U.S. scholars see President Tsai's China policy as pragmatic

2017/08/12 18:13:59 fontsize-small fontsize-default fontsize-big
Patrick Cronin, a senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

Patrick Cronin, a senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)

Washington, Aug. 11 (CNA) U.S. scholars expressed positive views on President Tsai Ing-wen's (蔡英文) approach toward China during a conference in Washington on Friday, saying she has been dealing with Beijing in a careful and relatively conservative manner.

Tsai has been "an extraordinarily careful practitioner of statecraft," said Patrick Cronin, a senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), at the conference called "The Future of U.S.-Taiwan Relations in New Administrations."

Every time Tsai tries to come up with a new framework for ties with China other than the "1992 consensus" or proposes a new type of interaction across the Taiwan Strait, the Chinese government dismisses it, Cronin said.

That is because China does not want Tsai to "regain some new leverage" on cross-strait issues, and Beijing is intent on squeezing even further, including by stealing Taiwan's diplomatic allies and cutting back on the number of Chinese tourists visiting Taiwan, he said.

China has attempted through this coercive pressure to write its own rules unilaterally on cross-strait relations, which is similar to what has been happening in the South China Sea, and the answer for Tsai and for U.S. President Donald Trump in each situation should be to say "no," Cronin argued.

The two leaders' responses have been different, however, with Tsai being "more careful" in dealing with China, while Trump has been more "audacious" in trying to find a better bargaining position.

Cross-strait ties have cooled since Tsai took office in May 2016, mainly due to her refusal to heed Beijing's calls to accept the "1992 consensus" as the sole political foundation of cross-strait exchanges.

The "1992 consensus" refers to a tacit understanding reached in 1992 between China and Taiwan, which was then under a Kuomintang government, that there is only one China, with both sides free to interpret what that means.

The Tsai administration has said that it remains committed to peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, urging Beijing to be more flexible to jointly establish a new model for cross-strait interaction.

Meanwhile, Scott Kastner, another participant in Friday's conference, said cross-strait relations are relatively stable despite the recent uptick in tensions because the scenarios in which China might use a militarily coercive approach to Taiwan are relatively unlikely to happen, in part due to Tsai's approach.

One scenario is that Beijing uses military coercion to push Taiwan to adopt more accommodating policies toward China, including the "one China" principle, said Kastner, an associate professor at University of Maryland's Department of Government and Politics.

But that would seem unlikely to happen, because it is "generally recognized that it's easier to make coercive threats to deter changes to the status quo than it is to use coercive threats to try to compel changes to the status quo," he noted.

Also, any type of coercion to compel a change in the status quo seems less necessary today, Kastner said, given that Tsai's government "has been quite conservative in its approach to cross-strait relations" and has refrained from "challenging the status quo in a way that we saw in the Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) administration."

The United States was critical of Taiwan during the Chen administration (from 2000 to 2008) and saw Taiwan as "a troublemaker that was pursuing destabilizing policies," he said.

"I think the U.S. would be much more sympathetic to Taiwan" in the scenario where China appears to be trying to compel changes to the status quo rather than deterring changes, he said.

On the Taiwan security issue, Cronin said that Taiwan to be free from coercion depends on many factors, including U.S. military power projection. But "at the foundation is a strong defense," he added.

(By Elaine Hou and Rita Cheng)
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