Sunday, December 25, 2011

Is America sticking a hand in the election?

The Taipei Times ran a piece today on a post at Ballots and Bullets on the Taiwan election in which CSIS analyst Bonnie Glaser argues that the US has a clear preference for Ma Ying-jeou. CSIS offers sturdy center-right Establishment analysis, and she is almost certainly correct; many high-level officials within the Obama Administration prefer Ma but could work with Tsai, as she puts it. The money paragraph:
Obama administration officials’ preference for a Ma victory is also a consequence of their hope to avoid introducing additional contentious issues to the increasingly complicated US-China agenda. Bilateral tensions have run high in recent years over a long list of issues, including North Korea, South China Sea, China’s military modernization, and China’s currency valuation and trade practices. US arms sales to Taiwan in January 2010 and September 2011 infuriated the Chinese and soured US-China relations as well, but the impact was relatively confined and short lived compared to the likely Chinese reaction to the return of the DPP to power. Past experience demonstrates that when Chinese fears of Taiwan independence spike, other issues are crowded out in US-Chinese consultations, making compromises and solving problems even more difficult than usual.
She goes to argue that "in the absence of policy steps by Taiwan that damage American interest in the maintenance of cross-Strait peace and stability" relations will go well. The basic problem here is that Taiwan is not in control of stability in the Taiwan Strait, China is. It is China that determines the level of tension between Taipei and Beijing, which -- as I have noted a million times before -- is a policy choice whose purpose is to affect US policy in its favor. No matter what "policy choices" Taiwan makes, China can simply react negatively in an attempt bring down US pressure on Tsai -- it is a key policy goal of Beijing to transfer tensions between Beijing and Washington to the US-Taiwan relationship. Hopefully American policymakers will learn to recognize this dysfunctional political response and act accordingly.

Two other aspects of US policy are highlighted in Glaser's piece. The first that the US-China relation is in the tank and that this has nothing to do with what Taiwan has done. US-China relations have deteriorated despite having Ma in power and will continue to decline, so it is hard to see why the US is so sold on him.

The second is one I have also alluded to, the way Taiwan is treated in isolation from other East Asia issues.   Analysts writing about it invariably ignore Japan and the South China Sea. This means that the Administration is essentially pursuing the contradictory policies of telling Taiwan to shush while quietly moving to shore up allies elsewhere in Asia, most recently with the addition of a paltry couple thousand marines to Australia and the announcement that the US is considering basing ships in Singapore.... remember this pic? (I just updated it).

That, in a nutshell, is where this counterproductive, shortsighted treatment of a possibly critical ally is taking us. Ask yourself, in the coming conflicts with China, does the US want a friendly government headed by a pro-western president, or a pro-China government headed by a pro-China ideologue who views himself as a True Chinese©? I submit the answer is obvious -- if you don't live within the Beltway.

I should add that Glaser also puts her finger on an important psychological strategic function of the Taiwan issue: "when Chinese fears of Taiwan independence spike, other issues are crowded out in US-Chinese consultations" -- Taiwan fixates Chinese minds.

In a separate article the Taipei Times also reported that several US Congressmen are writing letters to the Administration warning it not to take sides in the upcoming election.
There is a growing chorus of protest against perceived efforts by members of US President Barack Obama’s administration to interfere in Taiwanese elections by boosting President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九), who is seeking re-election on Jan. 14.
Glaser's piece was in response to one of the recent policy moves -- sending a minor cabinet official to visit and announcing the possibility of a visa waiver for Taiwan. The announcement of the visa waiver was seized upon by the KMT as tantamount to the US certificate of approval for Ma Ying-jeou, who has been trumpeting himself as the US choice.

The visa waiver campaign -- that idea originated with the pro-Taiwan side, of course.
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16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Obama:

You can't have it both ways.

The US can't insist that Taiwan become a democratic country, and then interfere with their democratic process when it doesn't suit you.

PS. You just lost my vote in the next election.

grg1951 said...

I don't believe that "when Chinese fears of Taiwan independence spike...." alone is at play here. I believe that with the growing number and intensity of protests taking place within China, The CCP will attempt to shift the blame for it's internal problems to the lack of progress on "unification." When things are going bad a home, blame it on the others. If Ma wins, and I believe he'll find a way to pull it off, he's gong to get a Vito Corleone--"a deal he can's refuse." Ma won't refuse, he'll claim he saved Taiwan, and the party is over. And Ma is off to New York.

Anonymous said...

One thing is certain.

If Ma does win, it will not be through the fair democratic process.

Ma has had to dig very deep in his resources to even stay in contention. He is being forced to make promises to all sorts of power brokers (many last resort promises he was not prepared to make) , and Ma will have to make choices as to which promises he will actually honor.

Even if he does win, the man and his presidency are doomed.

Michael Turton said...

If Ma does win, it will not be through the fair democratic process.

This worries me, actually....

Anonymous said...

1) When Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) spoke at Columbia not long ago, she had just come from D.C., and the moderator asked her flat-out whether Obama wanted Ma to win. As I recall, she said that officials had assured her that they didn't care who won but also didn't want the cross-Strait situation to come up in any of the U.S. presidential debates next year. Stay out of the newspapers, in other words. 2) There are so many big dometic issues in Taiwan this election that it's hard to imagine voters will spend much time thinking about Washington's preference.

Michael Turton said...

Ys, I think Washington flatters itself that people here pay attention. But I don't think there is any question that some within the Administration want a Ma victory.

Anonymous said...

or a pro-China government headed by a pro-China ideologue who views himself as a True Chinese©?

Soong has no chance so that scenario is practically impossible. It'll be Ma or Tsai, both of whom would represent friendly, pro-western government.

Michael Turton said...

It'll be Ma or Tsai, both of whom would represent friendly, pro-western government.

Tsai certainly will. Ma, alas, is a pro-China ideologue, head of a party and ideology that views the US with an ingrained, patronizing contempt.

Masolili Dumaz said...

Well said, Michael....I think Obama administration tries to play power balance, but it's so skin-deep. They totally ignore the dynamics nature of power. That makes the game stupid and dangerous. They also didn't realize that Taiwan is actually the most key role in the USA North-East Asia Macro Strategy. If Washington lost Taiwan, the USA at the same time will lose Japan, Southern Korea, Philippines and Southern China Sea, even the entire Pacific area. Supporting Ma is equally losing Taiwan...equally wasting US Soldiers and defense spending invested in Far Eastern Asia. The USA will be no longer the leader of the world. I wonder they have aware the serious consequence.
Am I exaggerating? I don't think so....

John Scott said...

If the U.S. is trying to sway the election and the general trends in Taiwanese politics, the one sure thing is that it is not for the reasons that most people think.

Chinese and Europeans (OK, everybody in the world except Americans) are trained to think that it is because the U.S. is forever trying all manner of tricky ways to retain world dominance and to "contain" China.

Most Americans are probably trained to think that it is because the USA's noble but thankless quest of spreading freedom and democracy and standing up to Communism.

The real reason (which anybody with experiece in and familiarity with Taiwanese history and society will plainly see) is that neither the U.S. nor the UN could care less about freedom or democracy in Taiwan. They simply want the irritating problems "caused" by democracy Taiwan to go away.

Simply put, they think that boosting and legitimizing the KMT's drive to capitulation is the most expedient way to eliminate the irritation.

Michael Turton said...

They simply want the irritating problems "caused" by democracy Taiwan to go away.

yep.

Anonymous said...

Indeed. While a Tsai victory would be in the USA's best interests, a Ma victory would be in the global plutocracy's best interests. If you think Washington officials work for the USA, their preference for Ma is puzzling; if you think they work for the global plutocracy, their preference for Ma makes a lot of sense.

-MSK

Michael Turton said...

f you think Washington officials work for the USA, their preference for Ma is puzzling; if you think they work for the global plutocracy, their preference for Ma makes a lot of sense

Sssshhhhh!!!

STOP Ma said...

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I'm somewhat surprised the KMT hasn't implemented the 100% unverifiable e-voting machines that the U.S. currently uses.

If the KMT want to steal the show, this would be the easiest way to do it.
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Carlos said...

I think it's wishful thinking that Ma couldn't win fairly. The KMT has tons of support, whether I can figure out why or not. And plenty of people (in Taiwan and in the US) seem to think relations are genuinely more stable under Ma. Or maybe voters think it'll result in a slower, less painful annexation process. That would be a little easier to understand, if not agree with.

Anonymous said...

US is being hypocritical (again). DC always says we shouldn't interfere in democratic elections (and they truly are democratic here
unlike the electoral college in the US..EVERY vote counts here for President and legislature or the Supreme Court installing GWB)...well the US is favouring the
"mainlander" because he is Beijing's lap-dog selling out Taiwan's independence..
The US announced just before the election:
"Taiwan gets US visa-waiver nomination" that coulda waited til after election...
just a coincidence.. I think not, rather meant to boost President Ma's chances in tight race
..while a legislator in 1992 this ass (Ma) voted against ever giving the people here the right to elect a president..
they were appointed by THE PARTY, his party the KMT
they had first free and fair elections here in 1996 I think
even though economy grew 10.8% last year the "1%'s" got most of it and the gap between rich and poor is the widest it's ever been here..sound familiar USA?
Asking the Taiwanese to vote for Ma would be like asking a US colonist to vote for a King George-hugging, loyalist, Tory for the US's 1st president..
This election is HUGE here for the direction Taiwan (and perhaps my life) takes.
I don't want to raise a child in a police state with a red flag.
Also there is a 5 month period between election and handover of power..that oughtta be interesting...the last President (Chen's) election (freely and fairly elected)led to a month-long, demonstration by sore loser KMT loyalists in Taipei's main square..and Chen sits in jail now on perhaps trumped up charges(?)from the KMT (who still control the judiciary), just as he did years before when he defended the opposition..they shot him the day before the election!! (culprit never caught) his wife was run over probably by KMT supporters and then they backed over her too leaving her paralyzed..
These people take their politics seriously here, and like the early US congress, fists fly often..
My last school went under because owner's wife stumped vocally for opposition. That a woman (Tsai, Ing-wen) here leads the polls is extraordinary.
This is a volatile/pivotal time in Taiwanese politics and Washington needs to SHUT UP !!!!
just one little US "foreigner's" opinion
PS I voted for Obama, my wife will vote for Tsai Ing-wen