Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Nelson Report on Chen Remarks

The widely read Nelson Report, the Washington insider's report on what's happening at high altitude inside the US government, discusses the State Department's response to Chen Shui-bian's remarks at the FAPA banquet last week. The State Department, which is pro-Beijing on the Taiwan question, muted its usually misguided rhetoric. However, it appears that either nobody in Washington understands what is happening in Taipei, or else they are unwilling to talk about it with the Nelson Report. Excerpts from the Nelson Report are below (emphasis mine).


Nelson Report Mon., Mar. 5, 2007


SUMMARY: speaking very carefully and, so far, not brandishing a big stick, the State Department today branded as "not helpful" Sunday's speech by Taiwan president Chen Shuibian, in which the pro-independence party leader came up with a new formulation...""the 4 wants"..seemingly in sarcastic opposition to the "4 noes" which the US and the PRC have enforced, in recent years, in the name of maintaining the status quo between China and Taiwan.

Chen spoke less than a week after the US offered to sell Taiwan several hundred missiles to help counter China's steady military buildup across the Strait. Today, defending the speech, Taiwan National Security Council secretary-general Mark Chen argued the speech showed that Taiwan has "the guts" to stand up to the US. "We don't always have to be well-behaved. Sometimes we must be bad." Reaction from Beijing was immediate and negative, but the key always is to see if the displeasure and rhetoric escalates. Back in 2003, Chen remarks, and an inconsistent reaction from the Bush Administration, helped set in motion the PRC's passage of the Anti-Secession Law.

Taiwan's stock market registered an immediate "protest" sinking 3.74% on Monday, while the Taiwan dollar weakened against the US dollar.

So far, it does not sound like Chen's remarks have been officially briefed to President Bush with an eye to seeking a more robust, if back-channel US reaction; recall what happened almost exactly one year ago, following Chen's 2005 New Year's speech on constitutional reform. At that time, your Editor came under some fire for reporting, accurately, Bush's strong personal displeasure at what he saw as Chen breaking earlier promises not to induce risk into the peaceful status quo.

This time, to a pro-independence group, FAPA, Chen went beyond his customary formulation that the real status quo is Taiwan already is independent, to say Taiwan has "wants" independence, a new constitution, more economic development, and an official change of name from "Republic of China" to "Taiwan".

While the Administration reaction today was firm, but low key...depending on further consultations...unofficial reaction here was very strong, the central point being that while Chen can't change the law, he can refocus the domestic political debate, and the new language clearly seems aimed at a future change, rather than claiming a pre-existing condition or status quo situation.

Therefore, by definition, Chen's speech Sunday seems directly aimed at altering the status quo...the "red line" consistently laid down by the Bush Administration in its effort to keep both Taipei and Beijing from reacting and over-reacting to each other in risky ways.

One very involved non-government observer privately commented, "this is as flagrant and blatant violation of the letter and spirit of the "4-noes" as Chen has ever done."

Another experienced observer was equally unhappy, but urged focus on the difference between rhetoric and action: "legally binding actions are hard, and Chen can't do legally binding things without cooperation from the [opposition] KMT and the LY, so as long as the Pan Blue opposes legal changes, nothing can happen."


When Chen made his 2005 New Years speech, the internal US split was less strident, but still caused some confusion as Taipei found itself more comfortable with the interpretation of President Bush's personal concerns as explained by the NSC's Dennis Wilder, than it did the far more robust version relayed by senior officials at the Department of State, including then-Deputy Secretary Bob Zoellick.

Let's leave final word for tonite to former State Department spokesman and senior Adult Supervisor on all things Asian, Alan Romberg, who translates the specific terms used by Chen on Sunday, and warns:

"..there are some significant differences from Mr. Chen's past positions which will likely cause significant irritation in Washington....Si yao, yi meiyou is not a direct violation of Mr. Chen's si bu, yi meiyou pledge [of restraint]. But advocacy of these positions is a violation of Mr. Chen's pledges to maintain the status quo and to promote peace and stability, and it is at direct odds with American national interests. However the US Government chooses to formally address his remarks, this cannot help diminishing even further the level of trust that Washington has in Mr. Chen."


It is hard to tell, but apparently the State Department may be responding to the withering criticism it received for its pro-Beijing overreaction to the local name changes (Tancredo's snarky letter, John Tkacik's excellent review, Richard Armitage's comments, my own acerbic views). To recap, after Chen proposed removing the name "China" from various Taiwan companies, and restoring the name "Taiwan," the State Department said:
In a particularly strong statement, McCormack also said the changes could affect Taiwan's "relationship with others," a possible warning that US-Taiwan ties would be hurt if President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) goes ahead with his plans.

McCormack said that Chen's actions on the issue "will be a test of leadership, dependability and statesmanship."

To underscore its concern, the department also took the seldom-used step of issuing a formal statement, in addition to the comments made by McCormack in answer to a question at his daily press briefing.

The State Department was rightly lambasted for its overreaction, which seemed especially unacceptable since it routinely accepts pro-China violations of the elusive Status Quo, such as the Anti-Succession Law ("unhelpful"), the visits by KMT leaders to China (which it warmly approved of), and China's military buildup (a vast abyss of silence).

Note that this time it publicly stated that such comments were "unhelpful." This was a welcome comedown. However, judging from the other statements made, it appears that Taiwan experts in the US government have no idea of the context of Chen's remarks: purely for domestic consumption. As I pointed out earlier, it's exactly the same as when he shut down the National Reunificational Council: it's all about domestic identity politics. Since the TSU is moving to a less openly hawkish position on independence, and since the DPP and the TSU compete for the same Green voter base, Chen has no choice but to keep affirming Taiwan's independence to quell the threat from his right. Make no mistake: although TSU candidates can't get elected, they can poach enough votes from the DPP to impact DPP chances -- Chen Chu won Kaohsiung by only 1,000 votes after the TSU candidate poached 6,500 votes from the Green vote.

Further, Chen was speaking to the FAPA banquet in Taipei. FAPA is a pro-Taiwan organization based in Washington, and it is generally held that Taiwanese groups in the US are more openly pro-independence than those in Taiwan. Chen also has to stoke the hopes of those supporters. I hope when the State Department lays this out for the President and other senior advisors, it takes the time to clearly place Chen's remarks in their domestic political context.

It is hard to believe that anyone who understands Taiwan could imagine that Chen's statements are some radical change from things he's said before. Chen has talked incessantly about the Constitutional revisions -- which are entirely necessary -- and about independence. The State Department has bought into my favorite bogeyman, Mad Chen, the Crazed Independence Rogue. It's also disheartening to see the Nelson Report reproducing the erroneous claim that the local stock market fell because of what Chen said, when in fact it the fall was region-wide.

I'm curious to see how State reacts when "moderates" like Su get elected and the same thing happens: they proclaim pro-independence positions. The US government needs to get into the habit of downplaying the effect of such talk, since it is purely for domestic consumption, or it will constantly embarrass itself. As one observer correctly noted, Chen cannot do anything, since overwhelming public support for open independence in Taiwan is lacking, and the legislature is controlled by the pro-China parties.

The sad part is, in a few weeks everyone will have forgotten these remarks. Meanwhile China will keep packing Fukien with missiles, and the State Department will continue to look on benignly. Clearly State has its political and ethical priorities mixed up. As I and others have repeatedly noted, State's constant rush to comfort Beijing will only fuel Beijing's sense of entitlement to an island it does not and has never owned.


Anonymous said...

CNN was pissed off Annette Lu didn't speak in English for them and headlined an article on her Taiwan's "Scum of the nation" runs for president. Check it out.

Jason said...

Dude, this needs to be cross-posted on Kos. Drudge picked up on the story this morning (but has since been replaced) with the predictable "crisis" odor attached to it.

Hope all is well over in the 'Chung.

nanheyangrouchuan said...

Bad china:

yeah, everything is wonderful.

Anonymous said...

one thing, sir, that must be emphasized here is that ChEN was speaking to a FAPA convention, so his words were geared to that event, like a cheerleader for FAPA, he was NOT giving an foreign policy speech to the world. it was a private public FAPA event, of course, he would say what he said. good for him. but remember that context, it was a FAPA cheerleading action. Not a foreign policy speech. can't anybody THINk anymore? he was just cheerleading his team on. cool

Anonymous said...

Further, Chen was speaking to the FAPA banquet in Taipei. FAPA is a pro-Taiwan organization based in Washington, and it is generally held that Taiwanese groups in the US are more openly pro-independence than those in Taiwan. Chen also has to stoke the hopes of those supporters. I hope when the State Department lays this out for the President and other senior advisors, it takes the time to clearly place Chen's remarks in their domestic political context.


Anonymous said...

Your report of 1000 Chinese missiles is disingenous. Of the 1000 missiles China has in Fujian, 800 of those missiles are out of date; every year, 80 missiles are added, but 60 are taken down due to obsolesence. The actual number of operational missiles is closer to 200, and those missiles are all armed with small warheads that are designed to target hardened military bunkers and would be a military waste if used against civilian assets.

Those missiles are not what should be contributing to political tensions; the U.S. has nuclear missiles pointed at every country around the world and threatens to bomb countries if they are undemocratic, yet China (which is undemocratic) shrugs it off and carries on. I think most criticism of the missile deployments is hyperbolic.

After all, Taiwan's military hardware is nearly a generation ahead of the anything the Chinese can field.

The anti-secession law you bring up is not geared toward invading Taiwan but rather toward arresting individuals that advocate independence. Such arrests could be carried out as police actions; they do not require the PLA, merely special covert extradition teams (like the kind Mossad used on Mordechai Vanunu.)

Finally, since you seem to advocate a hawkish U.S. stance in order to deter China and "protect" Taiwan, I want to ask you why it is in our interest, as Americans, to see Taiwan remain independent. Will the costs of Taiwan falling to China outweigh the costs of, say, a sunken aircraft carrier and massive redeployment of resources at a time when Islamic terrorism is the primary threat to the United States? If one applies Mearsheimer's theory regarding the U.S.-Israeli alliance to the U.S. position on Taiwan, one finds many of the same troubling conclusions: an "ally" that behaves recklessly, abusing the American security umbrella, needlessly antagonizing a power which the United States is in a close economic relationship with (China for debt financing, the Arabs for oil).

So I conclude with this: why (in realpolitik terms) should the U.S. protect Taiwan? What do we have to gain? And why do those things outweight the diplomatic, military, and economic costs of continually keeping Taiwan under our security umbrella?

Anonymous said...

t_co, don't bother with the anti-seccession law. If the US passes a law, it is news because American judges and police will enforce them. In a country like China where the law is interpreted very broadly and people are regularly arrested illegally and whose own constitution would declare the current regime illegal except that they don't follow their own constitution...

The anti-seccession law is merely a statement of policy that has long been in effect.

You want realpolitik? The Cold War (nuclear weapons) created a world where big wars couldn't take place. It may seem unfair, but a few big powers with lots of nukes works out better than no one with any nukes (WWII) and probably also better than lots of little players with a few nukes and would dare use them. So it may seem like some violation of universality to say that only the big guys get to have nukes but it very likely makes for a more peaceful world.

Anyways, realpolitik doesn't explain US policy. Misguided or not, we also believe in the ideals of democracy. That means we do things out of our own interests in order to promote this ideal. Further, in the very long term--democracies don't fight democracies. Iraq war could be a mistake, but the payoff of a succesful nation building effort _would_ mean that there would be one less country that would try to go to war with the US and its democratic allies. And hopefully it would spread throughout the region. Seeing how things are going these days, it appears to be a miscalculation... but again, the payoff is real.