Saturday, April 07, 2018

Nelson Report, latest Taiwan comments

Drying millet in Chenggong on the east coast.

From the Nelson Report... the first set of comments are Chris Nelson's own on the Stimson Center Lunch. After that a short excerpt from the Asia Times piece, I removed the rest. Speculation is that the high ranking official will be Bolton. Finally, Dave Brown's comments.


US/CHINA/TAIWAN...we noted the excellent Stimson Center lunch discussion yesterday with valued Loyal Readers and co-chairs for Asia Yuki Tatsumi and Yun Sun, with CSIS's Bonnie Glaser joining. Strong emotions at the realization that Alan Romberg, the long-time Stimson mentor on all things Asia, but especially China-Taiwan, was not sitting with his proteges.

Much sophisticated rumination on the new Taiwan Travel Act and what level of official USG representation would be sent to conduct normal business relations...and what the "red lines" might be of China's reaction to any Cabinet level reps being sent.

Consensus reminds that the language of the TTA is non-binding desires, and full of "should", not "must" exhortations, and so Beijing can, if it chooses, react long as Trump recognizes certain realities, such as not sending Sec. Def. Mattis, or Sec. St. Pompeo.

A "test" of redlines may come if, as the following Asia Times article speculates, Acting A/S St. Asia Susan Thornton is sent out for the new AIT office opening. DAS's are one thing, and even Cabinet or sub-Cabinet senior officials from Commerce, and other business, trade, agriculture and humanitarian-related departments...OK in the past.

High level State or DOD? Hummm...we'll see. It was also agreed that US Navy port calls, to mix a metaphor...certainly a bridge too far.

Similarly, the language on Taiwan officials, including Pres. Tsai, being allowed to "transit" in the US should, as in the past, be acceptable to Beijing so long as they don't come down to Washington, for example.

It was agreed that China's increasingly unsatisfactory performance in Hong Kong has "succeeded" only in making it even less likely that the rising generation of Taiwanese citizens will be even remotely interested in "one country/two systems". And as polls have been showing for years, Taiwanese now think of themselves as "Taiwanese"...while "China" is a place they want to visit, and when possible to work and make money. Only. in other venues, Bonnie and company agreed that the potential danger point in Cross Strait relations would come if Pres. Xi seems to be getting seriously impatient and/or attempts to somehow force Taiwan to take certain steps or make certain commitments about unification.

Consensus was that certainly the Trump Administration seems sincere in wanting to "upgrade" the level of officials visiting Taiwan. Scroll down for Taiwan-scholar and Loyal Reader Dave Brown's exploration of how things might play out...many of Dave's points were covered by Bonnie, Yuki and Yun, so we won't repeat their versions:

Asia Times
'Very senior official' to open de facto US embassy complex

The new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan is scheduled to open in June, with top State Department personnel rumored to attend


A "very high-ranking" official from the US State Department is likely to visit Taiwan in June to officiate at the opening of the new compound of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT), Washington's de facto embassy in Taipei's Neihu district, Liberty Times and Taipei Times have reported, citing a Taiwanese government official.

On Strengthening US-Taiwan Relations
By David G. Brown

For the past 18 months, China has been putting increasing economic, diplomatic, military and psychological pressure on Taiwan to get President Tsai Ing-wen to accept Beijing's one China position. Predictably, Washington has responded to these pressures by strengthen its support for and ties with Taipei. The US Congress has adopted legislation recommending further enhancements to political and security ties. Beijing has objected to the Taiwan Travel Act and to provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, while ignoring the reality that these actions were in large part a reaction to its pressures on the Tsai administration.

Since the new congressional acts are sense-of-congress legislation, the Trump administration has flexibility on how they will be implemented. Past practice provides some guidelines on how these new tools can be used to best advantage.

The most important guideline is that changes should be implemented in close consultation with Taiwan. Consultations are particularly important now because President Trump's tweets and posturing have created considerable anxiety in Taiwan. Since the Chen Shui-bian era, the US has been urging Taipei to consult on any significant actions affecting US interests. The goal has been a surprise free relationship. The Tsai administration has taken US interest into account and consulted closely. Generally, Washington has reciprocated by keeping Taiwan informed. However, President Trump's unpredictable statements have undermined the mutual trust that is the basis of a solid US-Taiwan relationship.

There is a recurring fear that Taiwan will be treated as a pawn or bargaining chip in US-China relations. The President's recent trade actions against China have reignited these fears. That incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton has advocated using the "Taiwan card" to counter PRC assertiveness will sustain such fears. Regrettably, these fears undermine confidence in the US as a friend and partner. The way to counter those fears is to treat the US-Taiwan relationship as something that is important in its own right and to consult closely with the Tsai administration about any proposed changes. It is also important to recognize that US-Taiwan and Taiwan-mainland relations are crucial domestic policy issues affecting President Tsai future. Unilateral actions, even well intentioned ones, will further undermine confidence in the US and our interests in Taiwan.

Past practice shows the wisdom of taking pragmatic steps to improve relations rather than focusing on symbolic actions. The primary US interest in Taiwan is to maintain the peace that will ensure that Taiwan can prosper free from coercion. Taiwan faces real security threats from an increasingly capable PLA. Washington has been engaged in a quiet dialogue about the best ways to address those threats. As Beijing will likely continue to increase the pressure on Taiwan, concrete steps to strengthen Taiwan's self defense capabilities and to develop US-Taiwan security cooperation are justified and should be implemented.

Some concrete firsts steps might include: establishing a pattern of the routine approval of individual arms sales as they are agreed; a first US-Taiwan joint search and rescue operation, and sending a serving flag officer observer at Taiwan's annual military exercise. Grander proposals to sell next generation aircraft raise deterrence strategy and budget priority issues. Taiwan will need new more advanced aircraft, but which planes at what cost and with what priority is yet to be decided.

Traditionally, Taipei sought symbolic signs of US support; The Tsai administration appears to be placing greater importance on substantive improvements. That is to be encouraged. Gradually increasing practical support in response to PRC actions will convey reassurance. While unilateral symbolic actions will likely undermine Taiwan's confidence in the prudence and predictability of US policy.

Past practice has also shown the wisdom of acting without unnecessary publicity. Just do it. The administration should implement improvements incrementally, emphasizing that they do not represent changes in our long standing one China policy. One can count on the Taiwan press to examine the facts minutely. The Taiwan public knows how to read between the lines. At a time when, the public is concerned about perceived US unpredictability, concrete steps accompanied by affirmations of policy continuity will be reassuring and contribute to confidence in the US. Of course, some actions will occur in public. Yet, in general, the less said the better.

Whatever specific steps are taken, Beijing will object. They have their own positions. It is there standard practice to accuse the US as being the one responsible for creating problems in US-China relations. In fact, to a large extent recent congressional support for strengthening US-Taiwan relations is a reaction to Beijing's pressure on Taiwan and its more assertive actions in East Asia generally.
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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Trump will not follow the existing framework of cooperation between China and US. He will break any rule o change the status quote. In this struggle for dominance, there will be only one winner between US and China. Time for Taiwan to ride the wave and be an opportunist. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times"...The storm is coming...