Sunday, March 23, 2008

Can Taiwan trust China?

It's nearly two thousand miles as the crow flies from Tibet to Taiwan. What they have in common is China. Taipei's attraction and repulsion to Beijing is summarized in the curious fact that "neither the Republic of China nor the People's Republic of China have ever renounced China's claim to sovereignty over Tibet". Taiwan is simultaneously bound to China by history and war and repelled by the same forces.

The Kuomintang's Ma Ying-jeou was recently elected Taiwan's president on a platform of closer relations with Beijing. Ma promised to negotiate direct flights across the Strait, allow tourism between the two countries and work out a comprehensive economic-cooperation agreement with China.  But the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan dissidents just prior to the Taiwanese elections highlighted the reasons to mistrust Beijing. A surge of sympathy for the Tibetan rebels and narrowed what was expected to be a landslide victory.

Unease over Tibet quickly pushed President-elect Ma into declaring that "he would consider boycotting the Beijing Olympics this summer if the crackdown worsened in Tibet". No sooner had differences between the two countries narrowed when they widened again. Whether Ma's partial defiance of Beijing would allay suspicions he was putting Taiwan on track for absorption by the Mainland remained to be seen. Michael Turton, who blogs from Taichung, Taiwan quoted a local newspaper editorial summarizing fears that the process of slow-motion assimilation had already started.

Indeed, this process may have already started ... The first step has already been taken in the form of the "party to party" forums between the KMT and its former bitter enemy, the CCP ... the prospect of PLA entry into Taiwan is implied in the Anti-Secession Law enacted by the PRC's National People's Congress ... under which Beijing gave itself the "legal authority" to use force against a Taiwan that refused "peaceful unification ... spurred by Ma's advocation of a "cross-strait common market" with the PRC ... Last but not least, Taiwan may find that its elected president could well turn into a virtual puppet or "chief executive" if Ma fulfills his campaign promise to "return" to the so-called "Consensus of 1992" and promise to accept "political integration" as a precondition of restored "consultations" with Beijing.

What was clear was that economics had temporarily trumped fear. Taiwanese companies have invested heavily in China, which is the island's biggest trading partner. Concerns over Tibet did not keep the voters from electing the Harvard-eduated Ma by 58-42 ratio over his rival Frank Hsieh, indeed sentiment against confronting Beijing was underlined by the rejection of a referendum proposal to apply for UN membership under the title "Republic of China". It failed to break the 50 percent threshold and marked a defeat for advocates of ethnic Taiwanese nationalism, despite exhortations by Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher and a number of EU deputies who argued Taiwan deserved a UN seat. Rohrabacher rejected statements by US Secretary of State Condelezza Rice and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte calling the referendum "provocative" and "unhelpful". Rohrabacher had joined House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in calling for a floor vote to boycott the Olympic Games over Tibet.

But although attraction had momentarily triumphed over suspicion, fear nevertheless remained a factor on both sides of the equation. Wen Liao, a Chinese lawyer practicing in London, claimed Beijing was as wary of Tibet and Taiwan they were of it because China had never fully resolved the tendency of regions to challenge the central government. Negotiations across the Taiwan Strait represented a slippery slope to nationalists on both sides of the water.

It may sound strange to the outside world that China ... should feel its unity to be so fragile. But China's history, both ancient and modern, suggests that there is nothing permanent or stable about the country's current unity. Indeed, today's unity was secured only with Mao Zedong's victory in 1949.

The government's failure to eradicate chronic regional tension underscores the limits of central authority in China, which was partly intentional. An integral feature of the reforms that Deng Xiaoping launched 30 years ago was greater autonomy for local authorities -- a move aimed at fostering accountability and creating incentives for growth. ...

In any country as vast as China, far-flung regions are bound to have different interests and identities. Though few in China speculate aloud about it, there are some who believe that such differences may continue to tug the regions away from the center, and that some might one day break away.

Ma Ying-jeou's rapproachment package with Beijing contained a list of security pre-conditions designed to eliminate the fear factor in their relationship. In fact, the two countries are still technically in a state of war. President-elect Ma Ying-jeou said he would only consider signing a peace deal with China, an offer Beijing has made with conditions, if it stopped aiming missiles at Taiwan, saying "before we can talk about peace, we need to remove the threat". A Reuters report quoted Ma as saying:

"They (China) remain the greatest security threat," Ma told a news conference on Sunday. "Taiwan's identity has to be respected, and we have to negotiate with each other on equal footing. "What I can promise voters is that we will not negotiate the issue of unification and we will not support de jure independence," he added, speaking in fluent English. "And we will oppose the use of force across the Taiwan Strait."

Johnathan Power, writing in the International Herald Tribune, believes that while Taiwanese nationalism had not put the island on the course of independence, it had created an enduring belief that it should never kowtow to China. Powers thinks Taipei's current policy of neither bowing to Beijing nor confronting it has created a corresponding attitude in Beijing of neither disavowing its claim to Taiwan nor conquering it by force.

Despite Chen's continuous stream of provocative remarks and policy suggestions, President Hu Jintao is as conciliatory as a Communist leader can be, much more low key in his approach than his predecessors. At the Party Congress held soon after he came to power, he deleted harsh words on Taiwan from his keynote speech. His offer of a peace treaty, although framed within the "One China" policy, has many conciliatory elements. Hu, unlike his predecessors, does not talk of using force.

The perceived rejection of force as an instrument of settling disputes encourages Powers to believe Taiwan and Beijing will eventually resolve all their differences through negotiation. But as the experience of Tibet recently illustrated, with China you never know.

The Belmont Club is supported largely by donations from its readers.


Blogger Peter said...

3/23/2008 05:26:00 PM  
Blogger rc said...

Well, Taiwan will reap what it sews, as some great book or another once said. They are right to suspect the US commitment to them, but they are more wrong to accept Beijing's. This is becoming a world where people who want freedom are going to have to rely on themselves. Personal liberty and the guarantee of freedom by the US are an aberration in human history. It is not the norm. And it looks like that time is passing. It is obvious that the US will no longer be there for them when the fall down in the future. Perhaps Taiwan will be the first of many to learn this lesson, with the blessing of the US. A bad moon is rising in this world, and we will let it happen.

3/23/2008 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

The People of Taiwan merely need to convert to Islam, form political alliance with the Palestinians, and they're IN!!!!!

Well, so long as China is unwilling to take on the Islamic Jihadists.

3/26/2008 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Mad Fiddler said...

Seriously, thanks Peter for the link to the article on McCain's voting and stance on trade policy, which seems to be completely content with running manufacturers out of the U.S.

It's very similar to the problem the liberals have in grasping the point of the 2nd Amendment. The right of individuals to own firearms free from restrictions and interference from the government IS NOT ABOUT THE RIGHT TO HUNT. It is in the final reckoning, about the ability of citizens to defend themselves from an oppressive government ready to impose tyranny on them.

An examination of the twentieth century shows that as many people have been murdered --- calmly, deliberately, systematically --- by their own governments as by invading or attacking external forces. Usually this has come after those governments confiscated the personal weapons of their citizens.

Pardon me, did I say "citizens?" Shoulda been "subjects."

The USA is making its territories inhospitable to the fundamental industries like steel, auto, airplane, timber, nuclear power, pharmaceuticals, paper, textiles, et cetera.

The price will be paid when we are faced by a relentless military onslaught, and all the industries we depend upon to sustain the country in time of war are located in countries subject to military intimidation by our foe, and anything they actually are ready to supply to us has to be shipped by surface ships vulnerable to submarine predation and hideously expensive air transport vulnerable to air-to-air missile attack.

This is a more immediate suicide than even decadent quavering Europe is busy doing by choosing to have no children while their anti-European immigrants breed and increase with remarkable vigor.

3/26/2008 09:47:00 AM  

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