Monday, June 27, 2011

Does Washington get it?

A gaggle of motorcycle enthusiasts converges on 7-11 outside of Dahu.

Justin Logan writes in "Would China Really Just Shrug At US-Sponsored Taiwan Independence":
I didn’t want to get too far outside my lane at the event, but now that there’s a writeup in the public record, I wanted to comment on one suggestion that Joe Bosco made in his remarks: that the United States should make a formal commitment to defend Taiwan.

Bosco argued that Washington should do so and could simply wave off the PRC, informing them that “prudent choice for China” would be to “learn to get along with its neighbors and respect the international norm.” (It was not clear from his remarks whether there would be any limit to that commitment or whether Bosco would use the U.S. military to defend Taiwan even if conflict was precipitated by, say, a formal declaration of independence in Taipei.)
One hears this bogeyman again and again: Taiwan might declare formal independence. I am moved to wonder at the concrete mechanics of how such a thing could occur. Half the nation is pro-KMT; the military, police and bureaucratic officialdom are pro-KMT; the recent changes to the referendum and constitutional change laws make changes all but impossible; the legislature is run by the KMT and will be for the forseeable future; the President lacks the power, etc etc etc. Of the events likely to perturb things in the Taiwan Strait, a formal declaration of independence is the least likely. Does Washington really get that? Or does being a Taiwan expert mean only having to understand what other Beltway insiders think?

In addition to its impossible political mechanics, it is unlikely for another reason, and that is the Taiwanese consensus on the status of Taiwan: we're independent. The DPP has defined Taiwan as a sovereign independent state since the 1996 democratic elections. The KMT says Taiwan is the seat of an independent government. The public doesn't think about the legal niceties too clearly, it merely rests content with the idea that Taiwan is independent. Whatever that means.

Former AIT Chairman Richard Bush also raised this bogeyman, in another context, in a much discussed report (Bush's remarks are pored over like Sybilline Oracles; it must be hard for him to resist making jokes).
Regarding de jure independence, Bush said he has found that this choice for Taiwan’s future might possibly still exist, but it has been constrained.

“My conclusion is very simple: That 15 years after the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis, China effectively deters Taiwan from making this choice — de jure independence. It builds up its military power in a significant way and is able when necessary to stimulate the United States to get involved in this issue,” he said.
China's military threat raises the issue of how a "declaration of independence" is defined. It is not difficult to imagine a situation where a DPP President simply reiterates the formulaic independence of an ROC-administered Taiwan and China using that as a pretext for an attack that was already long-planned. There's lots of wiggle room for interpretations about independence, and Washington is focusing on only the lowest probability outcome. Ultimately, it is Beijing that will decide whether Taiwan has declared independence.

Bush also said:
“I would like to say that political leaders need to work together to foster a better consensus on Taiwan’s core interests and how to protect them. As long as the political system remaines polarized and divided, that consensus cannot be built, and Taiwan cannot face the challenges of the cross-strait relations in an appropriate way,” Bush said.
The problem is the public's own view above: "we're independent" appears to me to be a major cause of the political divide. The Taiwan identity takes in the Blue-Green divide as part of itself; because people feel that they are somehow, hazily, independent, they feel safe voting for the pro-China party even when they are pro-independence, as most locals are. The real issue is getting Taiwanese to understand that the rest of the world does not share this breezy, undefined, not clearly explored assurance, something longtime Taiwan observer Robert Sutter noted in his most recent remarks on growing weakness of Taiwan relative to China, and the startling fact that the Taiwan public remains, at least on the surface, largely undisturbed by this phenomenon.

Other structural aspects interfere as well -- for some reason the public appears unable to connect its local voting with its international status -- KMT politicians get elected all the time in what should be pan-Green districts, and the legislature is abysmal, yet the public returns the same legislators to office year after year. Then it complains that the political system is paralyzed and outsiders complain no consensus is possible. The political system itself needs reform; the disastrous "reform" supported by the DPP several years ago has only made the problem worse.

Finally, there is the outside interference. If the US and observers like Bush want to see change, then it needs to stop. supporting. the. anti-consensus. side. The DPP and the pro-Taiwan side are the only team with an interest in consensus; division favors the KMT. And Beijing.

Longtime commentator Li Thian-hok outlined the nightmare scenario for the four month interregnum between a Ma defeat and a Tsai swearing-in:
Many Taiwanese who favor preserving Taiwan’s democracy and its de facto independence from China hang their hope on a victory by the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in January’s presidential election. A DPP victory is indispensable to Taiwan’s freedom, because a defeat would be regarded as an endorsement from a majority of voters of the KMT’s unification agenda. However, a victory by the DPP, while necessary, would not be sufficient to preserve the “status quo.” The KMT could still sign a peace accord with Beijing between January and May next year, thus formally surrendering to the PRC. If a victorious DPP refuses to honor the accord China could launch a military assault on Taiwan to coerce capitulation.
Brrrr..... this isn't very likely, but what would the US do? Especially if the DPP could be painted as disturbing the peace, changing the status quo (notice how that term has completely dropped out of cross-strait analysis since Ma came to power?) or declaring independence?
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums! Delenda est, baby.


FOARP said...

Li Thian Hok's 'evidence' backing up his conjecture is a supposed top-secret political will quoted in the book “The Taiwan Crisis: China’s Plan to Annex Taiwan Without a Battle by 2012,”, in which Deng Xiaoping speculated on topics (Taiwanese democracy, Hu's leadership) which either post-dated his death, or had only just started in the period when Deng had left the public eye due to advanced Parkinson's. He doesn't even bother to provide a source for his next titbit:

"In February 2008, the CCP held a joint meeting of the Political Bureau and the Central Military Commission at a strategic command center deep within a cavern in Beijing’s Xi Shan District. At this event Hu presented a top secret report about China’s historical mission. Here are some excerpts: “Historically, the West used battleships and opium to colonize China. Now the roles are reversed. We will seize the opportunity that capitalism’s economic crisis has presented us with. Through the opening-up policy, we will gradually make them Socialist China’s economic and cultural colonies ... Ultimately, we must free all of mankind through communism ... Solving the Taiwan problem is the first step we must take to fulfill our mission ... if we do not end the Taiwan problem, opposition activities attempting to topple our socialist government within and outside the country will run rampant ... Hence, quickly resolving the Taiwan problem is essential to keeping Socialism in China alive and to keeping the party in power.”"

Reading this, you come to realise how, for some, the ongoing cross-strait crisis is a gift that just keeps giving, allowing them to pose as experts on a subject through the continuous production of speculation based on dubious sources. War is always just a few years into the future, but never arrives.

ALX said...

I'm not sure I get it either. I get a sense of resignation, even from those who are consistent green voters. They seem to think that, as China might take over at any time, it's better to keep things are they are. The same applies to the blue voters, as long as the KMT promises to uphold Taiwan's sovereignty,voting for them decreases China's chances of military action, and would ensure a smoother transition if/when they do take over.

Michael Turton said...

War is always just a few years into the future, but never arrives.