Article follows, my comments in brackets.
“Cross-Strait Moderation and the United States” – A Response to Robert Sutter
by Richard Bush and Alan D. Romberg
Richard Bush (email@example.com) is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and director of its Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies. Alan Romberg (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a distinguished fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center.
In his recent article, “Cross-Strait Moderation and the United States – Policy Adjustment Needed” (PacNet #17, March 5, 2009) Robert Sutter has made the useful observation that changes occurring between the PRC and Taiwan may have significant implications for United States interests. Therefore, he argues, those changes must be clearly understood, not only by policy-makers but also the public, and, if necessary, Washington should study and take compensatory steps.
There is no question that significant change is occurring in cross-Strait relations, as part of the larger story of China’s return to great-power status. But we have a somewhat different perspective on what is going on and what the U.S. should do about it.
First, the goal of the United States regarding the Taiwan Strait for over 50 years has not been, as Sutter asserts, “maintaining a balance of power and influence in the Taiwan area favorable to Taiwan and U.S. interests.” The goal since the mid-1950s has been the maintenance of peace and stability in the Strait, including through the peaceful resolution of issues between Beijing and Taipei. Maintaining a balance of power and influence has been a means to that end, and not a trivial one. But it is not the only way that Washington has pursued its underlying goal. Diplomacy is another means. Fostering a good relationship with Beijing has been another. Encouraging cross-Strait cooperation is yet another. The point here is that we should not confuse means and ends.
U.S. actions during the Chen Shui-bian administration demonstrated this approach at work. Of course, China’s growing military power provided a context, but the key challenge was the danger that the deepening antagonism between Chen and Beijing could, through miscalculation, result in a conflict that would involve the United States. Such an outcome would have been fundamentally at odds with our goal of promoting peace and preventing war and highly damaging to U.S. strategic national interests. The Bush administration then used diplomacy to reduce the chance of conflict.
President Ma’s initiatives toward Beijing since he took office almost a year ago, and Beijing’s positive response, have been a boon to U.S. interests because they can reduce the mutual fear that has poisoned cross-Strait relations for the last 15 years. Sutter may be correct that the U.S. executive branch has not yet made the case why recent developments are salutary, but that is a fixable problem. Moreover, although Washington has endorsed the improvements in cross-Strait relations, it will also improve its own relations with Taiwan, including in the security realm.
Sutter’s focus on a power-and-influence balance shifting in Beijing’s direction may obscure as much as it reveals. To be sure, China’s capabilities are growing and its neighbors throughout East Asia must address that trend. But the mere creation of capabilities does not mean that they will or can be used – nor that efforts to do so would be unopposed. Sutter’s call for a review of policy grows out of the assumption that the U.S. would not be willing to take an effective stand against PRC coercion or worse against Taiwan. We find little reason to make that assumption.[Actually, when you read the tone of this piece, Washington's approval of Ma Ying-jeou, and its recent cooperation with Beijing to squelch Chen Shui-bian and install Ma Ying-jeou in Taipei, it is easy to see why Sutter, along with many others, is worried that Washington isn't going to stand effectively against PRC coercion. Washington has, in fact, been actively helping PRC coercion. Where are our F-16s? -- MT] Hence, Sutter’s concern about reaction in Japan strikes us as misplaced, as is his call for consideration of a U.S. mediating role, which he raises on the assumption that there is now “greater U.S. acceptance of China’s powerful influence over Taiwan.”[Once again, US policymakers treat Japan with complacency. One day they wake up to find that Japan is not their father's little brother anymore. -- MT]
Moreover, while “demonstrating resolve” to respond to China’s growing capability may be necessary in some cases, it will not be in others.
There is in Sutter’s analysis a lurking fear that the mainland’s power will lead to PRC intimidation and Taiwan submission. We cannot rule out that the people of Taiwan will someday decide that unification on terms dictated by Beijing is an acceptable outcome. But the odds of that are not high because Taiwan has resources that will encourage PRC restraint. As with the U.S., the Chinese accumulation of power is a means to an end. That end is the resolution of the dispute that has divided the two sides of the Strait for 60 years, and a heavy-handed exercise of PRC power is likely to be counter-productive. Contrary to Sutter’s apparent assumption that such a coercive course will appeal to Beijing, in fact the undesirability of trying that approach in terms of achieving its objectives is widely recognized on the mainland.[Here euphemism reaches levels that are unnecessary and ridiculous. China's goal is not "resolution of the dispute." It is annexation of Taiwan. China is not accumulating power to resolve the dispute but to coerce or forcibly annex Taiwan. Of course such a coercive course will appeal to Beijing -- it is the only one that will work! If China did not threaten to murder Taiwanese wholesale and plunge East Asia into war, Taiwan would already be independent. Sutter is dead on, Bush and Romberg are deploying rhetoric to obscure this reality. -- MT]
The first and foremost resource at Taiwan’s disposal is its democratic system. Ma Ying-jeou won power in important measure through the appeal that reassurance of and expanded cooperation with China would better guarantee the island’s prosperity, international dignity, and security.[But the only reason Ma could make that appeal to security is because the PRC threatens Taiwan militarily. KMT success hinges on PRC coercion. -- MT] It remains an open question whether Beijing will be willing to make the sort of concessions that prove Ma’s case with respect to dignity and security. That is its choice, and Sutter is skeptical that Beijing will comply, unless Taiwan threatens to take “a different international and military path.” (It is also an open question whether expanding cross-Strait economic ties will bolster the island’s prosperity amid a global economic crisis).[This latter part is completely lucid and intelligent. it's so rare to see any commentator mentioning the proposition that closer economic ties will not be good for Taiwan. Kudos to Bush and Romberg.-- MT]
What is not open to question is that Taiwan voters have the clear option of punishing Ma and the KMT if his promise is not realized or if they believe that Beijing’s terms, rather than meeting their aspirations, create political, security and economic vulnerabilities. While Beijing should not fear the give-and-take of a robust democratic system in Taiwan, what it should fear is that its failure to cooperate with Ma on these issues will bring back to power a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) that is potentially in a “fundamentalist’ mode that some in the party still favor and that would carry with it the potential for a replay of 2002-2008. It is the possibility of that outcome that is the most powerful instrument to encourage PRC moderation and flexibility. [I think the KMT has nothing to worry about in the elections irrespective of PRC behavior. The legislature has been a disgrace for decades now, but the public keeps returning the same people to power, and the new changes ensure KMT control of the legislature for decades to come. Ma Ying-jeou may be unpopular now for selling out the island's sovereignty and for fumbling on the economy, but soon the cabinet will be replaced and a new, more election-oriented group will come in, and Ma will win again in 2012. Nor do I consider the vote collection and counting immune to manipulation, if that becomes necessary to ensure a Ma victory.
I think Beijing is aware of all this, and knows that its behavior is irrelevant. It may toss us a bone on the WHA, which the US foreign policy establishment and US media will duly report as a great breakthrough in Beijing's consideration of the people of Taiwan. And don't forget, the US is certain to be supporting Ma as the election of 2012 approaches. Bottom line is, if democracy here becomes a factor in preventing annexation, the KMT will attempt to reduce that threat. It is not for nothing that party heavyweights repeatedly invoke Singapore in their public discussions.
Note also how the invocation of democracy and the Constitution as issues that may block annexation subtly absolves the US of responsibility. -- MT]
There is another way that Taiwan’s democracy will discourage preemptive capitulation. That is, for some sort of unification to occur, it must have the very broad consent of the Taiwan public. A change in the legal status of the Taipei government, which unification under any terms would entail, will require amendments to the ROC Constitution, which in turn requires a three-fourths vote in the Legislative Yuan and a super-majority in a referendum. Although the DPP was defeated in the last elections, it still commands significant support – at this point, more than enough support to block any constitutional change. China will have to be more creative than it has been so far if it wishes to foster a broad consensus on the island for continuing improvement in cross-Strait relations and, eventually, some sort of unification.[I think it would have been more correct to note that few people want annexation, whether they vote Blue or Green. The DPP does not have a monopoly on not wanting to be part of China! But really, the KMT has shown no sign of willingness to submit cross-strait talks to public oversight. Do you really think a little thing like the law and Constitution will get in their way? China does not have to be creative at all, especially with the US openly supporting the KMT. It merely has to continue the pressure and look forward to the KMT dumping Taiwan in its lap.-- MT]
Taiwan can also fortify its position by strengthening the fundamental pillars of its security. These include an internationally competitive economy with strong multinational corporations; an effective, two-party political system; a modest military deterrent; sensible diplomacy; and a strong relationship with the U.S. These are not easy tasks but they are not impossible. Accomplishing them will help ensure that Taiwan is not without power of its own. [If you guys in the US wanted an effective two-party system, why did you spend the last two elections hacking on one party and supporting the other? If you want us to have a modest military deterrant, why did you play a big role in screwing up our special arms purchase? Where are our F-16s. D'oh. -- MT]
The PRC does have a stronger economy and a stronger military. But those do not guarantee that Beijing will achieve its Taiwan goal, and certainly not that it will be able to do so through intimidation and coercion. The power it still lacks is the political appeal to the Taiwan public. Reassurance of the mainland has its risks, but it also has the advantage of reducing the probability of war, and of laying a foundation for a cross-Strait relationship on terms acceptable to both sides, which is the goal not just of the United States but Taiwan and the PRC as well.
It is a common complaint on this blog, but the way the Bush/Romberg piece describes DPP foreign policy shows that US thinkers, at least publicly, are repeating their own propaganda in their internal debates. During the time that Chen was operating in "fundamentalist mode", which they identify as 2002-2008, the DPP government negotiated agreements for direct charter flights, student exchanges, tourism, informal police exchanges, asked for peace talks repeatedly, and so on. My readers have all heard this before, so I won't bore you with the full list. It was China, not the DPP, that was intransigent and fundamentalist in these talks. That will never find its way into an Establishment piece on Taiwan, though.
The use of the term "fundamentalist" to describe Chen Shui-bian and the DPP was almost painful in its irony, because at the same time this came out, China's Foreign Minister Yang was at CSIS complaining in the usual intransigent, blustering, violent Chinese way:
Here I want to stress that no matter how the situation across the Taiwan Strait may evolve, we will never waiver in our commitment to the one China principle and will never compromise our opposition to “Taiwan independence”, “two Chinas” or “one China, one Taiwan”.In other words, if you insist that you will kill people to annex an island you have never owned, and plunge the entire East Asian region into war, and repeatedly aver in public that you will never compromise on this colonial mission, you are a great statesman who will be feted in Washington. If you negotiate for Taiwan while protecting its sovereignty, but on a flexible and pragmatic basis that pursues a wide range of contacts, you are a fundamentalist.
Appropo is Jean-Michael Cole's piece in the Taipei Times yesterday, warning the Taiwanese populace......
For if this is allowed to proceed unchecked, Taiwanese could wake up one day and find themselves in a situation where their worries about a sagging economy or falling stocks are nothing more than a minor headache compared with the new challenges they face. The question is: Does this nation seek to react when it might be too late, or will it seek to be proactive and parry the blows as they come?Judging from the tone and points of the Bush/Romberg piece, it cannot come soon enough. And yet, Jim Mann has argued in The China Fantasy that the Chinese middle class will ally with the authoritarian state to protect its wealth and status. Don't be surprised if the KMT attempts to cut a similar deal with our local middle classes. In essence, that's what 6-3-3 was.....
The Ma administration has displayed worrying signs of incompetence, while within the KMT there are a number of unaccountable individuals with close ties to Beijing whose motives bode ill for the future of Taiwan. This is a dangerous mix that competent CCP members are sure to exploit to the fullest and with total disregard for the views of ordinary Taiwanese.
The time has arrived for the Taiwanese middle class to awaken from its slumber and take the destiny of their country in their own hands. There is no room for rampant defeatism or the sense of powerlessness that seems to have installed itself like cosmic dust on the shoulders of Taiwanese. Real leaders, anger, a fighting spirit — this is what the situation calls for and only Taiwanese can find the means to breach the pan-green, pan-blue divide and get the message across.
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