Taiwan’s opposition KMT calls for official ties with US in bid to outflank President Tsai Ing-Wen

Lawrence Chung
·5-min read

Taiwan’s main opposition party Kuomintang has pushed the government of President Tsai Ing-wen to re-establish diplomatic ties with the United States, which switched recognition to Beijing in 1979.

But critics described it as a stunt designed to embarrass the government because of the impracticality of the step.

Observers also said the move – which is seen as more radical than anything advocated by Tsai’s independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party – would further undermine trust between the KMT and the mainland authorities and shatter the party’s hopes of becoming a key mediator in cross-strait relations.

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The motion was tabled by the KMT caucus during Tuesday’s session of the legislature, where the party also asked the government to seek US help in resisting actions by Beijing that would undermine its security, social and economic systems.

According to the proposals, which were unanimously approved by members of the legislature, the Tsai government should make these goals a priority.

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While some DPP legislators praised the KMT for “finally taking the right direction”, others questioned the motives behind the proposals, saying it must be a trick by the KMT.

“The KMT must be insane. Just days ago, it said restoring ties with the US would only seriously provoke the Chinese Communists, and now they are asking the government to do it,” said DPP legislator Hsu Chih-chieh.

Taiwan’s Premier Su Tseng-chang described the motions as a “rediscovery of the KMT’s conscience.”

“This is good … but the KMT must unite with us in one heart to do things which can take into account the best interests of Taiwan,” he said, adding the KMT should pay more attention to mainstream opinion.

Taiwan’s presidential spokesman Xavier Chang said the Presidential Office respected the decision of the legislature, but added: “What is more important at the present stage is to develop US-Taiwan relations on a step-by-step basis so that we can continue to deepen our defence, trade, political and other cooperation relation.”

He said Taiwan should also demonstrate its determination to defend itself and only when it is able to safeguard itself will others be able to come to the island’s aid.

The island’s foreign ministry also said that Taiwan and the US have already developed high levels of mutual trust.

“The foreign ministry will continue to deepen US-Taiwan relations to meet the expectation of the legislature when it comes to US-Taiwan relations,” it said in a statement.

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KMT legislator Chen Yu-chen said the party came up with the proposal because Taiwan’s foreign minister Joseph Wu refused to promise to restore official relations with the US.

In an interview with Washington-based National Public Radio last month, Wu said: “We are not seeking full diplomatic relations with the United States at this moment, but certainly, there’s a lot of room for us to explore how to strengthen relations between Taiwan and the United States.”

Wu continued: “Taiwan and the US should further strengthen their economic relations, trade relations, political relations, even security relations instead.”

His comments prompted KMT chairman Johnny Chiang to accuse Wu and the Tsai government of lying when they said the DPP would do all it could to expand the island’s international relations only to buckle under pressure and the weight of political reality.

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Local news media said Wu’s comments reflected US concern over Beijing’s angry response to ever-warming US-Taiwan ties, especially the recent visits of US health secretary Alex Azar and undersecretary of state Keith Krach.

Beijing reacted by sending dozens of warplanes to breach the tacitly observed median line between Taiwan and the mainland and staging the latest in a series of war games.

Beijing, which sees Taiwan as a wayward province that must be returned to the mainland fold – by force if necessary – has repeatedly warned the US against beaching its “one-China” policy by establishing formal ties with the island.

The KMT relationship with the mainland has cooled lately, as the party’s recent policy shifts have undercut Beijing’s hopes that it will act as a counterweight to the DPP.

Yen Chen-shen, a senior researcher at National Chengchi University’s Institute of International Relations, said the KMT motions were meant to embarrass the Tsai government.

“The DPP has been painting a rosy picture for the people of Taiwan, and resuming US-Taiwan ties is part of that, but given the hypersensitivity of US-Taiwan-China relations such a move would be unlikely,” Yen said.

KMT chairman Johnny Chiang accused Tsai Ing-wen’s administration of buckling. Photo: EPA-EFE
KMT chairman Johnny Chiang accused Tsai Ing-wen’s administration of buckling. Photo: EPA-EFE

But Wang Kung-yi, chairman of the Taiwan International Strategic Study Society think tank, said the KMT’s move was likely to backfire.

“The KMT hopes to use the proposals to tell the public, especially young people, it can do what the DPP couldn’t, thereby winning support from them,” Wang said.

“But it should have known better because the young generation has been brought up with a Taiwan-independence mindset and naturally sides with the DPP rather than the KMT.

“Also, by making itself look even more radical than the DPP, the KMT is tipped to further distance itself from the mainland, which would only end its hope to become the cross-strait mediator due to continuous deterioration of mutual trust the KMT uses to brag about.

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