Friday, June 15, 2007

Copper: China prefers Hsieh

In a commentary yesterday in the Taipei Times US academic John Copper, who has been working on Taiwan issues for more than two decades, argues that China would prefer that Frank Hsieh rather than Ma Ying-jeou win in 2008. Regrettably, the underlying logic of this claim appears to be entirely driven by uptake of anti-DPP talking points from China and the KMT. Copper notes:

China has been very successful at isolating Taiwan under President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) rule. Taiwan has fewer and fewer diplomatic friends and diminishing global support for anything it wants to do, including highly sensible efforts to participate in the WHO and other international bodies.

Even in Asia Taiwan has few backers. China is dominating regional economic and other organizations and has demanded that Taiwan be excluded. Taiwan’s status in the region has declined fast.

Meanwhile, under the DPP, Taiwan has become dependent upon China economically. More of its exports go to China than anywhere else. More than a million Taiwanese have gone to China, almost all to do business. Chen has overseen Taiwan’s integration with China commercially.

Taiwan’s relations with the US under Chen’s governance have deteriorated markedly. US officials have questioned whether the US should defend Taiwan. They have even denied Taiwan’s sovereignty (though that was no doubt to send a signal to Chen to stop provoking China, which the US needs to maintain stability in East Asia and for other reasons).


Let's take a closer look at a couple of these:

China has been very successful at isolating Taiwan under President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) rule. Taiwan has fewer and fewer diplomatic friends and diminishing global support for anything it wants to do, including highly sensible efforts to participate in the WHO and other international bodies.

It's funny how history has been reconstructed in the post-2000 period. Suddenly collective amnesia has fallen over the academic world. As the Foreigner from Formosa pointed out the other day, the KMT's record was one of total diplomatic failure -- the KMT lost more nations that the DPP, lost them at a far greater rate, and lost the recognition of every single major power. I should add that it also voluntarily withdrew from the UN, and coined that odious term "Chinese Taipei." Taiwan was isolated long before the DPP ever showed up, and the DPP is simply playing out the string, all it can do.

The DPP, by contrast, has not lost any major countries, because it never had any. The rate of loss has slowed as well. Finally, under the DPP a wide perception has grown that Taiwan is a thing in itself that is different from China. There are now Taiwan studies departments at major universities overseas. This is a positive accomplishment of DPP foreign policy that gets no play at all in the media or in academic discourse. Further, the DPP has worked with pro-Taiwan groups overseas, groups that KMT attempted to suppress. Copper criticizes DPP relations with the US, forgetting that the KMT blew up its relations with the US in an astonishingly stupid assassination and weapons theft scheme in the 1980s.

Copper also notes that the DPP has no support for its policies to enter international bodies. The KMT didn't, either. Whatever failures the DPP has had in this area, the KMT had the same or worse pursuing the exact same policies. Moreover, the DPP has had successes that the KMT never dreamed of. Obviously if you were to pick a party on the basis of its lack of foreign policy success, you'd pick the KMT, not the DPP.

Copper goes on to analyze:

Hsieh needs Chen’s help to win the election. He must also use the issue of Taiwan’s national identity and even independence to win votes. How can he, in view of that, pursue better relations with China? Beijing knows this. Also, Ma is not as good a choice as he may seem. He has been more critical of China’s human-rights abuses (which Chinese leaders don’t like to hear about). He is even known to have some sympathy for the Falun Gong, seen by Beijing as a conspiratorial and dangerous reactionary sect.

Ma talks as if he favors unification. But he has been at odds with party members who really support that policy. He says it is up to the people, knowing numerous polls show there is very little support for unification among Taiwanese, at least in the short term. This means he is unlikely to do anything about it.

Ma is certainly unlikely to live up to China’s expectations and Chinese leaders would be in the awkward position of dealing with their so-called favorite if he were elected.


Ma's criticism of Beijing is entirely a show for the foreign media and academic world. Here in Taiwan, Ma has publicly threatened the bureaucracy for not returning results favorable for the KMT, and has expressed the hope that the KMT Youth Corps produce another Hu Jin-tao. Ma has been at odds with some KMT members who support annexation because of personal and corruption issues, not because of their view of China. You only need to look at where Ma's support comes from -- the Deep Blue ideologues among the rank and file who ardently support annexation. Either Ma has comprehensively fooled them, or Copper has read the situation wrongly. I'll take Door Number 2 on that one.

Further, the idea that Ma would somehow be able to stand up to Beijing is comical. The one thing Ma has never shown, from his loyal service to the authoritarian regime, to his failure to stop the Shih Ming-te protest in Taipei last year, is a political and moral spine. The "pragmatic" streak in Ma is actually merely indecision, and it is exposed whenever there is a serious situation. Ma also must remember the one time he bade the crowd protesting the 2000 election of President Chen to go home -- unlike many in the DPP Ma has very sensitive antennae to the way things look to the foreign media -- and he got egged for his troubles.

China wants Ma. They might be able to live with Hsieh -- both sides benefit from the competition over independence -- but they want Ma. This is because they know the feckless Ma will never be able to stand up to them, and because Ma is no more a supporter of democracy than they are.

UPDATE: My letter in the Taipei Times on this. Former DPP legislator Lin Cho-shui makes a similar point in an accompanying commentary on Ma's use of the fictional 1992 consensus.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you think that the CCP benefits from instigating tension across the straight? Taiwan unification is the one issue which the CCP uses as a sort of propaganda to stir up mainlanders' patriotism, which in turn consolidates support for the party. That's why from time to time we have seen and will continue to see some provocative actions coming out of the CCP, whether it's the passing of a new law or some generals saying they are willing to use nukes on Taiwan.

I do agree with that author in the sense that the CCP actually has more to exploit from with a DPP President than a KMT one although you are totally right in pointing out KMT's diplomatic blunders.

By the way, I've been reading your blog for some time now. I think you have a good take on many issues covering a wide range of aspects of Taiwan.

The Foreigner said...

The column you're referring to claims that the KMT denounces Chinese human rights violations more than the DPP. But I don't know if that's necessarily true. I can think of at least 2 counter-examples within the last year:

1) The DPP wanted to hold some kind of investigation into the charges of unethical organ transplantation in China, but the KMT blocked it from ever happening.

2) Occasionally a KMT supporter gets arrested in the PRC. When that happens, it seems Taiwan's DPP, not the KMT, is the one that speaks most vocally on the individual's behalf.

Now, these are just two cases, and I'm really not keeping score. There are probably two antagonistic things going on on the DPP side of the equation:

1) The DPP, being better on civil rights issues, should be expected to discuss these issues more than the KMT.

2) But on the other hand, the DPP believes that China is a different country, like Vietnam or Zimbabwe. Because of that, one might expect the DPP to discuss Chinese human rights violations no more frequently than it does for Vietnam, Zimbabwe, or any other authoritarian country.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks! Yeah, as I said, the CCP does benefit from stoking the nationalism thing, as does the DPP. But that is not Copper's argument.

In any case, if I were the CCP, I'd prefer Ma.

Michael