Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Taiwan: from mendicant to irritant

This weekend went out and did the Nantou-Chiayi tea roads I'd done with Nathan four months ago, that knocked me out of cycling for months afterwards. Drew's write up of our excellent time is on Taiwan in Cycles.

The good news is that, we got some relief from the steady flow of news about corruption in the city council elections (latest: city council candidate sentenced to two years, flees to China, waits out statute of limitations, then returns and is elected. Only in Taiwan.). The bad news it was just another foreign policy screw-up involving the Ma government and the US government.

It turns out that the Republic of China flag (not the Taiwanese flag, there's no such thing) was raised over the Twin Oaks official residence of the ROC.... from the Taipei Times:
The ROC national flag was raised on Thursday last week at the Twin Oaks Estate — the former residence of ROC ambassadors to the US — for the first time since Washington switched diplomatic recognition from Taipei to Beijing 36 years ago, Representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) said. He said the ceremony was made possible under a mutual understanding with the Obama administration.
How 'bout them beans, eh? Shen said the US knew in advance and approved as long as it was kept quiet. But then the story broke and the State Department was out there denying everything like a B-17 crew frantically tossing out chaff on a bombing run over Berlin. [UPDATE: Shen admits that the US was not informed.] From the State Department briefing:

Q: And Jan, about the flag-raising ceremony, yesterday you said U.S. did not, you know, notify -- was not notified in the event, but Taiwan's government said, you know, they have reached understanding afterwards. Could you comment on that?

MS. PSAKI: Well, one, I think I would just reiterate what I said yesterday, is that it's inconsistent with our policy and not notified in advance means you didn't know about it in advance, which seems consistent with what you just said.

Do we have any more on Taiwan?

Q: Well, yeah, because after the briefing yesterday, I read a couple of reports about this. I'm just -- had it previously been not allowed for the Taiwanese mission here to raise the flag at the representative's office -- residence?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think the issue is that it's inconsistent with the spirit of our policy and it's violated our longstanding understanding on the conduct of our unofficial relations. I'm not sure if there was a previous incident to speak of.

Q: So, well, have the Chinese -- well, you were asked yesterday if the Chinese had complained directly to you. Do you know if they have?

MS. PSAKI: I don't have any more specifics on that. I'd point you to the Chinese.

Q: This is the first time you're aware of this ever happening?
MS. PSAKI: I don't have any historic record of -- of flag-raising issues, so I don't have a confirmation of that or not.

Q: Well, is there any -- is there any repercussion? Is there any consequence to -- to people -- I mean, I presume that there's an American flag at the AIT in Taipei. Yeah? I mean, is there any -- does it -- does it have any consequence that they...

MS. PSAKI: Well, we're in discussions with -- U.S. officials in Taipei and Washington are in discussions with Taiwan authorities about the matter. I don't have any other specifics for you.

Q: And what's the -- how does it get remedied? Do they have to take it down?

MS. PSAKI: I just don't have anything to predict for you at this point.

Q: Yeah, but can -- can we find out? Because, you know, as...

(Cross talk.)

MS. PSAKI: If I have something more to offer, I'm happy to share it. I'm not sure that I will at this point because we're still discussing with them.

(Cross talk.)

Q: (Inaudible) -- official capacity?

MS. PSAKI: Well, I think it's not about the U.S. views it. It's a representative compound. It's not a private person's home.

Go ahead.

Q: Just to follow up. When you said yesterday, you know, the ceremony is not consistent with U.S. policy. So what kind of message you would like -- you would like to deliver to Taiwan, such as "don't do that again" or --

MS. PSAKI: I think the message is what we've been conveying, which is that we're disappointed with the action. The flag-raising ceremony violated our longstanding understanding on the conduct of our unofficial relations. We have a robust set of cultural relations, but we do not have diplomatic relations. And we'll continue to discuss this with the proper officials.

Q: Well, that's a bit more than you said yesterday. You're disappointed then, I think.

MS. PSAKI: I believe I said exactly that yesterday.

Q: You did say that? OK, I must have missed it. Well, regarding other disputed areas, I mean, would you have the same problem if, I don't know, if the Dalai Lama's office here put a Tibetan flag up?

MS. PSAKI: We can discuss that if that happens, Matt. I'm happy to talk to our team about that.

Couple of things were pointed out to me in discussions with knowledgeable people (1) the ROC flag was plastered all over Twin Oaks for national day in October, with US officials in attendance. (2) Shen is not a loon and unlikely to have done a formal flag raising without clearing it with officials in Taipei and with the US. (3) the compound may be an official residence but it is technically privately owned by a foundation.

Lots of speculation about why... Taipei Times reported on one US official's reaction:
In an exclusive interview with the Taipei Times, a senior official in US President Barack Obama’s administration strongly denied that Washington had approved or knew anything about a Republic of China (ROC) national flag-raising ceremony at the Twin Oaks Estate in Washington on New Year’s Day.

He said the action undermines trust and puts symbolism ahead of real substance, leading many in Washington to ask: “Who in Taipei is in charge of the US-Taiwan relationship?”
It's just another example of the irritant policy -- Taipei does essentially harmless actions that annoy would-be allies like the US or Japan, in order to keep relations unsettled, making it harder for them to support Taipei. That's the function of the US beef mess and Taipei's crazed claims to the Senkakus -- which affect relations with its natural ally Japan -- and the South China Sea islands, which drive a wedge between Taipei and its natural allies against Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. It's all part of a piece. Readers may recall the US-Taiwan Business Council's complaint that Ma Ying-jeou had done nothing for US-Taiwan relations. Who could have predicted that?

China naturally complained, thus showing how another part of this policy is to use Taipei to transfer tensions between Washington and Beijing into the Washington-Taipei relationship.

It also shows how incredibly weak the State Department and US are in the face of possible complaints from Beijing about Taiwan. When Beijing complained, instead of backpedaling, the US just should have politely told them to take a long walk on a short pier. More spine, please. I mean, wasn't this the same department that not a month ago issued a legal document blasting China's wholly invented claim to the South China Sea? Why is it only Taiwan that gets this solemn cringing?

UPDATE: Commenter below notes publicly what I've heard privately, that Shen arranged press coverage. It's all about the irritation.

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!


Marc said...

And I would like to add that the ROC flag flies over the KMT building in San Francisco all the time. Ya gotta problem with dat??

Michael Carl said...

Someone took the wrong approach on this issue. In the United States we have Freedom of Speech. And that freedom is extended to foreign visitors. Flying a flag falls under this freedom. Someone should tell the PRC folks who complained to 'pound sand.'

Anonymous said...

Mike, the ROC flag was raised on National Day last year at Twin Oaks. For verification, check the photograph section on TECRO's website. And for the record, Shen is a "loon" and more than likely pulled this stunt off his own bat. He was scheduled to return to Taipei for a legislative briefing shortly after New Year's Day and undoubtedly wanted to create some media attention.

Michael Turton said...

Yeah, I know. So why the fuss this year over what has happened many times before? This was arranged. Shen was kicking up a fuss on someone's orders.


Anonymous said...

Mike, this happened only once before and there was almost no media coverage. Shen arranged a news release this year issued by TECRO and also press-ganged a long-serving Washington-based Taiwan correspondent into promoting the event. Look for Shen to be replaced just after the Chinese New Year.

Erich said...

I think Mr. Cole's model provides a hint to China's reaction:

Roughly speaking, since PRC felt more secured, it now starts screaming and yelling at lesser issues - for example, the Perry Class Frigate, or raising of the flags. In principle, by squeezing the space for maneuvering, PRC could crush Taiwan at the diplomatic level eventually.

However, I still don't quite get why Shen did that...It is a move that would anger everyone (maybe except Taiwanese's ego) with little benefit. Such a move would be counterproductive for maintaining KMT's (superficial) image as a "good boy." Is KMT in a panick mode?