Friday, April 24, 2009

US-China-Taiwan Love Triangle and WHA

Ma appeared at the teleconference yesterday and unlike when Chen Shui-bian appeared at the National Press Club a couple of years ago, the State Department did not protest that this was a violation of the One China policy. Perhaps this is progress.... From both public and private reports it appears to have been a lovefest ("Ma wowed 'em" observed one major Washington report). The Taipei Times reported on it today:
Former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage called it “outstanding” and former US deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz described it as “statesmanlike.”

Almost all of the high-profile panelists at the Center for Strategic and International Studies conference were later in agreement with Douglas Paal, director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, when he said that Americans should not be concerned about the direction that Taiwan is taking in its process of detente with China.

Paal, a former director of the American Institute in Taiwan, said: “The people who make policy in the US are right to be unconcerned by the pace and scope of political detente with the mainland. It’s time for the Taiwanese people to realize the benefits of reduced tensions in the very important economic and cultural relationship with China.”

He said that some people in Washington worried that Taiwan would rush into unification with China.

“I think this simply is not on the cards. The terms offered by China are not seen as generous by the Taiwanese. President Hu [Jintao, 胡錦濤] seems to recognize it is not going to happen any time soon,” Paal said. “Unification is not on the agenda. We can trust Taiwan’s vibrant democracy to make sure that does not happen. Even if a leader were to come to power tomorrow who wanted to unify with China, he couldn’t do it because of the Constitution. The people are the final arbiters. We should have confidence that it’s not going to happen.”

“The US defense relationship with Taiwan is of an enduring nature,” Paal said. “One hopes that China will come to live with it in ways that will allow the US and China to pursue their other interests.”
Interesting contrasts. At home, Ma is widely viewed as weak and ineffectual, and nurses approval ratings of under 30% even in pro-Blue polls, while in Washington, Ma is taken seriously as a statesman on US-China policy despite the fact that he is not even in control of his own party or its China policy! Of course the Big Cheeses at the conference are neither stupid nor uninformed, so the whole thing is basically an exercise in signal sending, a pavane of surreal doubletalk. Look at the signal in US China expert Alan Romberg's chilling comments in the final paragraph...
“One cautionary note. The success of Ma’s policies, and really of our own, will depend on Beijing’s continued and growing willingness to respond positively. We all know that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] has been cautious, unsure of where Ma’s heading and what the consequences of reasonable flexibility today might be for a future situation where the DPP [Democratic Progressive Party] returns to power,” he concluded.
Romberg regurgitates PRC propaganda for it: the DPP causes trouble in relations between Taiwan and China. Yes, we have to be cautious in case Taiwanese voters make democratic choices! In 2012 it looks like we can expect massive US pressure on Taiwan to prevent the election of the DPP and suppress local democracy. Remarks like Taiwan-China unification is "not in the cards" should be taken with a large grain of salt. Every person in that room must know where things are headed..... perhaps Washington feels that Taiwan's complete rejection of annexation to China might keep it out of China's grasp, but looking at the tea leaves, it seems increasingly clear that official Washington is going to sell out the island in order to obtain a better deal with China -- the usual Washington practice of making permanent concessions for temporary and reversible gains. Fortunately everything should happen in slow motion...

Ma called strongly for the US to continue to sell arms to Taiwan, while Douglass Paal, the solidly pro-KMT, former JP Morgan Asia Vice President, former AIT head here, said in the final sentence of his remarks that China should learn to live with US arms sales. All nicely scripted. Looks like we will get our F-16s, and China will make a pro forma protest, and everything will go on as usual.

Ma also mentioned Chinese students coming here to study -- effectively meaning that Taiwan's MOE will be subsidizing the studies of Chinese students by way of subsidizing Taiwan's colleges. Taiwan has massive oversupply of college places, and warm bodies to fill them are just across the Strait. He reiterated KMT plans to recognize Chinese credentials. Ma also claimed that 70% of Taiwanese support ECFA, although as I noted a couple of posts below this one, that is likely a wildly (2X) inflated figure. Both Green and Blue polls indicate that the public rejects ECFA and wants Ma to explain it better.

The shift in US attitudes toward Taiwan's fall into China's orbit is important, because voices in Washington are calling for a review of Taiwan policy.
The Taipei Times has been told by senior congressional sources that a formal review is being considered by the Obama administration but that no decision has been made.

And Professor David Shambaugh, director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University, wrote earlier this month that there was a “growing discussion” in Washington of the need to undertake a thorough Taiwan Policy Review “given the dramatic and positive changes in cross-strait relations.”

Significantly, such a review would come at a time when Shambaugh — one of the most-respected China scholars in Washington — said that the Sino-US relationship appeared to be the best it has been in the 20 years since the “traumatizing” Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.

In a paper for the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Shambaugh said that resuming military-to-military exchanges with Beijing was a high priority for the Obama administration and recent bilateral discussions suggested such exchanges were slowly resuming.

“Concerning Taiwan, Washington is pleased with the trajectory of the issue since [President] Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) election. Cross-strait relations have substantially stabilized in all spheres. Of course, the real issue for the US in this area is the continuing buildup of ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan [now 1,000-plus], the large conventional force deployments in this theater and the continuing PLA exercises that simulate attack scenarios against the island,” he said.
The last review was under Clinton in 1994. Any revision of US Taiwan policy would not be in Taiwan's favor, I fear, as the population of US China experts is composed of many people who do business with China, and voices arguing for more realistic policies are not going to be listened to.

Brrrrr...... glad I am going biking this weekend, and won't be thinking about this.

Finally, on the WHA, Ma keeps talking about "meaningful participation." Taiwan recently thanked Japan for backing its participation as observer in WHA, but several people with Washington and Taipei foreign policy experience have said privately that it looks like "meaningful participation" isn't going to mean even observer status, but instead, some kind of participation under the "Chinese Taipei" formula. People sometimes ask me "What did the DPP ever do?" and the answer, is that many of its accomplishments were "negative" -- preventing things from happening, like the surrender of our cross strait shipping markets to Chinese firms, the surrender of our banking system to Chinese banks, or preventing expanded use of the odious "Chinese Taipei" formula. Once the KMT administration removed those brakes.....

...hope the weather's good this weekend...

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Readin said...

I was confused by Ma being allowed to speak in contrast to the shabby treatment of Chen a few years ago. Then I recognized Ma's brilliant plan. He promised to make progress in breaking out of the diplomatic embargo against Taiwan, and he's succeeding.

He has made a political prisoner of Chen Shui-bian and his party is denying Chen a fair trial. In various other ways documented on this blog Ma has been working to turn the ROC back into an authoritarian state - and the free speech allowed by Obama's state department is the first dividend.

If he really pushes things and runs sham elections, restricts freedom of religion and speech, he might even get a personal visit from Obama with an enthusiastic handshake and bow! It worked for Hugo Chavez and Saudi King Abdullah. Would it work for Ma?

Thomas said...

Oh, I see you have seen the whole Carnegie transcript after all. I found the whole thing shocking in the apparent ignorance of the political situation in Taiwan. What I found the most disgusting was Sutter's insistance that a "backlash" from Congress over pushing Taiwan in China's direction must be prevented.

Moreover, the idea that China-Taiwan relations might sour if the rate of opening up to China slows did not make the radar. This is like the financial crisis. As long as we don't think about what is over the horizon, we can blissfully live it up today!

Tim Maddog said...

Michael wrote:
- - -
People sometimes ask me "What did the DPP ever do?" and the answer, is that many of its accomplishments were "negative" -- preventing things from happening, like the surrender of our cross strait shipping markets to Chinese firms, the surrender of our banking system to Chinese banks, or preventing expanded use of the odious "Chinese Taipei" formula.- - -

Ironic, ain't it, that at the time, the DPP was being accused (by the very same people who say those things) that they were "doing stuff -- really bad stuff."

As for the "it-was-bad-then-but-it's-good-now" teleconference, Armitage, Wolfowitz, and Paal sure love Ma's lies about the unification that's supposedly not happening.

As you say, "nicely scripted."

Tim Maddog

Dixteel said...

This is indeed worrisome for Taiwan. It looks like those in the US and those in Taiwan hold completely opposite point of view. And the US seems to believe whatever Ma give them (70% and the AIT doesn't bother to double check on that?)

I am wondering if there are people of influence in the US that hold the more balanced or opposite point of view to those people.

Anonymous said...


The KMT is so funny, they completely ignore Lee Teng-hui in their history. The US would do better to have a better memory than the KMT.

While the US State Department screamed "the horror, the horror" when Chen Shui-Bian tried to show up on screen, but forgets that Lee Teng-hui visited Cornell and gave a speech in person! Why this completely rollback in what's acceptable for Taiwan's sitting president?

And btw, Lee spoke Taiwanese, Japanese, Mandarin, and English all fluently!