Friday, April 07, 2006

Reading Ma in the US: Nelson Report on Arms Purchase

Surprise! Surprise! It is slowly dawning on the US that Ma Ying-jeou treated the US exactly like he treats the locals: as dupes to be patronized rather than as partners to be respected. The result? It's business as usual in the legislature as the arms package failed to make it out of Committee for the 50th time.

Judging from subsequent events, Ma apparently thought that he could say whatever he wanted to the US and then go home and do whatever he pleased. A sociologist of Chinese/US cross-cultural meetings would read this as Ma, behaving like the typical high-status Chinese, tells his listener what will make them happy, and then does what he wants -- because the listeners, being of lower status (Big Nose Barbarians from across the water, upstarts of a mere 200 years pedigree), have to politely accept it. That's what would happen in local society -- you're not supposed to point out that your boss is a liar and a hypocrite. But -- and one feels like Christopher Reeve in The Remains of the Day toasting the dinner party with the declaration that "this is the age of realpolitik" -- this is the realm of international relations and Ma doesn't get, in his gut, that he is His Majesty's Dog at Kew, and not the Qing Emperor receiving the Macartney Embassy with a politely contemptuous dismissal of British goods and British friendship. Ma thinks like a Chinese, not a Taiwanese, and his consciousness of his own stature is not that of a colonized islander struggling to survive in a vicious and uncertain world, but the consciousness of a son of the Middle Kingdom who is at the apex of the world. Chen knows what he is -- and has five years of experience manipulating Washington that Ma doesn't have. I suspect, from interacting with other mainlanders, that Ma actually believes the three letters "ROC" really mean something Out There.

The trip and subsequent meeting with Chen Shui-bian this week exposed several of Ma's weaknesses: No international experience. Overweening arrogance. No real intellectual depth (the bar exam that Ma failed Chen passed in his second year of college). No understanding of his place and Taiwan's place in the world. Some prisons are made of feather beds, as one of my favorite books says -- and Ma has been privileged and coddled his whole life. Now that it is time to step up, he appears to lack what it takes. My prediction: Ma is going to bring the US closer to the DPP in the long run, and the searing heat of local politics may well prove too hot for the KMT's Golden Boy to handle. For gold has a beautiful luster, but it has a low melting point....

A friend of mine tossed me some tidbits from the recent Nelson Report, a consulting report that supposedly has inside information into affairs in Washington. Some highlights:

First, the report, which spoke quite disparagingly about Chen Shui-bian two iterations ago, has suddenly discovered what we here have known all along: that Chen is a wily and pragmatic politician and a force to be reckoned with:

Yesterday, President Chen Shui-bian showed, once again, why he is a politician to be reckoned with, and that despite falling polls, and public criticism from the Bush Administration, he can't be written off as a serious player, and (as China seems determined to do) ignored for the remaining 2 years of his term. During the love-in here between Mayor Ma and Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick, et al, Ma was asked to please seek a rapproachment with Chen and the DPP, and to better cooperate on not just the arms sales package.

Ma said he would, but Chen has not only beaten him to the political punch, he's exposed a real weakness in the KMT's positions. Chen yesterday in effect called Ma's bluff by inviting him to a televised meeting, and saying IF it is true, as Ma argued here, that the KMT can bring back the "1992 Consensus" which, the KMT claims, would have the PRC accepting the ROC (Republic of China) as an equal participant in discussions about "one China"..why he, Chen, would be happy to participate!

Of course, the Chinese leadership then, as now, would not engage in any such meeting of equals...and Chen certainly knows that. Our sources on Taiwan say Chen and his supporters consider the TV "debate" a big victory for them, in that it has exposed what they see as Ma's novice status in international affairs, especially vis a vis dealings with China.

The meeting was great for Chen, as he displayed for all to see the ineluctable fact that he is smarter than Ma. Polls out today said Ma performed dismally whilst Chen made gains. The report then goes on to describe a meeting at American Enterprise Institute, long a KMT friend in Washington, at which Ma and the KMT got a spanking for their continued obstructionism on the arms package.

Simmons then threw down the gauntlet to Ma and the KMT with a deceptively simple suggestion: surely no reasonable person interested in Taiwan's defense could oppose a mere $200-million to do a design study on the subs? Only then could a rational business decision be made on proceeding. And if by chance the KMT and Ma wouldn't even get behind that compromise...well, that would certainly seem to confirm charges that the KMT is into appeasement of Mainland China. Ouch!

"Simmons" is Congressman Ron Simmons, in whose district the subs will probably be built. He is very interested in getting the sub sale, naturally. But note the challenge: the KMT is opposed even to design work on the project. Simmons has neatly trapped them: fund the design work, or be exposed as Chinese servants. Which of course the KMT is. Simmons also suggested a Taiwan Foundation for Democracy. There already is one, Ron! However, I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the irony of proposing the Taiwan Foundation for Democracy, which is filled with veteran anti-KMT types, at AEI, long in the KMT's pocket. Kudos to Simmons.

Under his "proposals," Stokes strongly endorsed the Simmons democracy idea, saying that Taiwan should be the host for the US-sponsored "Asia Regional Democracy Headquarters" which would "serve as a base for expanding democracy" on the Mainland, and elsewhere. Most especially, Stokes argued, Taiwan, as a democracy, should be embraced by the US as an active & strategic partner on a par with South Korea and Japan.

That's Mark Stokes, formerly of AIT fame. Heady ideas. Won't bear fruit, but nice to see.

All in all, with the exception of the supine questioners at the Council on Foreign Relations, who refused to give Ma even the slightest difficulty during their questioning of him, the US seems to be equivocal on Chairman Ma and the KMT (okay, so I veer from pessimism to cautious optimism. So sue me.). It's time it dawned on the Beltway Insiders that it is not in US interests to have a pro-China, Japan-hating mainlander who wants to annex Taiwan to China, as the leader of a nation that will be an important link in the US regional security network aimed at China. The DPP is an opportunity to be grasped, not a problem to be solved. Extend a hand us, guys.


Michael Turton said...

LOL. I veer back and forth. It does seem that the petty corruption is unending -- the ETC, for example....


Tim Maddog said...

STOP_George, I thought maybe you subconsciously wanted to assist in doing a census (an "exploding head" count?) of the cons. ;-)

Thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

There is a very practical argument for Congressional designation of AIT as the Asia-Pacific Regional Democracy Hub, along the lines that Sen McCain outlined in legislation he sponsored last year (S.516). Grant AIT greater funding for democracy advancement activities in Taiwan throughout the region, and, as an off-shoot, empower other organizations at State besides EAP to have a greater say. State EAP links China and Taiwan in its approach dealings with Taiwan everyday. As an aside, Stokes was not AIT but spent seven years handling defense policy toward Taiwan under both Clinton and Bush. He quit after being frustrated with the Rumsfeld and his crowd.