CARTOON: Tumultuous 2017

CARTOON: Tumultuous 2017

What you need to know

It's been quite a year for Taiwan and the region.

It’s been a year dominated by U.S. President Donald Trump, his Tweets, and the escalating threat of military action in North Korea following a series of missile tests and that of a nuclear weapon.

“Chinese Envoy, who just returned from North Korea, seems to have had no impact on Little Rocket Man,” Trump said on Twitter in late November, referring to China’s apparent failure to influence North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

Trump’s desperation to secure leverage on North Korea through China has framed his Asia-Pacific foreign policy to the detriment of other salient issues, including China’s militarization of islands in the South China Sea, and human rights.

Trump apparently declined to bring pressure to bear on Beijing over the plight of Taiwanese human rights advocate Lee Ming-che (李明哲) during his whirlwind Asia tour in November. Lee was handed a five-year jail sentence for “subversion” shortly after Trump had left the Chinese capital boasting of US$250-billion in trade deals signed with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

Trump was also quick to brag about the strength of his friendship with Xi, and the relationship retains its shine despite China’s recent failure to help enforce UN sanctions imposed on Seoul.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is another man the American president has claimed he has “a great relationship” with, this despite the latter’s implication in the deaths of thousands during a horrific anti-drugs campaign, an issue Trump declined to mention at all during his stop in Manila.

Talk of which brings us home to Taiwan, which Duterte suggested in September was indirectly responsibly for much of the drugs trade in the Philippines through its organized crime gangs, including the Bamboo Union, a claim

It has been a difficult mid-term year for Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), who has struggled in the polls amid fallout from Panama’s June switch in diplomatic allegiance from Taipei to Beijing, reducing the number of countries that recognize Taiwan diplomatically to 20, as well as protests relating to pension reform and labor law amendments.

Taiwan has also very much in play in the tug of war going on between Washington and Beijing this year, with an embassy official in Washington DC recently threatening to trigger its Anti-Secession Law, which permits the use of force against Taiwan, if U.S. Navy ships restart port visits here.

President Tsai said in end of year remarks Dec. 29 that Taiwan will enhance its own defense capabilities amid the heightened tension on the Korean Peninsula, strategic cooperation between the U.S. and China, and “increasingly frequency of air and sea activities by the People's Liberation Army.”

All of which would make for a fairly bleak assessment of 2017, were it not for the landmark decision by Taiwan’s Constitutional Court to rule that the prohibition on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. You can view a bigger, more comprehensive version of our cartoon over on our Facebook page.

Here’s hoping for a secure and prosperous 2018.

Editor: David Green