Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Our Predictable Establishment Commentators: Cossa in SCMP

Interesting week looking ahead -- new cabinet and premier to be announced tomorrow -- by presidential spokesman, and not by the president himself, a change in protocol -- and on Friday, the verdict in the Chen Shui-bian trial.

If anyone out there in the States can image and send to me the Mental Floss magazine article from this month that hilariously named Ma Ying-jeou as one of the world's five gutsiest leaders, I'd be eternally grateful forever for it.

A couple of weeks ago, when the DPP extended an invitation to their ally in the fight against Chinese colonialism, the Dalai Lama, I observed:
And how will the international media handle this conjuction of the freedom movement in Tibet, which it is sympathetic to, and Taiwan's pro-independence forces, who are (it goes without saying) "radicals" who "provoke" Beijing.
I think the answer was, predictably, Door Number Two on that one. Ralph Cossa of CSIS Pacific Forum, the all-Establishment-all-the-time think tank, had a long commentary in SCMP today about which it can only be said that if you want to consume tripe, Hakka style is definitely preferable to this. Onward and upward:
Taiwan opposition ploy effective but dangerous
Ralph Cossa

Updated on Sep 09, 2009
Right there in the title we have our Taiwan opposition, the DPP, out there being "dangerous." Gotta be careful of the pro-Taiwan, pro-democracy side. Next thing ya know, they'll have a referendum or something! Also, compare this to the Economist, which noted: "Chinese officials may be pleased that the DPP has apparently gained little." The DPP is "dangerous but effective", the DPP "gained little." You say tomato, I say fan chieh.

After a paragraph on how there were "serious concerns" about Taiwan's democracy a year ago thanks to the DPP, branded as incompetent and corrupt, and total KMT control of all aspects of the central government, Cossa goes on to say:
What a difference a year makes. Today, the DPP is resurgent and seems to have the Ma administration and KMT on the ropes. It may not have been very good at running the country, but it has proved itself to be a formidable force when it comes to its more traditional opposition role. One is tempted to tip one's hat to the DPP, except for one slight matter: its success is increasingly coming at the expense of Taiwan's economic recovery and potentially at a risk to its security,as well.
It's totally overblown to describe the DPP as "resurgent." The DPP is still pretty much where it was in May of last year when Ma became president. Rather, what's happened is that KMT control of the government has simply given the Party of the Dead Dictator every opportunity to display incompetence at whatever it turns its hand to, from economic recovery to typhoon relief. As a special bonus, Ma's signature projects as Taipei mayor, the Neihu subway line, and the trolley cars, are a mess. Despite controlling the legislature, stimulus bills have been passed tardily or not at all. One could go on. Suffice to say we are not looking at a rising DPP, but a flatpeter KMT.

But being Establishment to the core, Cossa makes his point: the DPP resurgence is affecting Taiwan's security and economy! Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! I love the next paragraph's opening sentence, so wonderful in its unstated implications:
Take its latest political manoeuvre, for example.
....for example!!! You know, because it is one of many examples of DPP threats to the security and economy of Taiwan. I wonder if Cossa has written as feelingly on the KMT's blocking of the special arms purchases over 60 times of the legislature. Couldn't find one when I looked today.

Cossa discusses the invitation, and says it was a "stroke of genius for an opposition party that seems to have the majority running scared." Yes, the KMT is so scared it has been deterred from indicting and locking up DPP politicians left and right. Oh wait, it has been doing that. If only the DPP really did have the KMT on the ropes....

Cossa discusses the reaction of Beijing, and observes:
Thus far, Beijing's response has been muted: ritualistic protests and the cancellation of a number of events aimed at highlighting improved cross-strait relations. But there is a real danger that Beijing will, at some point, reach the conclusion that the Ma administration is too weak and incompetent to deal with and revert to its old tactic: marginalising Taiwan and limiting its political and economic opportunities.

This could put at risk Taipei's attempts to negotiate an economic co-operation framework agreement - in effect, a cross-strait free-trade agreement (FTA) - with the mainland. Such an agreement is not only significant in its own right, as a boost to Taiwan's economic recovery, but is expected to open the door for similar FTAs between Taiwan and many of its Southeast Asian neighbours and, perhaps, even with the US.
There are at least two key points omitted -- and probably deliberately so -- in this discussion. The first is that Beijing very much wants ECFA because it is a huge step forward in its desire to annex the island and hollow out its industries on its way to do that. For the same reasons, Ma and other KMT heavyweights want it. The second key point is that the KMT and the CCP are in constant communication and obviously discussed the reaction to the Dalai Lama's visit. Hence, there was never any threat to ECFA -- if only there had been! -- and all this is really just Cossa's way of taking a completely egregious swipe at the DPP.

After accusing the DPP of unnecessarily antagonizing Beijing -- once again, since Beijing determines when it is antagonized, Cossa is essentially arguing that the DPP submit its foreign policy to Beijing's approval (all "antagonizing" is unnecessary in Beijing's eyes) -- Cossa moves on to take a by-now patented slam at the DPP, which everyone will now recognize as the current Establishment position (see Jerome Cohen's op-ed in AWSJ for entirely similar sentiments)
Perhaps the time has come for the DPP to understand that the role of a responsible opposition is not just to oppose everything for the sake of embarrassing the party in power but to craft policies that serve both its and the people's interests.
Yes, the current slam -- circulating in Taipei as the conventional wisdom and repeated to me as if it were gospel by my Blue friends and of course, by the Really Knowledgeable types up in Chinatown the capital, is that the DPP is objecting for the sake of objecting. He ends by claiming:
It also seems hard to believe that the KMT, for all its political clout, has been unable to take its case to the people of Taiwan and has instead allowed the DPP to seize the initiative.
Dr. Cossa, the KMT can't "take its case to the people" because there is no rational case for an ECFA whose real purpose is to integrate the island so tightly with China that it will be effectively annexed, which will whack 7-9% off the size of our IT sector and about which both pro-DPP and pro-KMT think tanks have tendered very equivocal analyses (what? You didn't put those facts in your op-ed? How did that happen?). The KMT instead is "isolating the case from the people", ensuring that there is no democratic oversight, and conducting negotiations on a party to party basis. The KMT doesn't want to take the case to the people.

Moreover, note the glaring problem, as the observant person who flipped me this piece noted: Cossa says that the DPP should not make waves else Taiwan will be marginalized. As if it is not marginalized now? No, Cossa's argument is that Taiwan should marginalize itself now so we can partake of the glorious future later -- simply a US version of the KMT Cargo Cult view of China: if we just build that ECFA runway, Chinese planes will land and disgorge plenty of cargo for all!

Cossa, like many Establishment commentators, argues that Taiwan needs the ECFA with China so that it can then follow it up with free trade agreements with other nations, FTAs that China is currently preventing. But as Chao Wen-hung pointed out in the Taipei Times a couple of weeks ago, there is absolutely no reason for China to permit Taiwan to have FTAs after ECFA. By preventing FTAs, China will force Taiwan firms to relocate to China to take advantage of China's FTAs with other countries. Veterans will already be able to hear China's claims: "Taiwan, as part of China, has no need of FTAs of its own since it can already partake of China's FTAs."

I'd like to believe Establishment assurances that we'll get our FTAs, but I seem to recall that before and after the election, there was a slew of articles in which legions of US Establishment analysts hinted/predicted that China should reduce/eliminate the missile threat facing Taiwan, among them Cossa (in the Taipei Times, no less). In fact, Cossa himself said he thought there'd be some kind of missile draw down. And what happened? Well, a year later, Richard Bush, the longtime US government Taiwan specialist who is to inscrutable what Bergman was to beautiful, was forced to wonder aloud why China hasn't reduced its missiles facing Taiwan. Meanwhile the silence from the all those other analysts who said that China would reduce its missiles.... stretches.
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Arthur Dent said...

"the role of a responsible opposition is not just to oppose everything for the sake of embarrassing the party in power but to craft policies that serve both its and the people's interests."

Got to just adore that one. It's like the actions of the KMT in the Legislature from 2004-2008 have been wiped from the history books. How many times did the KMT block the arms budget? (60ish?). How many times did they block spending for unrealted agencies after they felt slighted about changes to the post office and dead dictator hall? Wasn't it because of a KMT boycott that 2006 marked the first time the national budget was failed to be passed?

The KMT were precisely a disloyal opposition because they couldn't bear to have to accept that in the democratic system at the time they were the minority and that would have meant real changes to the physical and symbolic infrastructure of Taiwan that would reify this nation's self identity and undermine the ROC's future validity.

Excellent post. Its amazing how many commentators simply regurgitate Beijing Washington talking points.

STOP Ma said...

Here's a clip from the "Candy Floss" magazine (thanks to Echo)...

"Whether they're healing a tortured nation, conquering AIDS, uniting Europe, galvanizing Latin America, or wooing China, these heads of state are proving that they have what it takes to change the world.

Stay tuned for their "10 Gutsiest People of All Time" article where Neville Chamberlain tops the list.

hsinchu said...

Taiwan Echo said...

The Mental Floss article about Ma can be found here. I saw it from this site: Mental_Floss 有關馬英九的報導全文

The article is full of bullshits. Just one example among many: it argues that because of CSB, the trades between China and Taiwan waned, that caused Taiwan's economics to go down, and that caused the Taiwan-USA relationship to go bad. With that kind of nonsense, MF reaches a conclusion that everything is settled after Ma, against all odds, arranged a very difficult marriage between China and Taiwan.

Is it expressed in a sarcastic manner? I don't think so. It is more like a regurgitation of bias against Taiwan we often see in western journalist circle, which only shows how poor the author's knowledge is.

Don said...

Cossa: "...there is a real danger that Beijing will, at some point, reach the conclusion that the Ma administration is too weak and incompetent to deal with..."

Actually, the whole point of the Ma administration is that they are weak and incompetent: perfect "negotiation" fodder for the CCP which clearly regards them with contempt. What must unnerve Beijing is anyone with a bit of spine who honestly articulates the shock-horror reality that Taiwan's general public (in BJ's eyes the real enemy unfortunately) doesn't actually want any part of the great unification project.

Btw Michael -- enjoyed the reference and wiki link on the KMT's "cargo cult"!

Yves said...

Thanks Taiwan Echo for linking to the Mental Floss article. I too didn't see irony inside, it more or less looks like a kind of exotic topic treated superficially, Taiwan being presented as an awkward country. The article has likely been written before the typhoon and sounds quite strange after Ma's August performance, remarked even by Western mainstream media.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks Don! There's so much about Cossa's piece that is bad, couldn't cram it all in one blog post.

If Ma were competent and defended Taiwan, that would cause Beijing to worry (see case of Shui-bian, Chen). But since the Ma Administration is incompetent and weak, Beijing is happy.