Taiwan People’s Party Chairman Ko Visits the United States
By Ross Darrell Feingold
Former Asia Chairman, Republicans Abroad
Days after President Tsai Ing-wen and Chinese Nationalist Party presidential hopeful Terry Gou returned to Taiwan after visits to the United States, presidential hopeful and Taiwan People’s Party Chairman Ko Wen-je is visiting the United States. Generally, this author discourages potential candidates for president from visiting the United States, as the risk might be greater than the reward.
Chairman Ko’s China, defense, and foreign policies are unknowns to the world outside Taiwan, even if the Taiwan People’s Party website includes a little bit of information in English, and Ko has recently discussed these issues in presentations and media interviews.
Unfortunately for Ko, even if he has policies on these issues, he faces an enormous challenge in convincing stakeholders in the United States that he sufficiently understands these important issues, or that Taiwan’s voters agree with Ko’s policy proposals. The eventual Chinese Nationalist Party candidate will also have this challenge.
In March 2019, then Taipei City Mayor Ko Wen-je also visited Washington DC, amid speculation he would decide later that year to run for president in the January 2020 election. Only Ko Wen-je knows whether the outcomes of his visit to Washington DC that year were a factor in his decision not to run for president. As far the public knows, United States government officials and the Taiwan “watchers” at think tanks and universities did not say anything positive about him as a presidential candidate.
In June last year, days before Chinese Nationalist Party Chairman Eric Chu visited Washington DC, the Tsai Administration “flooded the zone” with actions to demonstrate its achievements in U.S.-Taiwan relations, including the announcement of the new “U.S.-Taiwan Initiative on 21st-Century Trade”. Although this was only a consolation prize after the United States did not include Taiwan in the Indo Pacific Economic Framework, the Tsai Administration was able to sell it to the public as another example of “rock solid” U.S.-Taiwan relations.
Similarly, shortly before Chairman Ko visit to the United States, President Tsai just returned to Taiwan after her successful transit visits. As compared to President Tsai, it is unlikely Chairman Ko can obtain anything better from the United States to bring back to Taiwan.
Here are five things watch for during Chairman Ko’s visit to the United States:
In his public speeches what will Chairman Ko say about the 1992 Consensus? Ko might avoid it, he might say that it can be part of the Taiwan People’s Party’s China policy, or he might reject it and criticize the Chinese Nationalist Party. He might instead focus on his vision for a China policy which includes his recent comment that “politically it’s not possible for there to be One China”.
Will a Biden Administration official anonymously criticize Chairman Ko the way an Obama Administration official criticized then-Democratic Progressive Party chairman Tsai Ing-wen when she visited Washington DC as a presidential candidate in 2011? Few Biden Administration officials responsible for Asia policy are familiar with the Taiwan People’s Party, Chairman Ko, or even Ko’s achievements during eight years as mayor (something the Taiwan People’s Party fails to share on its website).
Will Chairman Ko take photos in front of government buildings in Washington DC like he did during his 2019 visit? Voters in Taiwan want to know who he meets, not whether he was physically in front of government buildings.
What level of US government officials will meet Chairman Ko, and which Members of Congress will meet Chairman Ko? Important Members of Congress recently met President Tsai Ing-wen when she transited New York City and Los Angeles. What is their interest in meeting a Taiwan presidential candidate whose policies are a mystery to them?
And finally, can the Taiwan People’s Party effectively respond to the Tsai Administration or Democratic Progressive Party (or Democratic Progressive Party friendly outside organizations in Washington DC) “flooding the zone” with criticism about Ko and the Taiwan People’s Party? Democratic Progressive Party politicians are willing to criticize Ko Wen-je in front of foreigners. In 2019, when Prague’s mayor decided to cancel sister-city ties with Beijing and visited Taiwan, Democratic Progressive Party Legislator Karen Yu tweeted in English, “instead of establishing sister-city ties with now pro-Beijing Taipei, other cities or counties might be better”. There are also the periodic allegations raised about Chairman Ko’s alleged involvement in prisoner organ transplants in China, which Ko’s political opponents are sure to again bring up this year just they did when Ko ran for re-election as Taipei City mayor in 2018.
This author believes that the priorities of opposition political parties in Taiwan should be to identify its candidates for office, increase its standings in the polls, raise money, and perform well in the offices it currently holds whether in the Legislative Yuan, or city or county councils (and for the Taiwan People’s Party, the one municipal government head it holds in Hsinchu City). This is the best way to prompt stakeholders in the United States to say nice things about the Taiwan People’s Party, but none of this can occur via a visit to the United States.
The Democratic Progressive Party has the advantages of incumbency, and thus can afford to spend resources in the United States in the hopes of an “endorsement” from the United States government. Although this author thinks it is unnecessary for Vice President, and Democratic Progressive Party Chairman and presidential nominee, William Lai to visit the United States, if it really becomes necessary he can simply resign the vice presidency so that his job title will no longer be sensitive. After all, no matter what happens in the election next January, his job as vice president ends on May 20, 2024. Resigning as vice president will allow him to follow the Taiwan People’s Party and Chinese Nationalist Party with his own visit to Washington DC.