Thursday, February 16, 2006

Chen, Ma, and Independence

I'd blog on Ma Ying-jeou, independence, and the KMT's insertion of a toe into the Centrist depths, but David at jujuflop has done a bang-up job. Predictably, the Chinese papers are reporting that the PFP has come out against it, saying that the "real enemy is the KMT." Interestingly, Ma's rival for KMT leadership, Wang Jin-pyng, said he was heartened to hear talk of independence. There'll be more to say tomorrow when the inevitable "clarifications" come out. As David said, I'm not taking any bets either. More tomorrow.

Today Taiwan News ran an article about a presentation from a US expert on Chen's New Years proposals.

According to Romberg, these statements "appear to stem from Chen's desire to regain the initiative from the opposition Kuomintang" in the wake of his Democratic Progressive Party's defeats in the 2004 legislative elections and the 2005 local elections.

"He seeks to do this by tightening his identification with Taiwan consciousness, heightening the impression of threat from the mainland, deepening the sense of separateness, and tarring his political opponents as capitulationist PRC toadies," Romberg said.

Quite true, and even better, Chen's moves are all truths -- the threat from China is worsening, Taiwan grows more separate every year, and his opponents are capitulationist PRC toadies (what a nice phrase! I think I'll steal it). The nasty part was this paragraph:

Although there is unlikely to be a cross-strait crisis because Chen lacks the wherewithal to carry out those proposals - which would take him across the lines drawn by China - the steps mean that there will be no significant progress in cross-strait relations during his remaining two years in office, Romberg predicted.

This is terribly one-sided. First, China has vowed not to negotiate with the DPP, so why blame President Chen? Second, although everyone talks about "improvement" in Taiwan-PRC relations, no one ever says exactly what that word means. It seems to mean "foreign policy statements and choices that make me happy" to everyone who uses it. To put it simply, there can't be improvement because one side, China, wants to destroy the other, and refuses to negotiate with it. I sure wish there was an analyst on the US side who could speak concretely about the cross-strait situation.

Romberg finished with:

He said China's reaction to Chen's statements has been somewhat detached and dismissive, but claimed that Beijing officials take every private opportunity to warn the U.S. to remain vigilant.

"The U.S. is not going to walk away from Taiwan. But it could distance itself from Taipei if Chen continues to act in ways that not only surprise Washington but move in directions seen as harmful to U.S. national interests," he said.

Here's the scoop: during the years of the KMT, Washington fought a secret little war with China using the ROC as a proxy. Later the KMT's corrupt and authoritarian government proved a great embarrassment to the US. Since 1986 when the tangwai politicians formed the DPP, things have been on a steady trajectory toward greater democracy and independence, the formation of a Taiwan identity, and the reform of the Constitution. Taiwan's democracy is the cynosure of Asia. Now, suddenly, after two decades of democratic reform and 15 years of Constitutional revision, all that is against US interests?

Admittedly, Chen did not have to surprise the US with his New Year's proposals. He didn't even have to make any proposals. But the President does have a domestic political situation to respond to. US analysts could just choose to let this whole thing quietly blow over and quit reacting to a crisis that does not actually exist. The real crisis isn't Chen's remarks -- which have been DPP and Taiwan policy since the lifting of martial law -- but the US reaction to them, and the terrible communication between the two sides that this episode has demonstrated. Apparently things have broken down so completely that Washington must air all this in public to get its point across. Viewed in that light, perhaps Washington should seriously reconsider its recent decision to downgrade AIT.....

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