Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Nelson Report: responses to Xi's comments on Independence

On the Nantou 6, a great little way to avoid a section of the odious 14

Several people respond to Xi's comments on Taiwan independence....


CHINA/TAIWAN/US...we noted last week what Loyal Reader Richard Bush characterized as the "ritual salt throwing and foot stomping" period of a sumo match...senior players in Beijing and Taipei laying down rhetorical markers in preparation for how they will attempt to deal with each other once Tsai Ing-wen is sworn-in as president, this Spring.

More, of course, will be forthcoming, and the latest (see following some LR comments) caught our eye, so we again pulsed our advisors on whether this continues to be pro-forma, from Beijing, or something more, and thus to worry about.

A highly experienced USG who must be "anon" remains cautiously optimistic:

Chris, this can be seen as a step in the right direction. It is less hysterical than the earth will shake (or whatever it was) statement last year, and there are snippets of language like the reference to the 1992 consensus as a political foundation and historical fact that reflect Tsai language. No question this remains tough and neuralgic, but the warning also provides the basis and structure for feeling our way to a stable modus vivendi, too.

Another "ANON" is similarly careful:

"The best one could say is that it could have been worse. I agree with Randy [Schriver, below] Beijing is very good at placing the blame for the failures of its own policies on others. Washington will have to keep its game face on and resist Chinese propaganda. Taipei will have to do a superior job in explaining why BJ is to blame for whatever difficulties occur. Setting preconditions is never the basis for good policy."

Bob Manning, The Atlantic Council:

I don't see anything new here. I would expect in the interim until Tsai takes office in May that Beijing will keep underscoring Chinese concerns about the DPP veering from the 1992 consensus. One could argue that the good news here is that Xi's body language suggests he's not pushing for more than the status quo - which is the best he can expect from a DPP government.

For the "yes do worry" side of the group, Armitage Associates' Randy Schriver:


We need to understand the Chinese playbook here. They want to portray Dr. Tsai as the trouble maker, pressure Washington to pressure her, and ultimately recreate a type of "co-management" of the Taiwan issue between the PRC and the U.S. These markers are not being placed for the purpose of keeping things stable - rather, Beijing is laying the ground work to set her up for "failure" (failure in the sense of not meeting Beijing's unreasonable/unrealistic benchmarks).

The Chinese will then seek to place the blame squarely on Taiwan for the renewed tension in the Strait. Chinese leaders will then parade through Washington and proclaim that this is a "shared problem" and Washington must do its part to keep Taiwan in the box.

I think too many people misunderstand CCP objectives and think that leaders in Beijing want stability and that they hope for steady progress in Cross-Strait relations. That's false. Xi and others want unification, not stable development of ties between Beijing and Taipei. More pressure is coming and Washington better be prepared.

Dr. Tsai can be a great partner to the U.S. based on what she has laid out in the campaign and based on her track record. In order to harvest those opportunities, this Administration and the next are going to have to be vigilant in withstanding Beijing's coming assertiveness/aggressiveness on Taiwan, as well as in charting a course for stronger U.S.-Taiwan ties in such an environment.

ANON USG: also worried:

I am sure the DC commentariat will say it is pro forma, except that there has been a tremendous uptick in anti-Taiwan and anti-Tsai sentiment coming from PRC state media organs. I have seen similar stories in PLA Daily, Global Times, Xinhua, and People's Daily. This seems to be an organized campaign, and the language seems sharper than usual and from more senior officials. My gut tells me this is not just standard fare for domestic consumption but perhaps laying down a marker for more concerted action of some kind in the coming months. I am not saying the very worst case will come true. I am suggesting that Beijing is preparing the messaging battlefield for some serious saber-rattling as Tsai's inauguration approaches.

Here's what the Loyal Readers were reacting to, at our request:
President Xi Warns Against "Taiwan Independence" In Any Form. Zhang Tao, PLA Daily (China). "Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday warned against "Taiwan independence," saying the historical tragedy of national secession will not be allowed to repeat. "We will resolutely contain the 'Taiwan independence' secessionist activities in any form," said Xi when joining the group deliberation of lawmakers from Shanghai on the first day of the national legislature's annual session. "We will safeguard the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and never allow the historical tragedy of national secession to happen again," Xi said. "It is the common wish and firm will of all Chinese people, and it is also our solemn commitment and responsibility to the history and the people," he said. "Our policy toward Taiwan is clear and consistent, which will not change along with the change in Taiwan's political situation," Xi told the lawmakers. "Compatriots from the two sides of the Taiwan Strait are expecting the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, and we should not make them disappointed," he said. "We will adhere to the '1992 Consensus' as a political foundation, and continuously advance the peaceful development of cross-Strait ties," said the president. Only by accepting the historical facts about the "1992 Consensus" and recognizing its core implications can the two sides have a common political foundation and maintain good interactions, Xi said." http://english.chinamil.com.cn/news-channels/today-headlines/2016-03/05/content_6943990.htm

No question, Schriver has the right of it. As I have said many times, the function of "tension" for Beijing is to transfer tension from the US-China relationship to the US-Taiwan relationship, a strategic victory for Beijing. Every hack on Taiwan by the Bush and Obama Administrations has been service to Beijing.

In this case the few conciliatory remarks and apparent restraint Xi is showing are there to set up later complaints about Taipei: look what restraint we've shown! And look how they are behaving with that democracy and everything! We've been trying so hard!. Eventually Beijing will start more serious complaining, which the international media will duly forward in its best stenographic fashion. And the pressure on the US President will begin.
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Tommy said...

I do think it is important to remember that Xi did not say that the consensus has to be the basis for ties. He said that China would adhere to it, and both sides must "accept the historic facts" about it. This is not equivalent to mutual recognition of the consensus. This is reassuring because it shows that leaders understand that the consensus is dead in the water as a basis for ties. This said, I have full confidence that Xi truly does want unification ASAP. On the bright side, economic troubles may serve as a distraction by giving him bigger troubles than Taiwan to worry about over the next two years. Xi could attempt to deflect attention from this by doing something big in Taiwan policy, but it may not come to that. And, I can imagine that there is probably a significant minority of officials that would really rather keep relations with the US on an even keel at the moment.

I think that the overall backdrop is important. While I was in Guangdong over the weekend, I read the official media summaries of Li's work report in the Guangzhou Daily. I might be wrong, but I got the impression that there is definite concern on the economic front as it pertains to reputation. The GZ Daily emphasized economic growth one too many times. There was even a statement that said, "1 percent of growth now is like 2.5 percent 10 years ago!" Taiwan is important, but all may not be well behind the curtain.

Michael Turton said...

Those are excellent points. What do you think of this personality cult being fostered around Xi? Do you think he'll actually step down when it is time?

Tommy said...

I am not sure about that. In HK, I have heard experts such as Wally Lam say that they do not think Xi ever intends to step down. Personally, I do raise an eyebrow at the degree of concentration of power in the hands of Xi Jinping, combined with the anti-corruption campaign, which has brought down fairly few of his allies. To me, this indicates that he is a leader who intends to give himself the strongest platform to affect the country in the long run. This said, from everything I have read, there are some murmurings about his actions, and, at some point, that will bite him somewhere he does not want it to without a much more draconian form of control. Is China ready for another Mao Zedong (not referring to Cultural Revolution and the like but to a perpetual strongman)? I do not think so.

That said, I can see him pulling a Putin -- stepping down while leaving a weak and pliable leader in his wake. In this way, China would get more of Xi without Xi as General Secretary. Then again, Xi might be more vulnerable than we think. Most of what happens among the Party people stays among the Party people.