Exit of pro-China Obama officials may signal shift toward Taiwan as well

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Parris H. Chang

At the recently-concluded U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) in Washington, top U.S. officials sternly rebuked China’s behavior in cybertheft and demanded that China terminate its island-building spree in the South China Sea, which has heightened tensions in the region.

At the opening of the S&ED on June 23, Vice President Joe Biden Jr. bluntly stated that China was not a “responsible competitor” in cyber space.

U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED)“Nations that use cybertechnology as an economic weapon, or profits from the theft of intellectual property,” he said, “are sacrificing tomorrow’s gains for short-term gains today.”

Secretary of State John Kerry also criticized China for plans to expand construction of outposts in waters in South China Sea that are in dispute with neighboring nations.

At an international security conference, also known as the Shangri-la Dialogue, in Singapore on May 30, the U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter called on China to stop construction of new islands and military installations on the new islands, as China has built 2,000 acres of land on the outcroppings in the last 18 months and created a runway at Fiery Cross Reef for fighter jets.

To reduce tensions with the U.S. at the S&ED, Beijing announced on June 23, one week prior to the Washington Forum, that China would confine its island building to seven reefs and shoals, and would soon stop construction in the South China Sea.

Even more important, Beijing wishes to remove this and other potential trouble issues, which could poison the forthcoming Obama-Xi Jinping summit.

At the invitation of President Obama, President Xi is scheduled to make his first state visit to the U.S. in September; hence Chinese officials may feel compelled to take actions to make Xi’s state visit smooth and a success.

There are clear signs that the U.S. is implementing its “pivot to Asia-Pacific” (or rebalance) strategy in earnest and is strengthening alliances with its allies (Japan and the Philippines), and cooperation with partners (Vietnam and Taiwan), to cope with China’s rising hegemonism in the region.

Changing mood and political dynamics in Washington may have also induced shift in the U.S. policies. In addition to China’s expansionism in Asia Pacific and its persistent cyberattacks on U.S. government and commercial sites, the U.S.-China disputes over trade and human rights, among others, have prompted congressional leaders and analysts from across the political spectrum to call for a “far more active role” from the U.S. and a “policy of containment” against China.

Matt Salmon, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific was critical of the U.S. One China policy, during a hearing last month, called on the U.S. to “tweak that policy.”

Underlining these changes are the abrupt departures of two high ranking pro-China officials from the Obama administration last month. One was the most senior U.S. intelligence official on China Paul Heer.

According to national security expert and correspondent Bill Gertz, Heer “was known for a steadfast bias that sought to play down the various threats posed by China in favor of more conciliatory views.”

The other was U.S. National Security Council (NSC) senior China specialist Evan Medeiros who, Gertz said, was “regarded by critics as among the most pro-China policy-makers.”

Gertz quoted Congressional Republican as saying Medeiros was behind the White House decision to deny sales of advanced U.S. F-16 jet fighters to Taiwan.

Medeiros was extensively involved in the U.S. relations with Taiwan and China.

When Tsai Ing-wen, the presidential candidate of the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), visited Washington in September 2011, Medeiros was reported to have “sabotaged” her chances in 2012 by telling Financial Times that the Obama administration had doubts whether Tsai was able and willing to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.

As a matter of fact, the Obama administration also took actions to help the KMT incumbent President Ma Ying-jeou’s reelection in 2012.

Even since 1990, Beijing has made effort to influence Taiwan’s each and every presidential election, in an attempt to recruit a possible Taiwan quisling.

Observers here and abroad, and especially Taiwan’s attentive public were shocked to see the Obama administration behave like the Chinese Communists to interfere and undermine Taiwan’s democratic process.

Worse, many Taiwanese people were resentful as the U.S. committed a huge political mistake by helping install an inept, dogmatic, egocentric and dysfunctional Ma Ying-jeou to be Taiwan’s president for four more years.

Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement and the KMT candidates’ landslide defeats in the nine-in-one elections in 2014 are unmistakable manifestations of popular rejection of Ma’s regime and his pro-China policies.

There are discernible signs everywhere in Taiwan’s polity today that the KMT will be out of power in the national elections next January, and the DPP presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen will be Taiwan’s next president — and first female president.

The U.S. sees the writings on the wall, hence when chairwoman Tsai visited Washington last month, Medeiros was highly courteous and friendly in his his reception of the Tsai delegation. With painstaking effort he helped arrange her schedule, including a meeting at the NSC on June 3.

Medeiros did not call the Financial Times or any paper this time, but he quit his NSC job the following day.

By most accounts, Tsai’s U.S. visit was highly successful. Her policy statement on maintaining the status quo in the cross-strait relations at the NSC, Department of State, and the Capitol Hill appear to have gone well, as there was no expression of concern, nor U.S. pressure on Tsai to accept the so-called “1992 Consensus” that Chinese leader Xi Jinping has defined as the indispensable cornerstone of the cross-strait relations.

Has the U.S. given Tsai “wrong” message?

Chinese Central Military Commission Deputy Chairman Gen. Fan Changlong, who made a high profile visit to the U.S. in mid-June, seems to be concerned. In a press conference, he urged the U.S. to abide by Beijing’s “one China” policy and refrain from “sending wrong messages to the forces seeking [Taiwan] independence.”

Will Beijing try once again to influence Taiwan’s next presidential elections? Inasmuch as the probable KMT candidate Ms. Hung Hsiu-chu, vice chairwoman of Legislative Yuan, is a pro-China ideologue and favors fast cross-strait economic and political integration, Beijing may find her preferable. On the other hand, however, Hung is out of sync with the mainstream political spectrum, and many KMT officials consider her a poor and self-defeating candidate.

In any case, most voters in Taiwan value the principle of the “consent of the governed” and wish to freely choose their next president without external interference or pressure.

The U.S. should respect the rights of the Taiwan people to select their next leader and determine their future. The U.S. and other democratic nations need to safeguard and support Taiwan’s free choice and democratic system by opposing any undue interference and obstruction by third parties.

Parris H. Chang is Professor-Emeritus of political science at the Pennsylvania State University and President of Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.

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