Sunday, September 09, 2007

Bush Lauds Taiwan in APEC Speech

The Taipei Times has the call as President Bush says nice things about Taiwan in a speech on Thursday, but also lets it be known that he, like the six presidents before him, will make no serious attempt to democratize China:

In a speech aimed to promote greater democracy, freedom and prosperity in the region, Bush also praised Taiwan's emergence as a democratic society, and, in the same breath, urged China to "show confidence by demonstrating a commitment to greater openness and tolerance."


In the speech, Bush made a point of including Taiwan in lists of both the US' leading allies in the Asia-Pacific region and examples of democracies in the region.

"Today, our alliances with Australia, Japan, South Korea, Thailand and the Philippines, and our defense relationships with Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia and others in the region form the bedrock of America's engagement in the Asia-Pacific," Bush said.

"These security relationships have helped keep the peace in this vital part of the world. And they have created conditions that have allowed freedom to expand, markets to grow, commerce to flow and young democracies to gain in confidence and prosperity," he said.

Bush termed Taiwan's evolution into a democracy, along with the expansion of freedom and democracy in other countries in the area, "one of the great stories of our time."

Noting that at the end of World War II, Australia and New Zealand were the only democracies in Asia, Bush said: "Since then, we have witnessed Japan's transformation into a thriving free society, the triumph of democracy in the Philippines [and] democratic transitions in Taiwan, South Korea and Indonesia."

That was certainly wonderful to hear, but the key is in this part:

As Bush did in earlier speeches in his presidency when urging greater global democracy, he pointed to Taiwan as an example of democratic development that China could follow.

"We will encourage China to open up its political system and give greater voice to its people. As our relationships with South Korea and Taiwan during the Cold War prove, it is possible to maintain friendships and push toward democracy at the same time," he said.


The comments also recall the post-war period in which the US stood behind the repressive Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) rule in Taiwan as an apparent message that Washington is willing to similarly back a repressive rule by Beijing in hope that China might some day emulate Taiwan's development into a full-fledged democracy.
Jim Mann pointed out in The China Fantasy that the conditions under which Taiwan democratized are very different. Taiwan was a colony of the Qing, Japan, and KMT; democracy had the support of a powerful outside government, there was a lively exile movement pushing for democracy, and so on. None of these things exists in China.

In the speech, Bush proposed a "new Asia Pacific Democracy Partnership," in which "free nations will work together to support democratic values, strengthen democratic institutions and assist those who are working to build and sustain free societies across the Asia-Pacific region."

"We are determined to help this region become a place of hope and opportunities where every man, woman and child has a chance to achieve their God-given potential and build a better life," he said.

It was not clear whether Taiwan would be admitted to this partnership, or what role it would play if admitted.
This "democracy partnership" idea was proposed a while back, and some have suggested that a center for it be placed in Taiwan, as part of a process to get Taiwan affairs out from under the State Department.

DPP Chairman Yu was out calling for a change in the national title and the Constitution.

Ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Chairman Yu Shyi-kun claimed yesterday that Taiwan independence is mainstream public opinion, adding that only by changing the national title to Taiwan and enacting a new constitution can the country survive.
This is the kind of pre-election talk that is normally engaged in around here. But Yu is right -- independence is now the mainstream position. At a pro-Taiwan event on Saturday World United Formosans for Independence, the radical pro-independence group overseas, Yu made that same point:

"The new national flag -- a green Taiwan on a white background -- was designed during by the World Taiwanese Confederation in 2000," said Koh Sebo, central committee member of the World United Formosans for Independence. "We cannot accept the Kuomintang (KMT) flag because of its associated victims and bad memories."

The crowd shouted "Taiwan Republic! Great!"

"The Republic of China has already ceased to exist," said Yu Shyi-kun, chairman of the ruling Democratic Progressive party (DPP). "It is not an extreme view anymore to support a new country because it is consistent with the will of the population."

According to the DPP's statistics, seven in 10 people believe that they are Taiwanese, while only two in 10 think that they are Chinese.

"The party candidate in the next presidential election that does not support Taiwan independence or Taiwan-centric movement will not be able to get elected President," said Yu, directly hinting at Ma Ying-Jeou from the KMT.

With support for independence now the norm in Taiwan, and the State Department apparently supporting Beijing, the Bush Administration and especially the State Department are under fire from the Right, as this AFP article makes clear:

"Membership in the United Nations requires statehood. Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is not at this point a state in the international community," Dennis Wilder, a senior Bush aide, said ahead of his Sydney trip.

The statement drew fury in Taipei where dozens of protesters burned and trampled the Stars and Stripes outside the island's US mission.

It also came as a surprise to many US experts on Taiwan, which is regarded as almost a state under US domestic law -- the Taiwan Relations Act -- that provides a security umbrella for the island.

"My view is that this is a complete about face from 50 years of American policy not to make that statement," said John Tkacik, an ex-State Department expert on China.

"It may have been inattention or carelessness, or even a deliberate decision by the Bush administration that now China is such a global partner that we need to appease its demands in changing that policy," he said.

There is some US perception that the Taiwanese leader is using the referendum issue for his personal political ends but experts say this could be a misunderstanding or mere ignorance.

"For the US side, we need to recognize the issue of identity in Taiwan is not a political game, it's not a tactical move in Taipei, it's a very fundamental issue, not at all unique to its 23 million people," said Michael Green, Bush's former top Asian aide.

"Look at Korea, Japan, the national identity is at the top of the agenda in every country in Asia and there is no reason why Taiwan should be any different," he said.

Bush came into the White House in 2001 with a strong policy on Taiwan, which he wanted to use as an effective symbol of democracy for Asia, particularly China. But Taiwan gave greater emphasis to its sovereignty.

Bush aides criticized the predecessor Clinton administration for pursuing a wishy-washy policy on Taiwan and wanted what they called strategic clarity on the issue so that China understood where US defense commitment was, experts said.

But 18 months after coming to power, the Bush administration began rolling back that commitment, completely reassessing its "strategic requirements" of China in the light of an impending Iraq invasion, they said.

Washington later came to rely on China to help end North Korea's nuclear weapons drive and the devastating crisis in Sudan's western region of Darfur as well as gain its support to isolate Iran over its defiant nuclear program.

"It may well be that Asia sees America's new indulgence of China as an American acknowledgement that China is the new pre-eminent power in Asia," Tkacik said.

But he warned, "the Chinese are very capable of making a case for their sovereign right to use force against Taiwan, and the Bush administration appears to be acquiescing towards that position."

In fact, some experts said, the US State Department had expressed concern that Chen's referendum drive was dangerously setting the initial ground for Chinese military intervention.

China in 2005 rebuffed international criticism and incorporated in an anti-secession law its right to declare war and reunify Taiwan by force if the island formally declared independence.

Taiwan, under its official name the Republic of China, lost its UN seat to China in 1971.

"There are people who are worried about a Chinese military reaction and the US always has to take that seriously and always has to signal to Beijing that we object to unilateral change in the status quo by either side and that our position is very firm," Green said.

"It would be dangerous however to let Beijing seize the momentum and rattle the saber or threaten miltary force and use that to try to get the US side to jump and react," he added.
Tkacik's point is one I've made on this blog very often: the State Department is inviting war, since its position seems to recognize that Taiwan is part of China. That means that it accepts the view that it is OK for China to invade Taiwan, since, after all, Taiwan is in rebellion. If State wants the status quo maintained, then it needs to define Taiwan's status as undetermined.

Controversy like this is going to become more and more common, since support for independence in Taiwan will continue to become more open, yet another reason for the US to adjust its position, because Frank Hsieh faces the same political structure and holds the same political beliefs that Chen Shui-bian does. Recall that Chen was widely seen as a moderate when he became President.....

All in all, kudos to Bush for some welcome words about our island.

MEDIA: AFP articles tend to be very Beijing-centric, so it is surprising to see this analysis from AFP. Note that AFP uses the term "re-unify" -- although Taiwan was never part of China, and certainly was never part of the PRC -- and manages to slip in the pro-KMT criticism that the whole UN referendum thing is a "personal political end" of President Chen, a variant of the "Mad Chen" bogeyman ("Mad Chen, He's so crazed, he can declare independence at any moment.") Yes, the referendum is a political tactic, but it is the tactic of the President's party. The idea that Taiwan independence is the brainchild of Chen Shui-bian is strictly a bit of pro-Beijing propaganda.....

One disturbing tendency I've seen in the international press is this idea that since China has passed the Anti-Secession Law, it has a "legal right" to declare war on Taiwan. Calling this declaration of intent to murder Taiwanese a "law" was a huge propaganda coup for China, since westerners think of "law" as something that is ethically normative. The oddity of the western press' position on the Anti-Secession Law is that none of them would ever write: "China has passed internal security laws giving it the right to murder dissidents" but they have no trouble saying exactly that about the Anti-Secession Law, directed at Taiwan, Island of Dissidents.

UPDATE: Three US Congressman, all Republicans, express support for the UN bid as 20 Taiwanese groups in the US ask UN Sec-Gen Ban to reconsider his suppression of Taiwan's application.


Michael Fahey said...

As someone mentioned to me earlier today

It's really unfortunate...
that of the three congressmen mentioned in this article as coming out in favor of Taiwan's UN bid, two of them are Tom Tancredo and Bill Sali, a pair of the most cretinous imbeciles serving in the US House of Representatives.

Tancredo, I discover to my amazement, is actually running for president on a platform "to secure the borders, protect American sovereignty, and preserve our culture."

Michael Turton said...

Yes, I winced when I saw the names, especially Sali, who may well be the biggest clown in Congress.


Raj said...

Michael, it is true that eventual independence is the most popular position in Taiwan at the moment.

However, people don't care so much that they want it tomorrow - nor will it win an election. This is what the DPP need to realise. The danger is that they clamp onto it as William Hague did in the 2001 UK general election in regards to not joining the Euro. It's popular, but it needs to be part of a wide-ranging agenda that addresses all the bread & butter issues, whilst not coming across in a "vote for us and get a war" manner.

After all, the idea of "independence" is not universal. I talked with a senior UK minister who deals with foreign policy on Taiwan. He said he has heard one real solution being discussed is for Taiwan to join a "greater Chinese Union" not unlike the old USSR as a face-saving deal for China, where Taiwan could have its own UN seat. One man's independence is another's re-unification.

On a side issue, I think the DPP are going completely the wrong way with proposed name-changes. Why change the island's name to "Republic of Taiwan"? That's just going to piss the Chinese off and give them an excuse for war that the US might accept means they wouldn't get involved. Surely it would be better to just change the official name to Taiwan. Japan's official name is, as far as I know, "Japan". That would allow Chinese to argue unification was still possible - Taiwan couldn't "join" the PRC as a republic, could it, even as the ROC.

It's time to think intelligently. Identify the problem and try to work around it. Joining the UN as "Taiwan" is probably going to fail, but it's better than trying as the ROC. So if Taiwan identifying itself as an independent state is going to kick off a war, reduce the chances (or at least maximise the chance of US support) by not having the word "republic" in the island's title.

Michael Fahey said...

Didn't Harry Truman say something about how he could handle his enemies, but it was his friends that he worried about? Taiwan should be worried about friends like these.

skiingkow said...

The fact that a senior WH aide is telling us that Taiwan is currently not a state is very bad news. It trumps anything the liar in chief says, IMO. For, you cannot take anything the Bush administration says in public at face value.

This name and constitutional change, unfortunately, is coming way too late. I will always look back at the 2005 legislative election as being the point at which Taiwan lost a big opportunity to implement this change and have the U.S. and the world accept it. Back then, Taiwan at least had some leverage.

And everyone talks about the referendum and the ASL. Well, the DPP screwed that up as well by allowing 2 ballot boxes during that vote -- thereby sacrificing anonymity (crucial to the KMT plan to boycott the vote and nullify the referendum).

Too many wasted opportunities have helped put Taiwan in this position. The Taiwanese and the DPP have no one to blame but themselves for this. Don't get me wrong, the Taiwnanese have made bold steps forward but, unfortunately, the change has not been quick enough for the world stage.


Runsun said...

Didn't Harry Truman say something about how he could handle his enemies, but it was his friends that he worried about? Taiwan should be worried about friends like these.

friends? really? what friends ?

Runsun said...

raj: Why change the island's name to "Republic of Taiwan"?

ROT is indeed a terrible name ! :)

JZ said...

"It's really unfortunate...
that of the three congressmen mentioned in this article as coming out in favor of Taiwan's UN bid, two of them are Tom Tancredo and Bill Sali, a pair of the most cretinous imbeciles serving in the US House of Representatives."

No sane persons support Taiwan Independence. Only out of mainstream neo-conservative hawks, mad 'academics' like John Tsacik and Michael Turton and his friends do. By the way Michael, you think quite highly of yourself not? It seems you are addressing the US State Department on your blog, but who are you? Just a blogger like many...

Unknown said...

Why not just inaugurate the isle country's name as The Taiwan Republic? It's a lot simpler.

Tancredo comes from a strange place (Colorado, which has incredibly conservative attitudes). Perhaps he can be forgiven. He is a product of his culture. He seems to have a great deal of commonsense in many areas that don't involve immigration, social or sexual mores.

Anonymous said...

Michael, you said that Taiwan was never part of China, and certainly never part of the PRC.

I agree Taiwan was never part of the PRC, and also agree that Taiwan was never in it's entirety a part of china. However, wasn't the western part of Taiwan a part of China for a period of time?

I'd be very grateful if you could give me some references that prove that Taiwan was never part of China (it would also make it easier for me to argue this point when talking to chinese friends ;)).


Michael Turton said...

I agree Taiwan was never part of the PRC, and also agree that Taiwan was never in it's entirety a part of china. However, wasn't the western part of Taiwan a part of China for a period of time?

I'd be very grateful if you could give me some references that prove that Taiwan was never part of China (it would also make it easier for me to argue this point when talking to chinese friends ;)).

The argument has many points. Randomly.... 1. The Taiwanese repeatedly rebelled against Qing rule, throwing them off the island completely once, and nearly completely a couple of other times. They never accepted Qing rule. 2. The Qing were Manchus, not Han, not Chinese, and ran an empire. Many Chinese never accepted Qing rule. 3. Taiwan was a colony of that empire -- and thus, is no more part of China than India is part of the UK or Peru part of Spain. 4. The Qing never controlled the whole island, only the lowland areas. 5. The Qing specifically denied owning the island when queried on a couple of occasions, and said that the island's aboriginal chiefs were out of its jurisdiction. 6. Want to piss off your CHinese friends? Qing officials paid tribute to the aborigines.

All this history is in Davidson's Island of Formosa Past and Present.

You could add that Taiwan was never historically thought of as part of China -- the Qing forbade emigration to it from China for many score years. The Chinese generals employed by the QIng to conquer it in the late 17th century all said that Taiwan was no part of China and the Qing had no business being there. To fast forward, when Chiang unified China in 1927, nobody asked him where Taiwan was, because nobody thought about it as China. The idea that Taiwan is "sacred national territoriy" is strictly a post-1945 phenomenon.

Anonymous said...

Cheers Michael!

That's great!

Anonymous said...

going slightly off-topic here - I was talking to a friend in Taiwan, who's just started uni there. Apparently History books still mention Taiwan becoming part of China on Retrocession Day. It seems that schools are still teaching this pro China/ROC/KMT viewpoint. No mention being made of the San Francisco Treaty.

If my friends comment is anything to go by, it would seem that many people believe that Taiwan and China did 'split' in 1949...

Anonymous said...

Michael, is Davidson's Island of Formosa Past and Present available online?

Cheers ;)

Anonymous said...

is Davidson's Island of Formosa Past and Present available online?

Actually you can find it on; full view is available. Now, you won't be able to find google books if you simply google for the title on google tw.