Monday, May 22, 2017

Steve Yates' speech on Trump/Taiwan/Tsai for the World Taiwanese Congress

A 210 year old Ficus tree is a temple tree outside Jhuolan

Steve Yates' speech “Trump, Tsai and Prospects for US-Taiwan Relations” for the World Taiwanese Congress is below the READ MORE link...

World Taiwanese Congress
May 21, 2017

“Trump, Tsai and Prospects for US-Taiwan Relations”

The Hon. Stephen Yates
CEO, DC International Advisory
Professor in the Practice of International Business and Politics, Boise State University
Former Deputy Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs

It is a great honor to join you today to discuss the intersection of two very different leaders of two great democracies, and to offer an assessment of what lies ahead for Taiwan and the United States in Asia.

There is a fun coincidence of Taiwan and American political cycles, that should in fact encourage more of the world to follow Taiwan politics. Every Taiwan presidential election (1996 – 2016) served as a perfect indicator of continuity vs. change in the US presidential election to follow that same year. Think of it, incumbents re-elected in 1996, opposition party takes the presidency in 2000, incumbents re-elected in 2004, opposition party takes the presidency in 2008, incumbents re-elected in 2012, and opposition party takes the presidency in 2016. And the fun does not stop there. The fortunes of the Democratic Party in the US appear to rise and fall based on the fate of the KMT in Taiwan. Similarly the rise and fall of the Republican Party in the US tracked perfectly with the DPP in Taiwan over 20 years.

So, having observed this trend for some time, and as a happily partisan Republican, I took great comfort in the January 2016 election results here in Taiwan. Ten months before the entire world was shocked by the outcome of the US presidential election, I knew for sure the Republican nominee would win… Thank you, Taiwan.

Beyond the curious coincidence of presidential cycles, we currently have the majority party in our legislatures in sync with the party in power in the executive branch – an historic first for Taiwan’s DPP. Although US congressional structure and process differs from your Legislative Yuan, Republican and DPP leaders share the burden of high-expectations from voters to deliver on the priorities of each respective political and ideological base.

When it comes to policy and national interests, our leaders face some common challenges:
1)      How to preserve freedom of navigation and deterrence in the face of China’s expansive military modernization and aggressive territorial claims.
2)      How to protect economic security while also promoting domestic growth and expansion of international trade and investment relationships.
3)      How to protect citizens, businesses, and critical infrastructure from compromise due to the daily flood of cyber-attacks.

These are just a few of the significant common challenges that your president and mine must face every day, and likely throughout their tenure in office. They are some of the biggest challenges of our time, with no easy answers, and they more than justify the need for honest and regular consultations between our governments at the highest levels of leadership.

In the United States we recently concluded a round of criticism and congratulations marking the conclusion of President Trump’s first 100 days in office. In Taiwan you are engaged in a similar exercise marking the conclusion of President Tsai’s first year in office. In both countries expectations are high and political supporters are frustrated, given ruling party leadership in both the executive and legislative branches of government.

While I support the idea of measuring results and holding leaders accountable for delivering on promises made, there is an artificial quality to these exercises in both the United States and Taiwan, dominated by polls and pundits. The only legitimate measure of each presidency is done by voters at the end of each 4-year term. That judgement will come soon enough, although the important principle of accepting the will of the voters remains a challenging concept in each of our countries.

While Taiwan has been close to a second home for me over the years, I will leave assessments of President’s Tsai’s first year in office to those who live and vote in Taiwan. As more of my life is spent in American politics, my respect for and deference to the will of the voters has deepened significantly. I owe the same to voters here.

With that said, however, I do share many of the feelings and aspirations of the brave and strong people of Taiwan who endured martial law, created an Asian tiger, fought for democratic progress, and seek a sense of dignity and friendship in return from those who share common values around the world.

I have been truly blessed to witness first hand Taiwan’s journey from Lee Teng-hui’s “temporary” assumption of the presidency to the election of Tsai Ying-wen. From my time at the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s to today, I have offered candid and honest assessments of US policy and the realities of cross-Strait relations.

In order to do that today, I first need to offer some context. The election of President Donald Trump on November 8, 2016 came as a shock to many around the world. The shock was part perception and part reality. For most, it was a shock because it was unexpected, and experts in and outside of government tend to equate the unexpected with undesirable. For many the shock was due to the extreme and polarized coverage of an unconventional campaign and the wildly unconventional commentary it provoked. For some the shock came from not knowing where to turn for answers about an American presidency aimed at challenging “establishment” and well established approaches to personnel and policy.

It is understandable that leaders around the world were surprised by the election outcome and uneasy about what it may portend. Nearly every major American and international media outlet covering the campaign characterized every populist, nationalist, and anti-establishment utterance by candidate Trump in the most extreme and negative way. And nearly every “expert” on American politics and policy echoed that narrative pronouncing to international audiences the virtues of Hillary Clinton, the vices of Donald Trump, and delivered sage reassurance with such certitude that Hillary would win.

The reality is that a majority of voters in a majority of states did in fact cast their ballots for a fundamental change in the direction of national policy and a disruptive approach to business as usual in Washington, DC. The so-called experts lost credibility, Hillary Clinton lost the election, and the Washington establishment lost the country. And if your leaders have relied upon that Washington establishment to navigate and influence US foreign policy, you lost the country too.
Pivoting from the challenges of perceptions carried over from the campaign, the balance of this assessment will attempt to draw out key judgements about the likely direction of Trump Administration foreign policy, based on policies and priorities set during the campaign, the realities of an incomplete transition, and the realities of cross-Strait relations.

The World Donald Trump Inherited

You could be forgiven for forgetting the real US foreign policy controversy with regard to Russia in recent years was the Obama/Clinton “Russia reset” and President Obama’s infamous message to Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” after re-election. Medvedev dutifully responded that he would transmit the message to Vladimir. Remember, Russia did very well for itself during President Obama’s two terms. From Ukraine to Syria, Putin benefitted from President Obama’s flexibility. You would never know this based on current political and media commentary in the US.

The civil war in Syria expanded year after year, spilling beyond its borders, establishing a supposedly new Caliphate in the Islamic State (IS), and generating an immense flow of refugees across Europe.

A deal was made with Iran, against the wishes of key US allies in the region, and after having ignored the largest mass movement against the theocratic leadership in a generation.

A pivot to Asia was talked about with great fanfare. Yet throughout the Obama years China’s aggressive territorial claims expanded, matched by militarization of new bases on man-made islands. As China’s rise and expansion met minimal resistance from the US, North Korea accelerated its provocative and dangerous missile and nuclear tests. While President Obama’s team did not return to the appeasement of multilateral talks of the Clinton and Bush years, neither did his team ever articulate a policy of its own with regard to North Korea.
This is the world that President Trump inherited coming into office. It was not one of peace, freedom, and order. Quite the contrary.

Trump’s Strategic Priorities

While most of the world focused on candidate Trump’s Twitter feed during the campaign, with good reason, that led many people to overlook some fundamental principles that have defined his approach to international relations. Much of it is in response to his critique of what went wrong during both the Bush and Obama years, and it represents a realignment of what has been understood to be long-time Republican policy.

1.      The first organizing principle is a return to Realism. This is of course the international relations theory, where emphasis is placed on shaping the relationship between states rather than shaping the nature of states. During the Clinton and Bush years, neoconservatives were seen as rising in influence, advocating a more muscular and interventionist approach to threats from Europe through the broader Middle East to Asia. With US voters having turned against that approach, after protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Trump advocated an approach more similar to that taken by Eisenhower and Nixon, traditional Realism.

2.      The second organizing principle is America first. This has sometimes been described as nationalism or economic nationalism. It is a response to globalism, which has been perceived as subordinating the interests and well-being of Americans to an agenda defined by others. What it comes down to is ensuring the interests of our people and our business receive full consideration before entering into any international engagement.

3.      The third principle is rebalancing. This applies to all relationships – alliances, partnerships, competitors, and adversaries in all geographies. This is a natural part of business that needs to apply to government. Consistent with the return to Realism, the US needs allies and partners who are stronger and more self-reliant, and yet continue to choose to work together to advance common interests.

4.      The fourth principle is that everything is a negotiation. President Trump emphasizes bilateral over multilateral arrangements and the importance of constantly seeking to improve the terms of a relationship over time.

Trumpism is not limited to these four qualities, and others may have better definitions, but these core principles and approaches can help us reasonably assess where the challenges and opportunities are likely to be in US-Taiwan relations going forward.

US-Taiwan Relations in the Tsai-Trump Era

I believe this is a time of significant opportunity in US-Taiwan relations. We have a US president who refuses to be told who he may or may not talk to and how he must do things. This is upsetting to some, but I find it refreshing. We have a Taiwan president who is difficult for China or the international community to criticize, and who clearly stands in defense of the dignity of Taiwan and its people.

Opportunity #1 – Trade

This is an ideal time for Taiwan and the US to take a fresh approach to trade negotiations. No doubt the Trump team will open talks with tough issues that need to be tackled, but the prospects for real discussion with an agreement to be reached are high. We may no longer be caught in the unending loop of TIFA talks.

Opportunity #2 – Defense

The Trump team emphasizes the importance of all allies and partners investing appropriately in their own independent defense capabilities – rebalancing risk and responsibility in our security relationships. This should be a welcome opportunity for Taiwan to think in bold terms about what it needs, as opposed to what it hopes for from the US. And to the extent Taiwan’s real needs can be met by “buying American” it fits very well with President Trump’s America first priorities with regard to security and manufacturing at home.

Opportunity #3 – International Space

It is time that we begin to think differently about this challenge, and I believe current realities present great opportunities to do so. The struggle over formal diplomatic ties and participation in UN-related meetings is an understandable priority for many of you. I must admit it is not a priority to me. Strong substantive ties to key constituent groups within Taiwan’s neighboring countries and key partners abroad is more important than talks between governments. Ultimately those constituent groups will have more influence over what their governments are or are not willing to do than any amount of excellent diplomacy by your government can possibly accomplish. For example, the US Congress is moved more by constituent interests in their states than they are by the expressed wishes of the Executive Branch or a foreign government. While Washington is overwhelmed by distraction, there is a major opportunity for Taiwan to make substantial progress in building constituencies of support and cooperation among the states, political parties, and interest groups who share values and interests with Taiwan and are not overwhelmed by China’s influence.

My hope is that some of the thoughts and perspective shared with you today will stimulate further discussion. I have offered no specific policy prescriptions, on purpose. We’ve only just finished the first 100 days of the Trump presidency. Many key appointments remain unfilled and policies remain in flux. Now is a time to improve our thinking, develop an agenda compatible with where the new US Administration is moving, and build support among Taiwan’s key constituencies in the United States to advocate a new agenda. Our ultimate aim to be to accept the challenge of rebalancing US-Taiwan relations in a way that helps advance freedom, prosperity and security for both countries.
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Marc said...

Mr. Yates is well known for having his finger on the pulse in DC, but this optimistic speech has me wondering about the "слон" in the room.

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Yates

It is beyond obvious to anyone with an IQ of 10 or higher that Trump is a dangerous, incompetent criminal imbecile and has no plan whatsoever besides enriching himself. He does not care about the American people or Taiwan, he never did, and to think otherwise is laughable at this point.

Stop blaming the media. Stop blaming Obama. These excuses are weak and cowardly, just like Trump himself. No real leader would make these excuses.

Trump is not a populist, he is not anti establishment, and he is no friend to Taiwan.


Yours truly,

The Real Taiwan

Jenna Cody said...

There's a lot I could say about this, but I'll stick to one thing:

The voters did NOT choose "anti-establishment", they did NOT choose "Realism", they did NOT choose Trumpism. "A majority of voters in a majority of states" did NONE of these things, because Donald Trump lost the popular vote. This is an outright lie on Yates's part and it makes it hard for me to take the rest of it seriously.

Joe said...

Trump won 30 states- he did get a "majority of voters in a majority of states." That electoral college is pretty quirky.

Panharith said...

He does not care about the American people or Taiwan, he never did, and to think otherwise is laughable at this point.

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