Changing regional dynamics have rendered the preservation of the status quo in Taiwan much harder. It is important to bear in mind, however, that the Trump presidency is finite, and a wholly different US approach may have emerged by the time he leaves office. Despite the volatility in Trump’s approach, there nonetheless remains a strong sense that US primacy hinges on its role in the Asia-Pacific. The underlying structural commitments of US security and foreign policy therefore remain unchanged, and Taiwan can work within these and act to support them.
That means not antagonizing a China that externally looks strong but internally has major economic and political problems. Taiwan’s leaders cannot stray far from the approach that they have painstakingly created over the last 40 years. It is in Taiwan’s interests to continue to convey to China, as well as to the US, the costs in terms of reputation and geopolitical standing that China would incur should it attempt any military move on Taiwan.
Taiwan is now entering a period of major readjustment. The NSP, if it does prove sustainable, will involve a still relatively homogeneous society embracing increased levels of immigration and openness to the outside world. It will mean crafting a new narrative that sees Taiwan as a part of Southeast Asia just as much as of the Greater China area. That will bring cultural and social challenges requiring clear, supportive leadership. Taiwan’s emerging generation of leaders will need to embody this new outlook and speak about it with conviction. It is in the NSP’s interests that it exists as more than a slogan, and both the potential costs and successes of its implementation will have to be recognized and planned for.
The 2020 elections are already shaping up to be a combative and competitive process. The KMT, until only recently written off, will be encouraged by its performance at the 2018 local elections. Meanwhile, the DPP will be aware it cannot be complacent, and potential challengers to Tsai have already started to emerge. In the context of the aspirations of Xi’s China, the state of relations between Beijing and Washington, and the very fluid situation in the region and globally, 2020 is a real opportunity for Taiwan to showcase the robustness of its young democracy and demonstrate that it can meet the challenges of an increasingly complex domestic and external situation. The stakes are high. But so are the potential rewards.