Thursday, June 28, 2007

Jamestown Briefing: Disappointment for China Relations?

Denny Roy, who usually produces good stuff on Taiwan, has a fairly good briefing at the Jamestown Foundation on Taiwan's 2008 Presidential candidates. Wisely, he has cottoned on to the possibility that Hsieh might turn out to have a foreign policy a lot like Chen's.

The differences between Hsieh, 61, and Chen are easily overdrawn. Hsieh’s positions on Taiwan’s proper political status vis-à-vis China and the international community have many similarities with Chen’s. Hsieh, like Chen, began his political career as one of the defense lawyers for the anti-KMT political activists indicted over the Kaohsiung Incident of 1980. He was the DPP’s vice-presidential candidate and the running mate of famous dissident Peng Ming-min in the 1996 election won by then-KMT member Lee Teng-hui. Hsieh served as premier of Taiwan and as mayor of Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s second-largest city and a pan-Green stronghold.

To be sure, in his approach toward the People's Republic of China (PRC), Hsieh has been more pragmatic and cautious than Chen. One of his slogans when he served as premier was “coexistence and reconciliation.” He favors lifting the restrictions on direct air and sea travel between Taiwan and China. Hsieh has even drawn criticism from other senior DPP leaders for allegedly being too receptive to the one-China principle.

China, nevertheless, would find much of Hsieh’s agenda repugnant, and consequently it is not clear that Beijing would accept him as a negotiating partner. Hsieh supported the change in a basic DPP position on cross-Strait relations. Originally, the party’s platform stated that its eventual goal was independence for Taiwan. In 2000, DPP leaders shifted to the line that it was not necessary for Taiwan to formally declare independence. Hsieh said at the time, “As we perceive Taiwan as already an independent country, independence is a de facto reality that nobody can deny or change” (China News Agency, September 6, 2000).

Feiren and I have been trying to get this point across, and it is good to see that somebody gets it. Some time it will dawn on outside observers that the KMT has the radical position in cross-strait relations: annex Taiwan to China, snuff out its democracy. Those are radical moves.. Meanwhile Roy thinks Ma is a moderate, a common position among outsiders:

It should be noted, however, that Ma’s willingness and ability to accommodate China are bounded. Ma could be considered a moderate within the pan-Blue camp. He was, for example, more vocal than other KMT leaders in his opposition to China’s March 2005 Anti-Secession Law, which authorized the Chinese government to employ “non-peaceful means” to bring about cross-Strait unification if other means proved unsuccessful or if “incidents entailing Taiwan's secession from China should occur.” When Chen won re-election in 2004 by a tiny margin hours after an assassination attempt, Ma did not join the KMT members who publicly accused Chen of staging the shooting and who challenged the result of the election.

In June 2007, Ma said, “If the two sides of the Strait are to resume negotiations, reach any peace agreement or negotiate any kind of military or mutual trust mechanism, I will first request that China withdraw the missiles deployed along its southeast coast because we are not willing to conduct peace negotiations while we are threatened by missiles” (Taipei Times, June 5). The demand that China “withdraw” its missiles (which are already on PRC territory) as a precondition to stabilizing cross-Strait relations is strongly reminiscent of Chen Shui-bian’s long-standing demand. It also implicitly challenges China’s “right” to use force against Taiwan, which Beijing has closely linked with its position that the Chinese central government has sovereignty over Taiwan. Delivering what Ma asks for would be a substantial concession on the part of China, difficult to obtain in any case but especially if Beijing is put on the defensive by what it views as “provincial” authorities overstepping their proper bounds.

Although Ma maintains that he and his party stand against Taiwan's independence and for eventual unification with China, in February 2006 the KMT purchased an advertisement in Taiwan’s Liberty Times newspaper in which Ma acknowledged that “independence is an option for the Taiwanese people” (Taipei Times, January 28). This reportedly caused great consternation among many KMT leaders, such as former chairman and presidential candidate Lien Chan, but it demonstrated that Ma feels compelled to compromise the pan-Blue agenda to accommodate Taiwanese nationalism. As president, he would continually face this kind of domestic pressure.

Ma's "moderation" is only by comparison to his wilder colleagues, and in part, a perception resulting from his own indecisiveness and lack of spine. Unlike the nutcases to his right, Ma actually has to get elected in Taiwan and thus struggles to find a message that plays to the masses, but keeps his Deep Blue base happy, and doesn't anger the Party Machine that already dislikes him. But note that his support derives from the Deep Blue core: they recognize one of their own, and when he is in trouble, he moves closer to that core. Ma has played the moderate, but again and again, when given the choice to act as one, he has declined. He did not shut down the Shih Ming-te demonstrations against Chen in Taipei even when they hurt his party and disrupted city life. He did not move to get the arms package through the local legislature despited repeated promises to do so. His own political views are pro-China, not pro-Taiwan. Ma the Moderate, like Hsieh the Moderate, is going to surprise a lot of people...

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