Wednesday, February 04, 2009

GWU Seminar on Cross-Strait Relations Last Week: Summary

I've slapped together a summary of what was said at the seminar from the notes and observations of several people who were there, as well as news reports.


2009-03. “New actors and Factors in Cross-Strait Relations.”
Place: GWU Gaston Sigur Center
Date: 29 January 2009, 9:00 am-noon

Panel 1: “Political change in Taiwan and impact on Cross-Strait interaction.” The first speaker was Prof. T.Y. Wang of Illinois State U. on “Expanding Taiwan’s international Space.” Wang characterized Ma's policy as keeping status on the back burner, maintaining current relations with the 20+ countries that are "allies", and the different interpretations of One China and "mutual non-denial". [MT: Note how this takes Ma's foreign policy at face value.]

China is encouraging Ma’s conciliatory policy, but the independence movement is the Achilles heel of Beijing’s grand strategy of peaceful reunification. Beijing’s two main concerns are:

1. Only participation (under China’s umbrella) in organizations which do not require statehood.
2. Taiwan can only participate under “Taipei, China” or Taiwan, China.

Taiwan’s challenge will be how to deal with the “One China Principle”. If the KMT agrees, it might well be voted out of power, but if it doesn't agree, then China will not move. Wang put up poll results showing that Taiwanese overwhelmingly identify with Taiwan but that this does not translate into political identity. Only a tiny minority supports unification.

Wang concluded that “Agree to disagree” with China will only work if “One China” is not forced down Taiwan’s throat. If China imposes its will through force, then the majority will opt for independence.

Second speaker: Prof. Shelley Rigger on Micro & political dimensions.

She started out with positing that after the March 2008 elections “we expected things to settle down.” This did not happen: why? “Things always remain exciting re. Taiwan; never a dull moment.”

First, the slumping economy. Taiwan feels uncertain and there is unrest and anxiety. Ma gets blamed for 2 reasons. First, high expectations due to extravagant promises. The administration's performance has fallen far short. She then added that the DPP had 8 years in office. It was always good at being an energetic opposition but less good in being a ruling government.

During the Chen Yunlin visit the DPP mobilized large crowds, which disrupted the giant photo-op Ma had envisioned. This debunked the illusion of Beijing and the international community that Ma alone could decide on behalf of all Taiwanese. Ma could use this anxiety about rapprochement to China by wringing concessions in negotiations with Chinese.

The DPP provided leadership in the comprehensive unhappiness about conciliatory policies: it gave them a horse to ride. But it undermined their “moderate” image. [MT: Among who?] She added that the DPP’s image as pro-independence/anti-China is perceived as obstacle to Cross-Strait progress.[MT: Maybe by the American foreign policy community. But not among people who love this island. Observe also that, once again, the New Status Quo is The Process, and people who try to slow this process are disrupting the status quo.]

Rigger then said thatin Taiwan there are deeper undercurrents in the community: "there is something [going on in Taiwan] almost more scary than the economic meltdown...the government has come into office with a mandate to test a theory re. Taiwan’s future and cross strait relations." First, Chen thought that Taiwan could shift away from China without unbearable consequences, but the KMT opposed, China wouldn't play, and the US laid down the law. The Ma Administration is now working on "Plan B" -- keep the status quo forever [MT: Speaking of illusions, Rigger certainly holds a few here!], conciliate with China. However, if this doesn't work, the scary part is that there is no Plan C. We should give Ma's approach a chance, she added, because it has never been tried.

Don Rogers was next. He started with Ma’s election and the reasons why he won: Ma was maintaining his Chinese identity and still won the election among the Taiwanese electorate. His ultimate goal remains unification, and since the election his Administration has emphasized the “Chinese blood” line. The KMT is still accustomed to esteem based on the claim to truly represent the Chinese people.[MT: At last some reality in the discussion!]. This has meant thepromotion of the Chinese over the Taiwanese identity; Taiwanization -- co-opting Taiwanese into their system; and arguing that rapprochement with China is necessary for Taiwan’s prosperity.

Rodgers then gave a good number of statistics on identity, voting preference and Ma’s declining popularity.

His conclusion: Ma got elected on the premise that closer ties with China would bring prosperity. Ma has to do a difficult balancing act between being conciliatory to China and voter concerns about identity, sovereignty and economy. The average Taiwan voter will not give him much breathing space, while for China it is impossible to give in on issues such as sovereignty and identity. This makes it highly unlikely that Ma’s strategy will succeed.

Second Session: Strategic and Economic Drivers of Cross Strait Relations
This session was chaired by David Shambaugh
First Speaker: Capt. Bernard Cole (USN, Ret) discussed China’s Defense Strategy & Implications for Taiwan.

Cole started out with China’s 2008 Defense White Paper, which stated that the aim of the PLA is “solely aimed at protecting its territory and people.” Cole also emphasized that the PLA’s main goal is also to keep the CCP in power: it is very much a Party army: its generals / admirals etc. owe their loyalty to the CCP.

He then focused on the PLA’s “propensity to send signals”. It wants to maintain social stability, ramp up asymmetric warfare capabilities to neutralize US in a conflict, perceives the US as a threat and wants to remove it from dominance in East Asia, and prevent Taiwan independence but avoid a confrontation with the US. Taiwan is the military's number 1 priority. Cole said that they wanted to win via soft power, but that will be difficult.

Second Speaker: Prof. Bob Sutter. Georgetown University. Ma’s Policies and how they are affecting international factors.[MT: In addition to being my old prof, Sutter is one of the US government's most important Taiwan analysts]

Sutter opened by saying that there is a great asymmetry and imbalance in the relation across the Taiwan Strait: China’s size and importance internationally dwarf Taiwan. Any negotiation is therefore unequal. Ma has to balance his interests (in his rapprochement with China) with US interests and influence in the region. Further, the US has to determine what it wants in the region w.r. its economic, political and strategic presence and interests.

Will “Plan B’ (see Rigger above) work? Sutter said that this Plan B was being welcomed by the US, since it fulfilled the policy goal of reducing tension. It showed that US “engagement” has worked.

Sutter then made some critical remarks: Ma’s policy is pretty one-sided: he is reassuring China, and gets little in return. He is allowing China to consolidate its power vis-à-vis Taiwan. Ma has not shown any hedging and (as Rigger pointed out) there is no fall-back option. In the past the US had been the fall-back, maintaining the balance.

He questioned the wisdom of putting all the “international space” eggs in one WHO/WHA basket: If there is a small concession from China there, is it really going to change anything? Will the Chinese string it out, and milk Taiwan for more and more concessions? The DPP must show itself as a strong force. “I would like to see something done internationally. But Ma has no contingency plan, I don’t see it. What is plan C? Need to have this in the background.”

Then he came to the point of a quiet policy review: what if Taiwan really doesn’t want to do any hedging, what if Taiwan wants to get into China’s orbit? He emphasized that the US should help Ma get a better deal with China. He wondered where China would compromise (implying he didn’t have high expectations). He also observed that at the end of the Bush Administration there was a big policy drift with respect to Taiwan.

The third Speaker, Terry Cooke, discussed Economic and commercial considerations. He concluded that the ultimate success or failure of the rapprochement will depend to what extent China and Taiwan can co-manage the challenge of the economic downturn.

In the Q&A Shambaugh kicked off with a question to Cole: What happens if there is a “freeze” on missiles by China: what would that do for the US position on arms sales? Coles said that China is against arms sales no matter what! In any case, Beijing doesn’t see the need to freeze its missiles: it thinks it can achieve its purposes through its present policies.

Then Shambaugh put a question to Sutter: what if Taiwan increasingly moves into China’s orbit, what will be implications for US policy. Sutter responded that the US doesn’t really need Taiwan, that it can work around Taiwan.

Audience members then said that we always praise Taiwan’s vibrant democracy, “beacon of democracy”: how can we ensure that the Taiwanese can have a fully free and open decision on their future? How can we ensure the viability of Taiwan’s democratic institutions? Sutterresponded that that was Taiwan’s own responsibility and the US shouldn’t interfere in the internal process.

Then later on in the Q&A two Taiwan reporters from the pro-KMT papers asked whether the Policy Review proposed by Sutter would be more progressive (relaxation of ties with Taiwan) or conservative (tightening the rules). Sutter talked about the 1994 Policy Review and said it had “produced a mouse.” The US has to have a “mind-change” and get away from the “balance in the Strait” concept which drove arms sales during the past 2+ decades. It seemed that he implied that a “balance” was not possible anyway and that in such a Policy Review the possibility of Taiwan drifting into China’s orbit – and the US working around Taiwan would be one option.

Nadia Tso then asked a question about William Murray’s “porcupine strategy.” Cole found it disconcerting that a single paper by a US person could so totally throw the Taiwan military out of kilter. He also expressed deep concern about Ma’s move towards an all-volunteer army. He said that would considerably reduce Taiwan’s military readiness. He also stated that the reduction in frequency of the annual military exercises was an additional problem.

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