PacNet #1 -- What Hu Jintao Should Expect: Predictions about Obama Administration Policy toward Taiwan by Bonnie S. Glaser
Bonnie S. Glaser (email@example.com) is a resident senior associate at CSIS and a senior associate of the Pacific Forum.
Taiwan remains one of the most sensitive and divisive issues between the United States and China. What should Chinese President Hu Jintao expect from President Obama on this critically important issue? Until the new president is sworn in and key personnel are confirmed, the new administration’s policy will remain uncertain. Moreover, the overall framework as well as detailed policies will emerge gradually; a comprehensive policy statement on Taiwan is unlikely to be issued. Nevertheless, it may be useful to make some predictions. Below are eight policy objectives that are likely to be pursued by the Obama administration. They represent the musings of an independent scholar and interested observer with no special inside knowledge or access to the president-elect.
Glaser's observations, while probably on-target for some other world where the KMT is not annexing Taiwan to China and bringing it into China's political orbit, are wildly out of date for the current cross-strait realities. Among the highlights:
Look for the resumption of visits to Taiwan by U.S. Cabinet officials responsible for such issues as trade, agriculture, transportation, and energy, which were suspended during Chen Shui-bian’s tenure due to friction between Taipei and Washington.
The U.S. will continue to encourage cross-Strait negotiations that seek solutions to problems and peaceful settlement of differences. No steps will be taken to undermine the improvement in cross-Strait ties. On the contrary, the Obama administration will be cautious in making policy decisions so as not to derail cross-Strait progress.
U.S. opposition to any unilateral change in the status quo by either side of the Taiwan Strait – another component of the mantra that comprises the current "one China" policy – may be dropped. This formulation was added by the Bush administration to warn Chen Shui-bian to avoid provoking the Mainland and dragging the U.S. into a war in the Strait. Ma Ying-jeou's pragmatic approach to Beijing and his policy of easing cross-Strait tensions make this statement no longer necessary.
While China cannot be expected to relinquish its deterrent against Taiwan independence prior to the signing of a peace accord, Beijing can nevertheless make goodwill gestures now such as freezing short-range ballistic missile deployments, pulling back a number of missiles so they cannot be fired unless redeployed forward, and modifying its military exercises in a way that signals intent to lower the threat.
Under Ma Ying-jeou, Taipei has adopted a more realistic approach that seeks meaningful participation for the Republic of China in the United Nations and observer status in the World Health Assembly, the executive arm of the WHO. The Obama administration can be expected to fully back Taiwan in these efforts, as they are consistent with the U.S. policy of supporting Taiwan's involvement, but not membership, in state-based international organizations.
The Obama administration will support a healthy democratic system in Taiwan that reflects the aspirations of the Taiwanese people. President Obama may not refer explicitly to Taiwan as a beacon of democracy as did President Bush, but he will undoubtedly find ways to signal his hope that Taiwan, as well as other regional democracies, will serve as examples that encourage the development of greater democracy on the Mainland.
Glaser's piece is a typically blinkered example of Establishment mentality:
*Everyone talks about "progress" in cross-strait relations but no one ever answers the question "towards what" although that is perfectly obvious to everyone here: annexation.
*She refers to a "peace acord" (while linking it to a rhetorical opposite: Taiwan independence!) but what can "peace" mean in the Taiwan context, other than annexation to China? We're not at war with China, and it is not Taiwan that is the aggressor. Any "peace accord" is thus a submission, since China will insist on its One China framework.
*Her position on Chen Shui-bian remains the Establishment position: Chen provoked China, Ma does not. There is no recognition that Ma does not provoke China because he supports annexation, not democracy and independence, and there is no recognition that Ma is not running China policy, other KMT heavyweights are.
*She also hews to the line that Taiwan is going to make China more democratic -- although the reality is that as we move closer to China here, Taiwan becomes less democratic. In the real world, distance from China = democracy.
*It should also be noted that she positions Taiwan policy with respect to China (What Hu....) -- Taiwan is always the passive recipient of decisions adults in Beijing and Washington make. Why not "What Hu and Ma can expect...."
You only have to compare Glaser's weirdly out-of-touch writings with today's Taiwan News editorial, written by someone who is informed and understands what is going on very well.
It appears that the leadership of the CCP, together with many KMT leaders and pro-KMT media, mistakenly believe that the March 22 presidential election marked a total and irreversible defeat of "Taiwan - centric" and democratic political forces led by the DPP.
Hu and Ma may have been surprised by the results of a new opinion poll of 1,087 Taiwan adults which indicated that public support for Taiwan independence has continued to rise during the past year while interest in unification has plunged and that "freedom and democracy" top the Taiwan people`s list of "core Taiwan values."
Instead, Beijing has taken full advantage of the Ma administration's urgency to secure a breakthrough in cross-strait relations by portraying an international image that both sides of the Taiwan Strait are moving unification when what is actually happening can be more accurately described as a reconciliation of two authoritarian parties.
If decision-makers in the future Obama administration believe that this course is inevitably leading to "stability," they would be risking a grave political "blowback," especially if Taiwan - centric political and social forces unite against the resurfacing KMT party - state for its excessive tilting toward Beijing and its regression in domestic civic, human and judicial rights.
Washington's foreign policy establishment may have disliked Chen`s brash assertion of Taiwan`s identity, but they should keep in mind the dangers involved in the fact that Ma's KMT administration has adopted radical measures based on partisan ideology without careful and integrated calculation of external and internal risks and without any serious effort to gain domestic consent or consensus.
As I noted before, for the US foreign policy establishment, "progress in cross-strait relations" is The New Status Quo. Thus anyone who attempts to put the brakes on what is clearly intended as the peaceful annexation of Taiwan to China will be draw the ire of the foreign policy establishment in the US as "violating the status quo" even if the Administration itself does not use those terms.