"Pay close attention to that man behind the curtain!"

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Clarifying distortions about Taiwan's relations with China

Nat Bellocchi puts things in focus

Nat Bellocchi
Voice of America image of
Nat Bellocchi via NTDTV
Former American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Chairman Nat Bellocchi had an editorial piece titled "The myth about reducing tension" in Friday's Taipei Times. In the eye-opening piece, Bellocchi deconstructs the illusion of the "reduction of tension" between Taiwan and China.

It deserves to be read in full, so here's the whole piece [highlights mine]:
In a world filled with political tension, cutthroat economic competition and even open warfare, many people long for a reduction of tension, leading to more peace and stability among nations. As such, it was no surprise that when the newly elected Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) government started its policy of rapprochement with China in the spring of 2008, the US welcomed the "reduction of tension" across the Taiwan Strait.

The question is whether there really has been a long-term "reduction of tension" and whether that means long-running disagreements might be resolved.

It is a fact that for the past two years the People's Republic of China (PRC) has been less bellicose than it was during the eight years of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) administration. However, that is only true because China sees "Taiwan" as moving in its direction, increasing the likelihood that in due time it will be able to force Taiwan — through economic and political means — into some kind of political unification. [Maddog note: While the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is moving in China's direction, the people of Taiwan are not.]

The present "reduction of tension" is thus artificial in nature as it is predicated on Taiwan capitulating under duress to China in the long run. That is tantamount to saying that law-abiding people giving in to mafia threats reduces tension, when in reality the underlying tension is caused by the aggressor. Now, what will happen if the Taiwanese decide — for whatever reasons — to not re-elect President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) in 2012 and a DPP government returns to power? Such a government would want to maintain peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, but at the same time retain Taiwan's hard-won freedom, democracy and independence.

It is easy to predict that such a new policy would be labeled as "increasing tension" by the defeated KMT as well as by the PRC itself. It is thus an ironic contradiction that attempts to consolidate Taiwan's democracy and its acceptance by the international community may be seen in some quarters as "increasing tension."

For those who study Taiwan and observe it closely, there are other seeming contradictions: Shirley Kan of the Congressional Research Service in Washington mentioned three of them during a recent seminar at George Washington University: one, if you want consensus, don't call it a consensus (referring to the so-called "1992 consensus" which has been a divisive issue in Taiwan); two, if you want independence, don't say so; and three, if the US wants to reduce the threat of conflict in the Taiwan Strait, it has to sell arms to Taiwan.

Against this background, what should the US say or do? For one, it should be more careful in referring to the present trend as "reducing tension."

There can only be a true reduction of tension if China moves in the direction of accepting Taiwan for what it is — a lively democracy that wants to chart its own course and determine its own future without undue pressure from the Chinese side.

There is no evidence that China accepts or will ever accept this point. It continues its military buildup, has hardly moved on giving Taiwan international space and continues its attempts to lock Taiwan into a position of dependence through economic means.

The US thus needs to be more insistent on reducing the Chinese military threat against Taiwan and on the issue of increasing international space for Taiwan.

A good start would be for the US to fully support Taiwan's membership in international organizations as stipulated in the Taiwan Relations Act and to refrain from anachronistic statements that it only support membership in organizations "that do not require statehood."

The US also needs to do better at creating an atmosphere wherein efforts by Taiwan's government to consolidate democracy and increase its international presence are seen as enhancing long-term peace and stability in the Strait — in spite of possible objections from a still quite repressive government in Beijing.

The basic idea is that — instead of Taiwan moving in the direction of Beijing — the PRC should move in the direction of freedom and democracy. Only then can there be any substantive "reduction of tension."
Further reading:
* Full text of the Taiwan Relations Act (TRA)

* September 3, 2007: Ma Ying-jeou seriously misrepresents Taiwan Relations Act

* April 12, 2009: Taiwan Relations Act at 30 (Michael Turton points out a common misconception about the US' "obligations" related to the TRA.)

Wiseguys: , , , , , , , , , ,

Cross-posted at Taiwan Matters!

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