Tuesday, February 03, 2009

'S Week Tome All Obama

This week saw an avalanche of stuff from individuals wondering what Obama will do with Asia's future. Ralph Cossa of CSIS weighed in with an Establishment essay that calls for Obama The Global Security Blanket:
Reassurance is the key word here. A constant question and refrain one hears throughout Asia, and especially in China and Japan, is: "Obama ran on a platform of 'change,' but we like things pretty much the way they are. What's really going to change, and why?"
Cossa alludes to the (correct) Japanese perceptions that the US is tilting towards China and of course, praises the "improved relations" between China and Taiwan. Not much you can do when the US foreign policy establishment thinks the KMT's wrenching changes to the Status Quo and upcoming sell-out of the interests of both the US and the people of Taiwan is A Very Good Thing.

The Taipei Times had a couple of commentaries today, one from Liu Shih-chung, which seemed like almost a "yes, but..." response to Cossa:
The temporary detente across the Taiwan Strait no doubt meets US interests. The Obama government will encourage the Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) administration to continue its efforts to engage Beijing. Washington is therefore expected to favor a policy of “ambiguity” rather “clarity,” or to “talk and do less” to cross-strait relations unless something worrisome comes up.

The irony is, Taiwan may show self-restraint and shoulder responsibility to support Obama’s call, but what the county has been facing, even under the KMT government, is a regime that relentlessly demands a unilateral acceptance of the “one China” principle as a precondition for negotiating with Taiwan’s future and its international presence.

Even when he formally called on both sides of Taiwan Strait to end military confrontation by signing a peace agreement in his recent six-point statement, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) framed future cross-strait negotiations under the “one China” principle.

Hu did not respond positively to Ma’s calls for a “cross-strait diplomatic truce.” Nor has he openly endorsed the KMT’s “one China, with each side having its own interpretation.”

Instead, Hu ruled out any hints of “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan” when it comes to Taiwan’s international status. And to downplay the DPP’s role, Beijing sought to separate the issue of “Taiwanese identity” from “independence.”

As the democratically elected national leader, Ma has what he believed a “mandate” to pursue normalization with his Chinese counterparts. It would be difficult, however, for Ma to disregard the democratic right of Taiwanese to determine their own future.
If Obama sticks to what he said, that “America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more,” then he should strongly endorse Taiwan’s desire to determine its own future.
The US needs, at minimum to get behind the idea of a referendum on Taiwan's future. And to stop pretending that what is going on the Taiwan Strait is "peace" or "improved relations." Richard Halloran reviewed Sec. of State Hillary Clinton's comments on Obama's China policy:
However, Clinton was clear on the issues of Taiwan, Tibet and human rights in China.

On Taiwan, Clinton followed precedents set earlier.

“The administration’s policy will be to help Taiwan and China resolve their differences peacefully while making clear that any unilateral change in the status quo is unacceptable,” she said.

The former government of president Chen Shui-bian nudged Taiwan toward independence, while the current government of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has pledged to maintain the “status quo.”
Note the bizarrely unbalanaced construction -- Chen "nudged" Taiwan toward independence, but Ma's tilt toward China is "maintaining the status quo." Right.... Clinton's words, far from speaking to China in unambiguous terms as Halloran claims, simply reiterated the tired ambiguities of all previous US policy. As the Taipei Times noted in its editorial today, China is simply too important economically for the US to change policy at this point.

Taiwan News probably has the best take on Obama, the US, Taiwan, and China, pointing out, as I did months ago, that KMT policy is destabilizing cross-strait relations:
The inconvenient truth is that, underneath a veneer of "stability," a grave crisis is building in the Taiwan Strait that bodes ill for the very survival of Taiwan's democracy and for long-term hopes for peace in the Taiwan Strait and fundamental U.S. interests in the East Asian region.

The source of this undertow lies in the relentless pressure from the PRC that Taiwan must accept Beijing's "one China principle," which posits that Taiwan is part of the PRC, as a precondition for political talks instead of an issue subject to negotiation.

Even when floating a proposal for both sides of Taiwan Strait to end military confrontation through signing a peace agreement in his Dec. 31 six-point statement, PRC State Chairman and CCP General Secretary Hu Jintao declared that any such negotiations must take place under the so-called "one China principle" and ruled out any arrangements on Taiwan's international participation that would even hint of "two Chinas" or "one China, one Taiwan."

After years of drift during which Washington has neglected the fundamental undertow of the exacerbating strategic imbalance in the PRC's favor, Obama has a choice to make if he intends to apply his own declarations that "America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity" and that the U.S. will resume "leadership" to East Asia.

The new U.S. president can "say less and do nothing" and thereby become a bystander to Beijing's absorption of democratic Taiwan and ultimately face the threat of a new regional balance of power dominated by an authoritarian and expansionist PRC.

Alternatively, the Obama government can act to restore balance by assisting the Taiwan government in strengthening its bargaining chips in negotiating with Beijing.
The editorial calls for more high-level exchanges between Taiwan and the US and more US support for Taiwan's democracy along with a firm stand against its suppression as a component of the "improved relations" with China. Not many commentators have grasped the simple fact that as we move closer to China, we move farther from democracy here.

For those of you interested in discussion of Obama's foreign policy, tomorrow the Japan Society will be hosting an online event:
On February 4 at 6:30 PM, Mark Halperin, John Bussey, Howard French, and Aaron Friedberg will discuss the impact of Obama Administration on East Asia at Japan Society of New York. The event will be webcast live, with the chance to ask questions via the internet. (This event, along with many other lectures, will also be archived at media.japansociety.org/index.html

The U.S. & East Asia Under the Obama Administration
Wednesday, February 4, 6:30 PM

LIVE WEBCAST AT: media.japansociety.org/index.html

How will the new Obama administration impact East Asia? Expert panelists

Mark Halperin, Editor-at-Large and Senior Policy Analyst for Time Magazine, John Bussey, Washington Bureau Chief, The Wall Street Journal and Howard French, Associate Professor of Journalism at Columbia University, discuss whether the Obama administration will create substantive change in the U.S. approach to East Asian relations.

Moderated by Aaron L. Friedberg, Professor of Politics, Princeton University.

1 comment:

Thomas said...

It doesn't take a foreign policy expert to see that Ma is walking into a trap of his own making. Even though the old guard is calling the shots, he is still the public face of their efforts.

Hu's six-point proposal betrayed China's impatience. And China will want something for the WHA observer status. Beijing wants a closed deal. How much longer can Ma stay on the fence with his comments until he is backed into a corner?

Yet while US politicians are deluding themselves by thinking the dreamy "peace" will continue, can you blame them? This is procrastination par excellence, maintained by economic interests. My fear is that, by the time a problem arises, it will be too late for the US to raise a finger.