Thursday, March 02, 2006

John Tkacik is Da Man!

Thanks to Jason at Wandering to Tamshui for passing me this one: John Tkacik is my new hero:


Chen Lets off Steam


The Wall Street Journal (Asia)

March 1, 2006

It's fashionable in some quarters to suggest that the Bush administration is exasperated with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's supposed attempts to "provoke" China. And that Monday's announcement that a cross-strait reunification body known as the National Unification Council "will cease to function" has caused further anger in Washington.

The truth is rather different. The prevailing sentiment in the Bush Administration is to sympathize with President Chen's frustration that, after six years of policy concessions and diplomatic outreach to Beijing, he has gotten nothing in return. People in the administration working on China say that Monday's symbolic decision -- the council is not being formally disbanded and, in any case, for all practical purposes ceased to function many years ago -- "has not happened in a vacuum." In particular, they point to last year's enactment of China's anti-secession law, mandating the use of force to take the island, and the luring of Taiwan opposition leaders Lien Chan and James Soong to the mainland on high-profile visits designed to isolate President Chen.

See? I knew the Nelson Report that Bush was personally furious was a crock. Glad I said so too.

"China surrounds this guy and is closing in on the last piece of metaphysical territory he controls," one told me. "They try to isolate him and beat him down. What do they expect?" Add in Beijing's military buildup, with an estimated 800 ballistic missiles now targeted against the island, and its relentless efforts to deny Taiwan any access to international bodies -- even over matters of life and death, such as a possible avian flu outbreak -- and it's clear which side the provocations are really coming from. Beijing "can't constantly increase the pressure on someone and not expect it to blow," said one China-watcher in the Bush administration.

Tell it like it is!

It's not just the White House that understands President Chen's dilemma. He is caught between unbearable pressure from Beijing -- aided by the pro-China Kuomintang and People First Party in Taiwan -- and pro-independence forces within his own Democratic Progressive Party, as well as the avowedly pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. Within that context, President Chen has steered a clever path, making repeated concessions to allay any concerns Washington might have initially had about Monday's move.

Just what I've been saying all along, that Chen is a pragmatic politician. None of that Chen-is-crazed nonsense that one reads in the pro-KMT propaganda that leaks into the international media. After observing that Chen convinced the White House envoys things weren't so bad, and promised not to mess with the four "No-s", Tkacik goes on to note:

That won't, of course, stop Taiwan's pro-China politicians from trying to cause trouble over the issue. They risk seeing one of their most important cards -- the charge that Mr. Chen is "jeopardizing Taiwan's ties with its most important ally" -- undermined by Washington's relaxed reaction to Monday's announcement. No wonder then that opposition leaders are already trying to stir up controversy by calling for a symbolic "recall" vote in the Legislative Yuan and threatening a mass demonstration on March 12. The possibility this could degenerate into the same sort of violence seen during the protests that followed President Chen's narrow re-election in March 2004 cannot be ruled out, and the Bush administration would be well-advised to prepare for this eventuality. But hopefully reason will prevail, and Taiwan's pro-China politicians will realize that such an overreaction is unlikely to gain them support among Taiwan's voters or any sympathy in Washington -- where it would only cast doubt on the opposition parties' commitment to democracy and rule of law.

The pan-Blues are "Pro-China politicians." PRO-CHINA! In print, baby! In the Asian Wall Street Journal. Yowza! This dude is channeling me! John Tkacik, if I ever run into you in Taipei, I am definitely buying you dinner. And lunch. And breakfast. In fact, you can marry my daughter. Just what I've been saying all along about the Blues -- even the same phrase. I also like the way he points out the blowback from the Blues' pro-China policy in Taiwan as well. No one has yet said in print that the "protests" in Taipei after Chen's election in 2004 were stage-managed for the international media -- which fell for them completely -- and that many of the protesters were paid, but Tkacik sure looks like he is moving in that direction. Go John!

He closes with something I say quite a bit too -- that Taiwan is an opportunity to be grasped, not an annoyance to be dealt with:

Given a few weeks of quiet, Washington and Taipei can turn their attention to these issues -- and Taipei will once again have a chance to show that it is a more reliable and valuable U.S. partner in Asia than Beijing will ever be.

It's not often that you see something in the international media that isn't at least faintly pro-KMT. What is the sound of one island clapping? I hope Tkacik can hear it.

In the meantime, let's sit back and enjoy our favorite flatpeter politician, Ma Ying-jeou, doing the Ma Shuffle (that's one step forward and a step to each side, then a 180 degree turn and do the same thing) as we wait for Beijing to indicate its ire in more concrete ways.


Jason said...

Yeah! The guy tells it like it is. He's also one of the most entertaining guys out there on the DC think tank panel circuit. Nothing like seeing him and old school badasses like Harvey Feldman locking horns and asking the uncomfortable questions.

Oh yeah, i assume Tkacik's already married, but I once sold his college-age son an iBook. Evidently, good taste runs in the family.

David said...

So good that you posted it twice, huh?

While I agree with nearly all of his analysis - I do question how this has been received in Washington. I'm sure there are plenty of Taiwan experts in Washington that understand Chen's position, but how sympathetic are the senior guys (i.e. Bush and his advisors) who can't keep up-to-date with Taiwanese matters?

I still feel that the way Chen sprang his new-years brainwave of getting rid of the NUC on everyone will have damaged relations. No matter how successfully it has been explained and rationalised after the initial announcement, it's got to hurt relations when the US government (with all its advisors and experts) has to read the Taiwanese newspapers to find out what Chen's planning.

Apart from anything else, it almost certainly placed the Washington Taiwan-experts in a real bind. Initially they didn't know what was happening, and then subsequently they've been put in a fire-fighting role.

Really - a little bit of thought and warning beforehand is waay better than the (presumably) frantic diplomacy that went on in the last fortnight.

The same gal from the Bronx said...

Taiwan and China?? no comment, but the kumquat looks really great hehe

Michael Turton said...


Actually, I misspelled Tkacik's name, so I deleted the first one. LOL.

Yeah, I wish Chen wasn't leading like a Chinese leader, keeping everything close to the vest and not telling anyone anything. US relations are way too important to gamble with like that. But fortunately Ma has the same habit of talking before consulting the underlings. So it is going to be a game of whoever keeps the lowest profile -- and all that lightning being attracted to Chen gives Su a very low profile indeed. Maybe there is a method to all this madness.


David said...

Ah spelling - but how on earth are you supposed to pronounce it? I wonder that every time i see one of his articles.

cleverCLAIRE said...

Nice. Thanks for the article. Love Tkacik.

The pronunciation, I believe, is /tA sik/.


Jerome said...

It certainly is good to see an alternative voice being sounded in public and inside the Beltway! Go John!

Tim Maddog said...

Claire is indeed clever. From Tkacik's "about" page:
- - -
...(pronounced "Tassik")...
- - -

I also think Tkacik has it quite right, but it makes me very uncomfortable having somebody from the Heritage Foundation on my side... What will the future price of such "friendship" be?

Anonymous said...

I lean more towards David's view here. Chen's done some real damage to a relationship he can't monkey with - the US. I suspect theres a close understanding in DC about the pressures he is under, but this does not necessarily translate to a warm and fuzzy feeling in the White House (despite nice words in Kyoto). Makes sense that Taiwan is on the radar when its a problem. Period.

And Tcacik? Well we are talking the conservative Heritage Foundation here. What would you expect him to say? Its one perspective among many inside the beltway. There'll always be support for Taiwan democracy, but I can't see that at the complete expense of the China relationship. Doesn't this mean that 'strategically ambiguous' juggling act will continue?

Michael Turton said...

Doesn't this mean that 'strategically ambiguous' juggling act will continue?

How ambiguous is it, really? The problem is that China has managed to pare away a lot of the ambiguiuty -- One China + "we don't support independence" is looking more and more like "We think Taiwan is part of China." We need to get the ambiguiuty back.


STOP_George said...

Again, I prefer to look at this affair from a domestic perspective. And I think when this is all said and done, Chen is going to look like a political master. And for everyone saying that he is doing this for a "political legacy" and for selfish reasons -- HOGWASH! I now believe this is about tearing the fascade right off of Ma and the "new" KMT and spitting it back in their faces. It's time to find out who the men and the mice really are. Ma thrives on waffling. Well, he's soon going to learn that this 'aint
Belgium. The fruits of this strategy may not realized now, but in the end -- checkmate.

Mark my word -- this will be the gift that keeps on giving.

john tkacik said...

yeah, that was a pretty good article. and jason, i remember buying that computer from you! weird.. too bad you weren't there to sell me the power-mac i picked up for him a few months back :o)

greetings from austria, john w.

A Taiwanese in DC for now said...

Yep, Tkacik is amazing. One thing that really impresses me is that it is often considered a political suicide when someone speaks out against China in DC, but Tkacik has been doing a great job saying that kind of stuff for years and he survives these "suicides" every time. He is one of the few who have the guts to tell people what's right and what's wrong when it comes to the jingoism of certain countries that are skillful in the art of bullying other countries. I wish there are more people like him, both Taiwanese and the rest of the mankind.

A Taiwanese in DC for now said...

Yep, Tkacik is amazing. One thing that really impresses me is that it is often considered a political suicide when someone speaks out against China in DC, but Tkacik has been doing a great job saying that kind of stuff for years and he survives these "suicides" every time. He is one of the few who have the guts to tell people what's right and what's wrong when it comes to the jingoism of certain countries that are skillful in the art of bullying other countries. I wish there are more people like him, both Taiwanese and the rest of the mankind.
By the way, I am sorry that I have posted this comment twice, but it's not showing up on my computer.

Anonymous said...

I just noticed Tkacik has been forced out of the Heritage Foundation from pressure applied by the KMT. WTF4?