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Presidential diplomacy deserves support

Presidential diplomacy deserves support

Editorial: Presidential diplomacy deserves support

Within a week after its inauguration, the administration of President Tsai Ing-wen has already gone off to a quick start, pushing proposals for reform in areas as diverse as the judiciary, transportation and national parks.
Most noted though has been its involvement on the foreign front, where some pressing matters which erupted before the May 20 swearing-in already needed a solution, or at least proposals to move in the right direction.
While boasting of having improved relations with Japan to their warmest level in several decades, the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou left office amid one of the periods of highest tension with Tokyo.
Last month, the Japanese detained a Taiwanese fishing trawler and its crew near the previously nearly unheard-of Okinotori area. After money changed hands, the Taiwanese captain and his ship were allowed to return home, but the issue continued to fester, with Taiwan and Japan indulging in a tug of war over whether Okinotori was a mere reef or a real island.
Tokyo said it was an island, allowing it to enforce the restrictions of a 200-nautical-mile economic exclusion zone, while the Ma Administration saw the 9-square-meter area as a reef or atoll, which meant Taiwanese fishing trawlers would be allowed to operate.
As the Tsai Administration took over, promises to the fishermen to protect them remained, but it became clear that talks would take place by the end of July where both sides could sit down and discuss bilateral issues in a peaceful atmosphere.
The move showed that the new government prefers negotiation over confrontation, without giving up protecting the rights of Taiwanese people.
A second foreign policy item which the new government had to deal with immediately after taking office was the invitation to the World Health Assembly in Geneva.
While sending the minister of health and welfare to Switzerland should not have been a problem, an unexpected problem emerged when the invitation from the World Health Organization included a demand that Taiwan call itself “Chinese Taipei” and “respect One China,” a formula clearly inspired by meddling from Beijing.
Minister Lin Tzou-yien went ahead and left for Geneva with his delegation, which included legislators from four different parties. He succeeded in encountering delegates from other countries, even from the United States and China, and delivered a five-minute address.
While his speech did include the term “Chinese Taipei,” which met with criticism from inside Taiwan, he nevertheless put across the case for the country taking part in the global fight against disease and contributing to the international community in a positive way. It was China which was trying to abuse its position for a round of political bullying, with Taiwan merely standing up for its rights and focusing on health policies, not ideology.
Lin also handed in a letter of protest against the mention of the “One China” formula in the invitation, again emphasizing Taiwan’s readiness to contribute to the world on medical and hygiene issues.
Foreign challenges are unlikely to stop any time soon, but President Tsai herself is soon destined to travel overseas for her first foreign visit since taking office.
Diplomatic ally Panama invited her even before her inauguration to attend June 26 ceremonies surrounding the extension of the Panama Canal. While traveling to Latin America, she will also take the opportunity to visit Taiwan’s only ally in continental South America, Paraguay.
As always, the voyage will also involve stopovers in the United States, likely this time to be Miami, Florida, and Los Angeles, California. In addition to U.S. politicians and government officials during those transit stops, the Panama Canal event is also expect to provide Tsai with opportunities to meet other heads of state and government leaders from the region and beyond.
Speaking at the Legislative Yuan earlier this week, Foreign Minister David Lee announced his intention to conduct “presidential diplomacy,” in other words to have President Tsai meet as many allied heads of state as possible.
Lee, a veteran of the nation’s foreign relations, said the method would be effective in strengthening relations between countries as leaders could exchange views face-to-face.
Taiwan has 22 official allies, including only one in Europe, the Vatican State, which might be more difficult to visit than the others because of its location and the absence of an airport. Previous presidents only visited the Holy See on special occasions, such as the inauguration of a new Pope.
Lee’s policy proposals deserve the full support of the Legislative Yuan and of the public, since the most visible way of bringing Taiwan into the news is having its first female president travel overseas.
Even where Taiwan has no allies and the president is unlikely to be welcomed, it can still attract positive attention by sending ministers or participating in humanitarian, ecological and development projects.
The formation of a special department at the Presidential Office to promote the “New Southward Policy” to strengthen links with Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent is also a positive new development. The president is unlikely to visit any of the countries included in the near future, but the department should make haste in expanding trade, economic, cultural and other links with a region likely to function as an alternative focus to the China that was overemphasized by the Ma Administration.


Updated : 2021-01-20 08:59 GMT+08:00