Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Nelson Report on the Bolton/Taiwan Story in the Economist


Nelson Report, April 10, 2018

THE BOLTON/TAIWAN "STORY"...we have heard from our valued Economist colleague, fellow scribbler Dom Ziegler, his original piece having been substantially mis-reported by others!

And as a long-time fan of all puns, good and otherwise... huge congrats to the copy editor who came up with the sub-head "there Xi blows"...Melville would be proud.


Hi Chris,

I'm grateful to Yun Sun for pointing out that, on her reading, last week's Banyan column was not actually saying John Bolton might go to open the new AIT building in Taipei--whatever the rather breathless speculation made of the column in Taiwan.

Just to say I absolutely did not mean to imply that we had heard Bolton might be going to Taiwan. Not least, when I wrote the column last week, he was not even a member of the administration. And David Brown's description yesterday of Taipei's concern not to be sucked into a US-China confrontation is surely right. The Economist's conversations with folk in Taipei underscore a strong degree of circumspection from Tsai Ing-wen and her administration when it comes the Taiwan Travel Act--and it's possible here to overestimate the pressure she's feeling from the Deep Greens.[MT--kudos to Ziegler for noting this. Most other media sources are playing up this angle. Indeed, one of the Deep Green complaints about Tsai is that she is ignoring them.]

Lastly, Yun is of course right in pointing out that the National Security Advisor is not a cabinet member. But the travel act does interestingly call for US policy to allow (my italics): "officials at all levels of the United States Government, including Cabinet-level national security officials, general officers, and other executive branch officials, to travel to Taiwan to meet their Taiwanese counterparts".

The column is below in case it's behind your paywall.

All the best,


Nelson Report, April 9, 2018

THE BOLTON TO TAIWAN STORY TURNS OUT TO BE...sort of a mistake, notes Loyal Reader Yun Sun, Stimson, to whom huge thanks for this:


Hi, Chris:

I double-checked the article by The Economist since that seems to be the source everyone is quoting. Here are the two references The Economist made about Bolton:

"Yet a shift of sorts is under way. In January one pro-Taiwan China hawk, Randall Schriver, was put in charge of Asia-Pacific policy at the Pentagon. A more prominent hawk, John Bolton, is about to become Mr Trump's national security adviser. And in March Alex Wong, the official in charge of Indo-Pacific strategy at the State Department, was in Taipei to deliver a speech. "

"A test comes in the summer, when America opens a gleaming building in Taipei to house its unofficial embassy, with rumours that a member of the cabinet may attend. Mr Bolton's presence might genuinely alarm China. Alternatively, it might interpret the Trump administration's steps over Taiwan as a mere prop to pressure on trade."

I don't think the original article was suggesting that Bolton could go to Taiwan. And correct me if I'm wrong- National Security Advisor is not a member of cabinet (see here for the composition of the Trump Cabinet) He can of course go to Taiwan, but that is not the point The Economist article was making.

But, since people are all quoting/misquoting that article, it may have just become an option...



DAVID BROWN, long-time US-Taiwan hand at SAIS, with some Adult Supervision:


Rumors rumors rumors! Bolton is of course a wild card. Do any of us know what is on his mind on this issue? I am confident that those in state, defense, NSC understand the issue. It would be a huge policy change, with profound implications for US-China relations, which are already under too much strain.

I'm sure US participation in the office opening is and will be coordinated with Taipei. I believe Taipei would think long and hard about Bolton's participation. Domestic politics would pull Tsai one way and national security considerations another. There is real concern in Taipei about being sucked into a US-China confrontation. Despite talk of never stronger relations, trust in the US seems to be declining.



Incoming US national security advisor John Bolton could visit Taiwan in June to attend opening of new AIT
By Keoni Everington,Taiwan News, Staff Writer

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- U.S. President Donald Trump's pick for the new national security advisor, John Bolton, could visit Taiwan in June, when the new American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) is slated to open, according the Economist.

...... [remainder removed]. The Economist never said Bolton would visit, but everyone is so supercharged by the name BOLTON that people were prepared to believe he'd show up in Taipei riding an auroch and wielding thunderbolts, with an army of deathless zombies in his wake. Some calm would be nice. Even if Bolton shows up in Taipei nothing will happen except that Taiwan government officials will have to attend meetings with him in the middle of a busy election run-up. Punishment enough. Believe me, free elections here torment Beijing far more than John Bolton's presence could...
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