings lunch how he planned to improve Japan-S. Korea relations in view of the historical neuralgia of Takeshima/Dokdo.

Abe's answer, from memory but this is pretty close: "I will never concede on our sovereignty, but I will not challenge S. Korea's control of the island.")

Anyhow...we ran Dr. Tsai by involved Loyal Readers, and heard back from Bob Manning, Atlantic Council, Alan Romberg, Stimson Center, and "anon":

Pretty good answer. Hard to beat. But when you parse it, seems not far from Deng's idea of deferring sovereignty issue and focus on joint development. Still left with every claimant having control over islets they occupy and competing sovereignty claims, but put in deep freeze. [MT: It's completely different than Deng's answer -- Deng wanted the claim 'deferred' because "joint development" was a weaker but still useful form of territorial grab. Tsai doesn't emphasize the South China Sea claims because at bottom they are a Chinese land grab that has nothing to do with Taiwan, and bring them up during an election is stirring up unnecessary controversy.]

I agree this was a wise answer. Every indication is that Tsai is very sensitive to the need to try to prevent South China Sea issues from becoming contentious either with Beijing or others. At the same time, she clearly has no intention to abandon the ROC's sovereignty claim.[MT: Both Romberg and Dave Brown above (here) cheer for A Certain Political Party in Taiwan. So Romberg's last sentence could be read as an attempt to stir up the pot by tarring Tsai with the KMT territorial madness.]

ANON FORMER USG...shows that Tsai remains under the microscope:

To All:

I don't disagree but am struck by what she didn't say. In addition to not claiming all of the Spratleys (Taiwan's claim) [MT: excellent observation, and a hint about the DPP's real position], she also didn't say that :

· Territorial claims should be asserted in a peaceful, non-coercive way;
· All disputes should be resolved peacefully and in accordance with international law;
· Freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce and air flights are important.

I suppose all of that might be included in the phrase "regional peace and stability" but she could have earned points by laying it out, including with the US.[MT: Does the commenter really believe that Tsai doesn't want things solved peacefully? She already said this before, in any case, even referring to "freedom of navigation".  ]
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Tommy said...

Also, Tsai's statement about sovereignty over Taiping Island does not suggest that the present sovereignty will be maintained forever. Abe precludes this with a "never". Her comment suggests flexibility in maintaining regional peace and stability. Abe's suggests that Japan will show no flexibility, only tolerance of different opinions.

Glen said...

Oh man! Miss 蛋餅 so much right now!