Taipei Times

Taiwan: Tsai Works to Convince the U.S. of Democratic Progressive Party Change

Judging from the statements issued by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) during her visit to Washington and the low profile she has taken in meeting US officials, it is not very difficult to see what she is trying to achieve.

Tsai wants to create a new image for the DPP. Tsai has on several occasions said that the DPP needs a generational change to correct some of the mistakes from the past eight years, to build a new political approach and to establish a better way of supervising the government.

With the severe damage to the DPP caused by the former first family’s alleged money laundering, US officials may be gradually losing confidence in the deepening of Taiwan’s democracy. They may even believe that the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) will be in power for the long term, and so Tsai feels she must display a new style of leadership when dealing with the US.

Over the past eight years, the US has been dissatisfied with delays in policy-making that have resulted from infighting between the government and opposition in Taiwan. In particular, the US is deeply frustrated by the delay in arms purchases agreed to by US President George W. Bush in April 2001. Tsai is promoting a calmer and more rational approach to politics that aims to convince the US that something has changed.

She wants to alert the US to the fact that they must be on their guard toward the current administration’s excessive bias toward China.

The US is very pleased with the renewed talks between China and Taiwan that have resulted from President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) repeated gestures of goodwill in the three months since his inauguration.

If, however, this satisfaction is only founded on US national interests — that Taiwan will be fine in the short term so it will not interfere with the US’ need for China in dealing with Iraq, the Korean Peninsula and maybe even Georgia — then this will carry a long-term cost and the relationship between the US, China and Taiwan will become even more skewed.

In particular, some officials in the administration of US President George W. Bush disliked the way former president Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration handled the referendum issue. Because of this and warming relations between the US and China, one can frequently hear it said in Washington: “Taiwan is no longer seen by the US as a strategic asset.”

This may affect the foreign policy strategists of the US presidential candidates, and Tsai should use this visit to firmly express Taiwan’s concerns and position.

She also wants to show the US that the DPP has found a new sense of responsibility toward US-Taiwanese relations. The Bush administration’s biggest problem with the DPP’s time in government is that it manipulated elections and domestic politics without regard to US concerns.

Because Tsai has never stood in local or national elections — she has only been a DPP legislator at large — she is less restricted by electoral concerns. At the same time, she stresses that the DPP will support disadvantaged groups and the working class while supervising the government’s economic, cross-strait and diplomatic policies.

The US must have some expectations of Tsai with her clean image and new pragmatism. Although Tsai must not shrink back from attempts to safeguard Taiwan’s sovereignty during this visit, she has also promised to rebuild US-DPP relations. This move will at least let the US understand that with the DPP’s new leadership there is also a shift in the party’s international outlook.