Oct 16, 2012

Taiwan - Taiwan seeks to maintain US ties as China's influence grows

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TAIPEI: Taiwan's relations with China are at their best in more than six decades, and this has led some to say that the US may be losing its influence on the island.

On Monday, the Director of the American Institute in Taiwan, Christopher Marut, said Washington welcomes all levels of cross-strait engagement. His comments came after the successful trip to the mainland by the former head of the island's opposition Democratic Progressive Party, Su Tseng-chang.

President Ma Ying Jeou's close aide and confidante, King Pu Tsung, is now Taiwan's new de facto ambassador to the United States, and the 56-year-old has said that he can ensure Taiwan's communications with Washington remain smooth and interference-free.

Professor Chen I Hsin of Tamkang University, said: "By sending his closest aide to the US, President Ma wants to put Washington at ease. That's not to say China is not important, but rather it's because cross-strait relations are already on track."

With the warming of cross-strait ties, the US role as protector of a democratic Taiwan seems to be diminishing by the day. An observation made more credible by the fact that China is now the island's biggest market and source of tourism dollars.

Prof Chen added: "The US sees that it is losing its influence as Taiwan's economy becomes more dependent on China. So now it's trying to win Taiwan back by sending officials here and offering visa waiver privileges. It has also called Taiwan an important security and economic partner to the US. That's very positive news to Taiwan."

But some analysts disagree, saying the closer Taiwan grows to China, the more it will actually need US support.

Professor Alexander Huang of Tamkang University said: "As cross-strait negotiations goes slower and becomes more difficult, there'll be more people in Taipei who consider a relationship with the US to be extremely important."

As the two sides grow closer economically, the issue of Taiwan's independence may be off the table. However, surveys show the majority of Taiwanese still do not support reunification with the mainland either.

A delicate balance must therefore be struck as Taiwan manages its relations with both China and the US. The same also goes for other countries in the region.

Prof Huang added: "With the rise of China, all Asian countries would have to make sure that they have a better relationship with the US to balance China's rise."

By sending his most trusted man to Washington, analysts said President Ma hopes to ensure the US that it remains Taiwan's strongest ally as cross-strait relations venture into unchartered waters. Meantime, the alliance would also give the US a better strategic advantage as it seeks a greater presence in the region.


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