Tsai Administration Failing in International Negotiations
By Philip Yang
United Daily News, May 21, 2021
The administration of President Tsai Ing-wen has been in office for five years. This May 20th was spent in anxiety, with water shortages, power outages, and the spread of the epidemic. Looking back on the foreign policy of the Tsai administration, the most obvious has been her pro-American and anti-China stance, in order to emphasize Taiwan’s existence and status in the world. The stance has been used to cover any standstills and danger between the two sides of the strait. When it comes to international negotiations, the policy has especially handed in a failed report card.
Here are the three of the most important examples. First, on lifting import restrictions towards American pork and beef, only Taiwan thought that the United States would be willing to restart negotiations on a bilateral economic and trade agreement in exchange. This proved illusory and has been apparent to the Taiwanese people. At the end of last year, when the President Donald Trump sent the Secretary of Health Alex Azar, who is not even an important figure in the United States, to Taiwan. He praised Taiwan as a major public health country and having achieved remarkable results in epidemic prevention. The government responded in opening imports of American pork and beef. The Tsai administration thought that Trump would open U.S.-Taiwan free trade or bilateral economic and trade agreement negotiations, but in exchange, only received the visit of the Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs to Taiwan and had a "pre-conference meeting" with our officials in a hotel.
Afterwards, then U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer publicly admitted that there was not enough time to examine U.S.-Taiwan trade issues that time, and pointed out that Taiwan still had many trade obstacles. His remarks confirmed that the Tsai administration could not effectively use Taiwan’s opening up to American pork and beef as a bargaining chip and unilaterally over-trusted the United States Department’s verbal promise, and opened up to U.S. pigs and cattle containing ractopamine, and was not able to get the Trump administration to promote bilateral trade negotiations or consultations between the United States and Taiwan.
From this situation, it is clear to see that the Tsai administration lacks the necessary strategic structure and negotiation skills when it comes to international negotiations. They not only lost favorable bargaining chips, but also domestically caused doubts about health safety and food safety. Now that Biden is the president, the Tsai administration should urge U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai in the administration of President Joe Biden to start the U.S.-Taiwan trade negotiation meetings as soon as possible based on the principle of administrative continuity.
The second example of how the Tsai administration has failed is how the government pressured firms internally to enter into negotiations on boosting semiconductor chip production. Under the influence of the U.S.-China trade and technology wars, the United States has imposed export controls on mainland technology companies, causing all parties to increase their purchase and stocking up of various types of chips; coupled with the impact of the epidemic, and the sales and exports of technology products having increased significantly, it has made Taiwan a major player in chips. At the beginning of this year, governments of various countries even directly contacted the Tsai administration for help and assistance.
Originally, this should be the scope of private business considerations. It is not suitable for excessive intervention by the government, requiring semiconductor companies to increase production or adjust production capacity. However, the Economic Affairs Minister Wang Mei-hua still came forward to coordinate supply. Under the "persuasion" of the Tsai administration, the industry has agreed to cooperate and increase production to cooperate.
The Tsai administration is proud of Taiwan’s chip achievements, but it has not maintained the attitude of safeguarding our “sacred mountain” maintaining the core of Taiwan’s economic development. The Tsai administration, however, has coordinated with foreign governments for their country’s convenience, increasing production, and squandering Taiwan’s scientific and technological achievements. In the future, if the United States pressures the establishment of supply chain control, how will the Tsai government cooperate then?
If it really wants to help the development of Taiwan’s science and technology, then the Tsai administration should be more proactive in dealing with the five shortcomings that have been repeatedly reported by the technology industry. At the same time, they should take a look at South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s recent visit to the United States. He brought along a number of Korean semiconductor companies and biopharmaceutical companies assisting Korean companies to establish a "semiconductor alliance" and a "vaccine cooperation and production mechanism" with the United States. This is how to use favorable bargaining chips to expand national interests.
The third example of failure is international negotiations to procure vaccines, to which society has paid much attention. Taiwan’s previous international image as a model for epidemic prevention has been shattered. The international media is surprised by the extreme lack of vaccines in Taiwan and the low proportion of vaccine-administered people. Even if the epidemic is controlled in the future, it will not be possible to return to normal life.
At the beginning of the year, Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung admitted that the process of securing and purchasing vaccines has not been very good, which may be due to "poor negotiation skills and the stricter selection of vaccines in Taiwan." However, Singapore, Israel, and South Korea for example, have all actively participated in the development and procurement process of international pharmaceutical companies in order to ensure timely and sufficient vaccines. Coupled with whether there are political considerations in vaccine procurement, all we can do now is wait with other developing countries for the small allocation of COVAX and the arrival of the small amount of purchased vaccines.
Looking at her handling of foreign relations and international negotiations, President Tsai is basically still adopting the attitude of using public relations as domestic propaganda and a grand international puffery. It lacks the planning and layout of national security, diplomacy, and economic strategy. There are many areas that can be improved on the implementation level. After much experience and failure, the Tsai administration still hasn’t learned from its mistakes. It’s really a failing report card full of red letters.