Taiwan Government and International – April 2019

TOURING THE PACIFIC — President Tsai and Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. attend a tree-planting ceremony. Photo: Office of the President

Taiwan Wants to Buy F-16 Viper Aircraft

Taiwan reportedly submitted formal requests to the U.S. at the end of March to purchase M1 Abrams tanks and 66 F-16V fighter jets. Bloomberg reported that the Trump administration has given tacit approval to the proposed purchase and that President Donald Trump’s advisers had encouraged Taiwan to make the request in the first place. Wary of antagonizing China, Washington hasn’t sold advanced fighter jets to Taiwan since President George H.W. Bush announced the sale of 150 F-16s to Taiwan in 1992. The Obama administration rejected a similar Taiwanese request for new jets, agreeing instead in 2011 to help upgrade the existing F-16s.

President Calls on Taiwan’s Pacific Allies

President Tsai in late March went overseas to shore up ties with three of Taiwan’s Pacific allies: Palau, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands. The eight-day tour was given the title “Oceans of Democracy.” Beijing, angered by Tsai’s refusal to accept that Taiwan is part of China, has wooed away five of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies since Tsai’s election in 2016, whittling down the number of countries recognizing Taiwan to 17. Six of the remaining allies are outcrops in the Pacific Ocean, and China has been trying to lure them away with offers of loans and aid.

During her trip, Tsai signed sea patrol agreements with Palau and Nauru, whose parliament passed a resolution opposing the one China principle and the “one country, two systems” model. She also gave the keynote speech at an unprecedented summit of Oceanic women leaders in the Marshall Islands. On her way back to Taiwan, the president transited through Hawaii, where she accused China of attempting to alter the status quo in the Taiwan Strait during a video conference address to the conservative Heritage Foundation.

U.S. Vessels Transit the Taiwan Strait

Two U.S. warships sailed through the Taiwan Strait at the end of March, provoking a protest from Beijing, which warned the U.S. not to undermine cross-Strait relations. The vessels, Navy destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur and the Coast Guard cutter Bertholf, entered Taiwanese waters off the island’s southwest coast and headed north. The U.S. has increased such transits over the past year in response to China’s growing military pressure on Taiwan, which includes passage through the Taiwan Strait by its own aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

Taipei Mayor Visits Four U.S. Cities

Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je in mid-March set off on a nine-day trip to the U.S. that took him to New York, Atlanta, Boston, and Washington, D.C. In the U.S. capital, he visited the White House for closed-door meetings with officials from the National Security Council, Department of State, and Department of Defense. Afterwards, Ko described the U.S. as “still the most important friend of Taiwan.” The mayor also made the round of the think tanks, meeting with representatives from the Brookings Institution and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and giving a speech at the Heritage Foundation. Ko is viewed in Taiwan as a likely presidential candidate, although he has not yet declared whether he wants to run.

New U.S.-Taiwan Dialogue Channel

Foreign Minister Joseph Wu and American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen appeared together at a press conference at Taiwan’s foreign ministry – a rarely seen event – to announce that the U.S. and Taiwan had agreed to establish a new annual dialogue channel called the “Indo-Pacific Democratic Governance Consultations.” Wu said the dialogue, which will begin in Taipei this September, would allow the two sides to “grow closer and more direct in their cooperation” and “protect regional freedom and legal order.” The visiting U.S. delegation in September will be led by a senior official from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, AIT said in a statement. Overall the development reflects warming U.S-Taiwan ties.

Religious Freedom Forum Conducted

Sam Brownback, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, visited Taiwan in mid-March to attend a “Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region.” Sponsored by the U.S. State Department, the Taiwanese foreign ministry, AIT, and other organizations, the forum was the first of its kind in the region and served as a direct follow-on event to the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom hosted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington last year.

Religious leaders from more than 15 countries attended. Brownback, a former governor and senator from Kansas, called for the release of Taiwanese human rights activist Lee Ming-che, who is jailed in China. He said the case was of great concern to the U.S. government.

Kaohsiung’s Mayor Han Visits China, Hong Kong

Han Kuo-yu’s shock defeat of a DPP candidate last November to become mayor in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, previously considered a ruling party stronghold, means that many in the KMT are now eyeing him as a potential presidential candidate. Han so far has reiterated his commitment to continue to serve his constituents in Kaohsiung.

In the meantime, the new mayor –  who once described Taiwan and China as partners in an “arranged marriage” who had fallen “madly in love” – at the end of March set off on a week-long trip to Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, and Xiamen to drum up business for Kaohsiung and promote cultural exchanges. His unscheduled visits to Beijing’s liaison offices in Hong Kong and Macau drew the ire of Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chen Ming-tong, who criticized the “political sensitivity” of these first such contacts for a Taiwanese politician. DPP politicians also slammed Han for tacitly accepting China’s “one country, two systems” model, which Taiwan rejects.