Each foreign voyage of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen turns out to be a significant event of the Big Global Game which is increasingly centered on the intricate relations between the two leading world superpowers (the US and China).
The Big Game and the island with a total population of 24 million at first sight seem rather distant from one another, even if Taiwan is one of the four Asian economic tigers.
However, the NEO has more than once explained why almost every event in and around Taiwan has recently contributed significantly to the general ongoing degradation in the relations between the two main world players. Especially such events as the Taiwan President’s foreign trips which are always accompanied by short visits to the US along the way. Actually, this latter feature is a subject of China’s publicly expressed discontent.
The latest tour is no exception. It began on July 11 and lasted for 10 days covering four island states of the Caribbean Region from which three (Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Saint Lucia) are really tiny nations with a total population of a little over 300,000. It is unlikely that 99.9% of people on Earth have ever heard of their existence.
Already during the planning stage for the Taiwan president’s trip, the Chinese Foreign Ministry protested against the (announced in advance) visits to the US territory along the way.
All the three aforementioned Caribbean countries (plus Haiti where the official tour of madam Tsai Ing-wen began) are among the 17 countries which continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Part of them are located on the islands of comparable size in the Pacific Ocean, which hosted the previous foreign tour (in March this year) of Tsai Ing-wen, also including a visit to the US territory (namely to the Hawaiian Islands).
During the July trip around the aforementioned Caribbean countries, there was nothing really remarkable. In Saint Lucia, madam Tsai Ing-wen addressed the local parliament (which includes a total of 11 senators and 17 congressmen); in Saint Kitts and Nevis (a state with a total population of 43,000), she was awarded a commemorative medal.
However, as an experienced politician, she undoubtedly had incomparable satisfaction from what looked like a side effect of this whole official event. Namely, those along-the-way visits to the US which actually comprised its main content. Because, given the today’s realities of the Big Global Game, both for Taipei and Washington, the priority is restoring the format of the bilateral relations which existed before 1979. When, given the Cold War with the USSR, for the purpose of making a (quasi) ally of the People’s Republic of China, the US had to partially sacrifice the relations with Taiwan, one of its most devoted Asian allies.
The US foreign policy in Eastern Asia today is aimed at de-facto leveling its obligations to Beijing as the capital of the only China and a gradual transformation of the US-Taiwan ties in regular interstate relations, which is completely in line with the objectives of the Democratic Progressive Party ruling Taiwan today and represented by President Tsai Ing-wen.
One of the key components of the aforementioned process is formalizing the interaction between the high-ranking officials of the US and Taiwan. This is to be promoted by the law adopted in the US in March last year. The act is being implemented gradually as well. In particular, by expanding the scale and duration of the transit services rendered to madam Tsai Ing-wen in the US territory during her travel to the countries which Taiwan maintains official diplomatic relations with.
A noticeable progress in this respect was shown during the voyage of the Taiwan President in the Caribbean countries at whose beginning and end she paid short visits, respectively, to New York and Denver (the capital of Colorado). She spent two days in each of these cities.
This nuance would mean that nearly half of the time of the alleged tour to the aforementioned countries Tsai Ing-wen actually spent in the US territory. Here, she addressed the Taiwan diaspora alongside various US officials (governors, senators, members of the House of Representatives of the US Congress) who were present. The speeches differed in nature. In particular, in New York (in the Columbia University lecture hall) madam Tsai Ing-wen with an apparent nostalgia remembered the times of her carefree youth as a student while doing her degree at the prestigious Cornell University located not far from New York. Back then she used to wander for hours in the streets of the big city with her friends. Very touching, one could almost cry.
However, realpolitik does not believe in tears, as well as other manifestations of human emotions. And the fact that what we have here is a cold-bloodied politician who can adequately assess the actual international situation, as well as the objectives and opportunities of the incumbent Taiwan leadership therein was shown by the events in Denver.
During her speech at the banquet organized in her honor in a local hotel (instead of the governor’s residence), she welcomed her “dear friends,” namely (Democratic) Governor Jared Polis, (Republican) Senator Cory Gardner, Congressman (member of the US House Committee on Armed Services) Doug Lamborn “and, of course, [her] old friend Moriarty” (that is, James F. Moriarty, the head of the de-facto US Embassy to Taiwan).
After repeating the core statements she had made at Columbia University and reminding the public about the mainland China protest group demonstration at the entrance to the lecture hall, she said, among other things: “Every day, Taiwan firmly resists the growing threats and pressure. Over the three years of my presidency, I have struggled to make the voice of the Taiwan people heard. And I intend to do that for the following four years.”
One has to take note of madam Tsai Ing-wen’s clear understanding of the nature of the audience she addressed, as well as her skill in structuring her speech and bringing its main message to the listeners. In particular, the extremely important information that she is determined to participate in the coming presidential election which is due next year. While, quite recently, after the local administration elections which ended with a bitter defeat for the DPP, such participation did not seem obvious at all.
The incumbent Taiwan President evidently begins to position herself as the leader of the nation. Her command over the recent maneuvers of the Taiwan Naval Forces on the defense against an attack from the notorious terrorists in the port of Taipei became a remarkable event in this respect. With a bouquet of roses in her hands and an officer baseball cap on the head, she made a tremendous effect onboard the Taiwan frigate.
Finally, let us once again emphasize that both parties of the US-Taiwan relations operate in sync on their way to achieving their shared objective described above. In particular, the declaration by the Pentagon of its intention to sell (another) batch of US weapons to Taiwan for an amount of $2.2 billion, as well as passing the Taiwan Assurance Act through the House of Representatives of the Congress of H. R. 2002-Taiwan Assurance Act of 2019 were timed to coincide with the transit through the US territory discussed here.
Beijing’s reaction to the process of upgrading the quality of the US-Taiwan relations was exactly as expected. Among the latest counter-measures, let us name the suspension of the trial program for free visiting of Taiwan by the mainland Chinese from 47 cities of China located near the Taiwan Strait. Which undoubtedly (and negatively) affects the tourism industry of Taiwan.
In late July, a series of short-term maneuvers of the Chinese Naval Forces “including firing practice” was held near the Taiwan territorial waters. Let us remind the reader that, in July as well, the new version of China’s National Defense White Paper was published, where the possibility of resolving the Taiwan issue in a military way was emphasized.
Another noteworthy event was the publication of an article on the negative impact of the policy of the currently ruling Democratic Progressive Party on the future of Taiwan by the Global Times on August 1. Let us remind the reader that Tsai Ing-wen is the informal leader of this party.
In conclusion, let us note the unanimous opinion of the commentators (in particular, those from the New York Times) in regard of the latest foreign tour of the Taiwan President that its results fit in the general context of the present condition of comprehensive degradation of the relations between the two leading world superpowers.
Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.