Sunday 12 May 2019

KMT disarray gives Tsai a poll advantage (Sunday Guardian)

By M D Nalapat

Tsai is quietly fashioning a security alliance with US. Should KMT return to power in 2021, such moves may be halted, as KMT is in favour of engagement with China.

TAIPEI: Where Taiwan is concerned, it was P.V. Narasimha Rao who took courage in his hands and opened a Representative Office for India in Taipei, also permitting Taiwan to do the same in Delhi. Since then, relations have moved forward, although not to the extent that the potential for synergy makes possible. Fear of a negative reaction from Beijing keeps high-level visits from mutually taking place, for example. This columnist invited the present President of the Republic of China (otherwise known as Taiwan) to India years ago. The gentle, erudite Tsai Ing-wen enjoyed her visit to the world’s most populous democracy, insisting on a non-VIP itinerary. She opted to travel by train rather than by air, and to walk to meetings in Mumbai from her hotel rather than go by car. In place of the five-star luxury of the Taj or the Oberoi, Tsai gladly stayed at the Ambassador Hotel in Churchgate, hardly the last word in luxury. On assuming office, one of President Tsai’s first steps was to initiate a Southbound Policy, that sought to shift the focus of local businesses from China to South and Southeast Asia. Since the policy came into force nearly three years ago, investment in India from Taiwan has grown substantially, although of course investment from the People’s Republic of China would be much larger, were the policy and other obstacles to investment from China to be removed.
Visitors from across the Taiwan straits watch such television shows and the abuse served in them in shock. They see that in Taiwan, even politicians in high office are not immune from verbal attack, a very different situation from that prevailing in the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where the entire nation marches to the beat of the leadership core of the Chinese Communist Party led by Xi Jinping. The new leader of the PRC is fashioned in the mould of Mao Zedong, who thought little of sending his relatively under-equipped army into battle with forces led by the United States, a nuclear power at a time when China was far from having reached that standard of lethality. Xi has repeated on three occasions that his patience is not infinite, and has hinted that he would like to see the incorporation of Taiwan into the PRC within his period in office. As term limits on the General Secretary of the CCP have been removed, it is not clear how long Xi’s term will last. However, some in Taipei who follow developments across the straits closely say that a serious effort to incorporate Taiwan into the PRC could be made around 4-6 years from now. Perhaps as a consequence, Tsai Ing-wen is quietly fashioning a security alliance with the US that is becoming more visible by the day. Of course, should the rival KMT party return to power in the 2021 Presidential elections, such moves may be halted, as the KMT is in favour of vigorous engagement with China. During the eight years that KMT leader Ma Ying-jeou was President of Taiwan, links with China multiplied exponentially. Today, there are hundreds of flights each week between the two sides of the strait, and two million Taiwanese work on the other side.
Although the KMT has regained much of the electoral ground it had lost during the last contest a little under three years ago, the problem facing the party is that there are too many wishing to be its standard bearer in the forthcoming Presidential polls. The former Mayor of New Taipei City, Eric Chu, was first off the block, followed by former Speaker Wang Jing-pin. Once a hitherto unknown KMT politician administered a shock defeat to the DPP in Taichung’s mayoral poll, the city’s newly elected Mayor Han too seems eager to test his luck at high office, this time at the national level. Just when things had become messy came Terry Guo, the Chairman of Foxconn, among the largest companies in the world. Guo believes that he has the skills needed to navigate between the competing attentions of Washington and Beijing, and ensure a high growth rate in addition. There is even an independent candidate, Taipei Mayor Ko, impatient to become President. Although there is a challenge to President Tsai for the party nomination from former Prime Minister William Lai (whose government proved so unpopular that the DPP lost heavily in the mayoral polls some months ago), it is all but certain that she will once again be the standard bearer of her party. Should she be re-elected, relations between Washington and Taipei (and therefore between Taipei and Beijing) are likely to undergo a tectonic shift. Over the past months, the US has visibly boosted its involvement with Taiwan, aware that the incorporation of the island into its Indo-Pacific plans could be a game changer, given Taiwan’s location, information technology advantages and manufacturing capacity. The American Institute of Taiwan, which in effect is the US embassy on the island, is a massive structure with personnel to match. Indeed, it is much bigger than most of the other US missions within the region. The world is witnessing a silent competition between China and the US, as the former seeks to replace US-led supply chains in services and in industry, an objective that the determined leadership of Xi Jinping is rapidly making a reality. The Chinese currency, the RMB, has joined the dollar and the euro as part of the world’s leading currencies. Across the world, Chinese companies are entering markets once the preserve of the US. Clearly the present trade war has been initiated by President Trump in an effort to get Beijing to slow down its advance, especially in technologies that will play a key role in future. It is unlikely that China will concede by reversing its drive towards global leadership in advanced technologies, hence tensions between the two giants across the Pacific Ocean (now part of the Indo-Pacific) are likely to continue. Taiwan was and remains an important theatre for this conflict, and it is no longer impossible that someday, this may swerve to military solutions. As yet, however, most people in Taiwan do not seem to be aware that storm clouds are gathering over their beautiful island.

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