Different priorities for Tsai, Han in U.S. relations: former AIT chair

Taiwan presidential candidates have different priorities in their relations with the United States, according to former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Richard Bush

WASHINGTON (CNA) — Taiwanese presidential candidates Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) and Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) have different priorities in their relations with the United States, former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Richard Bush said Wednesday.

If President Tsai, the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) candidate, wins re-election, she will likely “try to continue the balancing act she has endeavored to carry out” between the U.S. and China, Bush said.

If Han of the opposition Kuomintang is elected, Bush continued, he will try to “reassure the U.S.” that he is realistic about the challenges posed by China and the continuing importance of Taiwan-U.S. relations.

Bush, who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a U.S. research institute, made the remarks as part of a wide-ranging analysis of Taiwan’s domestic politics and geopolitical challenges while participating in a forum in Washington.

Regarding Taiwan’s relations with the U.S., Bush said the administrations of former President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and Tsai have been able to reassure the U.S. that “their intentions on cross-Taiwan Strait matters were benign and aligned pretty well with U.S. interests.”

Currently, with U.S. President Donald Trump’s emphasis on strategic competition in U.S.-China relations, Taiwan has become a strategic asset for the U.S., Bush said.

Despite the importance of the relationship, Bush acknowledged that U.S. policy toward Taiwan “doesn’t always seem coherent,” adding that he felt it would be more appropriate to refer to “multiple U.S. policies,” depending on the situation.

Although the U.S. offers Taiwan broad support in defense matters, he explained, on the economic side, as the U.S. cracks down on technology transfers to China, many Taiwanese companies are being pressured to choose between the U.S. and China in business matters.

Added to this is the factor of Trump himself, who has raised questions around his willingness to come to the assistance of U.S. allies, Bush said.

Nevertheless, Bush said he expects continuity in the U.S. approach to Taiwan, regardless of who wins the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

In response to a question about Taiwan-China relations, Bush said the latter country had opted for a middle route in its approach to Taiwan, which he characterized as “coercion without violence.”

Bush said that under this policy, China will not target the territory or armed forces of Taiwan, but is seeking to “grind away” at the self-confidence and psychology of the population and its leaders by taking away Taiwan’s diplomatic allies, imposing economic sanctions and conducting military exercises in the vicinity of Taiwan.

In terms of Taiwan, Bush continued, it will be an interesting political question as to whether the DPP — which has a more skeptical view of China than the KMT — wins upcoming elections, not only in 2020 but also in 2024 and 2028.

Such a result, Bush said, and the reality it would reflect about Taiwanese sentiment, would be a reality that Beijing would have to deal with.