New British prime minister could be great news for Taiwan

Boris Johnson is the new UK prime minister, and his Brexit determination and strong US ties offer huge opportunities for Taiwan

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(By Wikimedia Commons)

A fascinating letter from a Taiwanese-American reader was published in The Atlantic recently. The author explained that she was caught in a quandary on her views of US President Donald Trump.

On the one hand, she was fundamentally and fiercely opposed to almost all of his domestic policies, and on the other hand, she recognized that he is the most pro-Taiwan US President in a very long time.

She is not alone. There are many, not only in the Taiwanese-American community but in Taiwan itself and around the world, who share her dilemma.

For all of Donald Trump’s perceived failings, his willingness to stand up to China is something that the whole world should welcome and back him on. After all, the Chinese Communist regime is a threat not only to Taiwan but to peace and security around the world.

Prime Minister Boris

Up until now, the Trump administration has been facing off with China pretty much on its own. But now the UK has a new prime minister, and with Boris Johnson ensconced in 10 Downing Street, that could all be about to change.

Like Trump, Boris Johnson, or simply Boris, as people refer to him, is a polarizing politician. Voters in the UK either love him or hate him. But he has a number of qualities few on either side would deny. He is a fantastic orator and just about all of his speeches are witty, powerful, and resonant.

He is a politician with a track record of winning too. Boris was twice elected as the Conservative Party mayor of London, a city which has always leaned far more towards the rival Labour Party and still does to this day.

Boris is also a politician of principle. He sticks to his beliefs and he seeks to deliver on them in office. He has a track record of doing this as mayor of London, he resigned as foreign secretary when he was able to do so in government, and in his first speech to the House of Commons as prime minister, he made it clear he plans to do so again.

Now this will not please everybody because not everyone shares his principals. But there are two pretty strong reasons why Boris' becoming prime minister should be good news for Taiwan.

The opportunity of Brexit

The first reason is Brexit – the term used to describe Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. This decision was made back in 2016, when more than 17.4 million British people voted to leave.

Three years on and the previous British government, led by former Prime Minister Theresa May, has failed to deliver on this huge democratic mandate, leading to something of a crisis of democracy in the UK.

But Boris has been clear. Britain will leave the European Union on the latest deadline, which is the 31st of October. They will seek to reach an agreement with the EU on how to leave, but if this proves impossible, as the EU has intimated, they will leave without one.

Either outcome is great news for Taiwan because once freed from the shackles of the EU’s burdensome trade policies and regulations, the UK will be able to sign free trade agreements with everyone.

Boris has been clear that work to get these agreements in place is already underway and will be redoubled. Taiwan should be seeking to shoulder its way to the front of the queue.

As the world’s 22nd largest trading economy, Taiwan will be pretty high on the UK’s list of countries to do a deal with. The UK is already one of Taiwan’s top 15 trading partners with US$3.8 billion of annual trade between the two countries.

Last year, the British minister for trade policy visited Taiwan and met with President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文). At that meeting, Tsai spoke of her desire to deepen trading links between Taiwan and the UK.

With Boris now at the helm in Britain and the opportunity of Brexit imminent, both the Tsai Administration and the Taipei Representative Office in the UK should be in overdrive to try and get a mutually beneficial free trade agreement in place at the earliest opportunity.

The UK backing the USA over China

The other big opportunity for Taiwan is Britain’s support for US foreign policy, particularly in relation to China.

Boris is very much an Americophile. He loves the USA and places great importance on the so-called "Special Relationship" between the two countries.

Furthermore, Boris gets on well with Trump. They share the same free-market values, the same knack for rhetoric, and some critics would say the same hairdresser.

Trump has welcomed Boris' rise to prime minister and suggested it is good news for UK-US relations. Boris will no doubt be happy to reciprocate these good wishes, and the stage appears set for a huge upsurge in Anglo-American relations.

A free trade deal with the USA is, of course, very important for the UK. But the US is a vital military and diplomatic ally too. Those relations have been put under strain of late, not least after cables from the UK ambassador to Washington were leaked revealing that he didn’t exactly hold Trump in great esteem.

Boris will quickly look to put right those wrongs and appears likely to back America in its stance on the world stage. That could well include toughening up the global stance on Communist China, which is throwing its weight about both economically and politically.

The other big factor that could push Boris to take a tougher line with China is Hong Kong. Under international law, the UK still has the right to a say in the city's governance, but to date, the Chinese Communist Party has dismissed this right and told the UK to butt out.

Unlike his predecessor, Boris is not the sort of person to take such threats lying down, and it is quite conceivable that with Trump by his side, he could push for sanctions or even international involvement in the treatment of democracy protestors in Hong Kong.

That is certainly what the protestors themselves are hoping for. On the day of Boris’ appointment as prime minister by the Queen, they published an open letter on a hugely influential British political blog, calling for exactly that.

Taiwan should be working hard behind the scenes to encourage the UK to take Trump’s side against Communist China and stand firm for the rights of the people in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang/East Turkestan, and the many other minority groups who suffer oppression and persecution at the hands of the regime.

It will take a coalition of democracies to bring the Chinese Communist Party to heel, and with Trump in the White House and Boris in Number 10, the world may never get a better opportunity.

Like Trump, Boris’ domestic agenda may not be to everybody’s liking. But there is no denying that he is likely to be a more pro-Taiwan prime minister than many of his predecessors.

And like the author of that letter to the Atlantic, people need to put those concerns to one side in the greater interest of their own country: Taiwan.