Tuesday, September 11, 2007

UN Referendum Mess Round Up

Heritage's John Tkacik has another excellent piece, this time on the referendum issue. Tkacik pointed out what I have also been complaining about:

But a crisis is in the making. While Taiwan's leaders remain tone-deaf amid the vast global preoccupations of their most important friend, the United States, the Bush Administration appears on the verge of reversing its "long-standing" agnosticism on the "status quo" in the Taiwan Strait to punish Taiwan's tone-deafness. On August 30, a National Security Council aide flatly and un-agnostically declaimed that "Taiwan is not a state in the international community."

Beijing, naturally, is delighted. An American declaration that Taiwan is "not a state" has been Beijing's dream for a half a century. That the United States would, in the face of Chinese threats, appear to simply abandon a "long-standing" policy must also send a sobering signal to the rest of Asia: Washington is so distracted with real shooting wars that it cannot bring itself to risk Beijing's ill will under any circumstances. Even President Bush's "reiteration" at the Sydney APEC of "America's commitment to help strengthen the expansion of freedom" in the region looks squishy as Taiwan's political legitimacy erodes.
As I have been saying, the US is trying too hard to please Beijing, and each time it does that, it concedes strategic flexibility and control over events and over US policy to Beijing. Tkacik's recommendations:

Recommendations for Taiwan and the U.S.

To avoid an irreversible crisis in the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, both sides must recognize the gravity of the referendum issue.

Taipei should:

  • Rethink the referendum. Taiwan's referendum may be complicated by new and competing referenda texts which could wind up cancelling each other out. Taiwan's experience has been that a referendum that cannot pass is worse than no referendum at all. So it is still possible to finesse the matter.
  • Cease "alienating…friends." Coordinating with the United States and other key democracies is essential to preserving Taiwan's international personality in the United Nations, in its agencies, and across a broad spectrum of world organizations. Taiwan's leaders must approach these issues with a systematic and strategic outlook. Precipitate action will fail, and without friends, failure can be disasterous.

Washington should:

  • Think through the endgame for Taiwan. The United States must appreciate Taiwan's desperation as it struggles to preserve its identity. The last legs of Taiwan's democratic legitimacy are buckling as Washington signals—perhaps inadvertently—an end to a half-century-old doctrine that Taiwan's status is "undetermined" and endorses Beijing's stance that, whatever Taiwan is, it isn't sovereign. From there, it is a slippery slide to the next question: Who has sovereignty over Taiwan if not the people of Taiwan? To have lost Chiang Kai-shek's China in 1949 may be seen as a misfortune, but to lose democratic Taiwan 60 years later will look like carelessness. If, indeed, the NSC staff statement appearing to resolve Taiwan's "undetermined" sovereign status was inadvertent, it ought to be immediately corrected.
  • Articulate U.S. policy. The U.N. Secretary-General has promulgated documents asserting that the United Nations considers "Taiwan for all purposes to be an integral part of the PRC." This assertion is not universally held by U.N. member states. The State Department, apparently, has only mentioned the U.S.'s objection to a U.N. Under-Secretary-General because apparently U.S. Taiwan policy is a secret. Secret foreign policies are counter to America's democratic traditions and confuse the American public. The Bush Administration must be able to say forthrightly to the American people what it is willing to say to the United Nations Secretary-General.

  • Negotiate with Taiwan. The U.S. and Taiwan should agree on a limit to Taiwan's declarations of its own independent identity from China in return for United States reassurances, first pledged by President Ronald Reagan in 1982, that it will not recognize Chinese sovereignty over the Island without the express and uncoerced assent of the Taiwanese people as envisioned in the Taiwan Relations Act. Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs, Randall G. Schriver, has suggested that the United States offer "six new assurances" in return for Taiwan's reaffirming of President Chen Shui-bian's May 2000 "Five No's" on Taiwan's independence.
  • Establish better, higher level, on-going communication links with Taiwan's government. Matters should not need to rise to the level of a severe problem or crisis before being considered at senior U.S. government levels. Upgrading the rank and influence of the top U.S. representative in Taiwan would be a good start. Giving Taiwan's representatives in the U.S. regular access to the National Security Counsel, along with Defense, State, and Commerce Department staff, is also desirable.

Taiwan is the canary in America's Asia policy mineshaft. Clearly, a distracted Washington is allowing a laser-focused Beijing to shape the strategic agenda in the Pacific. America's democratic friends and allies in Asia, from Japan to Singapore to India to Australia, anxiously watch America's new willingness to accept China's new preeminence in the region. How the United States defends democratic Taiwan's international identity in its current crisis will tell Asia and the world much about Washington's willingness to defend them in future challenges from China.(emphasis mine)

Tkacik echoes a lot of what I've been saying here. Taipei needs to make some gestures, and Washington needs to work to improve its relations with Taipei -- the State Department needs to stop strangling Taiwan's relations with Washington by restricting high-level visits, as Congress has repeatedly indicated it would like restrictions eased. When friends fall out, the result is only the laughter of Mordor, right there across the Strait, quietly watching and laughing as the Bush Administration guts US global power and influence.

Washington cannot simultaneously pursue alliance building with Japan and India, while selling out Taiwan. Nor can pursue alliance building while quietly supporting Ma Ying-jeou, the Presidential candidate of the pro-China parties, when Ma's avowed goal is to put Taiwan in the Chinese orbit. Left unsaid in Tkacik's piece is the urgent need to leave Iraq now, so the US can regain its strategic flexibility in Asia, as well as its credibility in world affairs. Iraq makes every value we've advocated for the past half-century seem empty and hollow.

Despite the uproar from the US government over the UN referendum, Taiwan's point of view remains decidedly provincial. The Taipei Times published an analysis of the mess yesterday in which analysts looked at the issue largely from a Taiwan perspective:

It should be China, not Taiwan, that is upset about Wilder's statement as it has been China's wish that the US would "recognize" China's ownership of Taiwan since its failure to get the US to agree to it when it established diplomatic relations, Lee said.

In the Joint Communique on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations with China, the US "acknowledges" rather than "recognizes" the PRC position that Taiwan is part of China.

"Previously the US wished to keep its stance on the status of Taiwan as vague as possible. Now that it has reiterated that there is a lack of consensus on Taiwan's international status, it has provided the public with incentives to pursue internationally recognized statehood," Lee said.

Lee said the US would try hard to prevent Taiwan from taking actions it sees as steps towards independence, but would not accept the Chinese position.

Chen Yi-shen (陳儀深), a researcher at Academia Sinica's Institute of Modern History, said Wilder was simply telling the truth -- a country called the ROC does not exist anymore, while a country named Taiwan has yet to be established.

He said that Ma completely misinterpreted Wilder's words when he said that the US has left open the possibility that the country can return to the UN as the ROC.

"What Wilder said is the simple fact that the ROC doesn't exist," Chen Yi-shen said, adding that this dates back to 1979 when the US passed the Taiwan Relations Act.

In 2004, the US made a strong statement to discourage what it defined as "steps towards independence" President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) had taken following the "defensive referendum" held alongside that year's presidential election.

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell told Hong Kong's Phoenix Television: "There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy."

"Considering what Powell said, if there is anything new to be learned from Wilder's statement, it should be a lesson for people like Ma who believe that the name ROC is workable in the international community," Chen Yi-shen said.

None of the analysts placed the event in any larger context than that of Taiwan independence, nor did they appear to acknowledge a strategic debt to the US, nor did they broach the idea of any compromise on the issue, or lay out possibilities for compromise. They haven't grasped yet the importance of the referendum lies not in what it does for Taiwan, but in what it is doing to US-Taiwan relations.

Souring of ties between Taiwan and the US was a theme in several articles this week. Ting Yi-tsai, a longtime commentator on Taiwan, had a long piece in the Asia Times on the issue:

In an interview with Hong Kong's Phoenix TV, whose audience usually includes Beijing's decision-makers, US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte called the referendum a mistake and noted that Washington considered it a step toward a formal declaration of Taiwan's independence. Then Wilder described the call for the referendum "a little bit perplexing", adding: "Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is not at this point a state in the international community."

Most Washington-based Taiwan experts agree that US-Taiwan ties are at their worst since the DPP administration assumed power in 2000 and even more contentious than when then-president Lee Teng-hui in 1999 defined China-Taiwan relations as "state-to-state".

Chen's referendum push and Washington's criticisms have disappointed Taiwan supporters such as Harvey Feldman, a former US ambassador and a key figure in drafting the Taiwan Relations Act. He said the referendum only serves the DPP's domestic interests and has certainly pushed its only powerful global ally closer to Beijing.

Meanwhile Beijing has chosen to remain calm in response to the moves, but it did reiterate its intention to apply its 2005 Anti-Secession Law (which authorizes military force against the island in the event of "Taiwan's secession from China ... in the name of 'Taiwan independence"') should Washington fail to rein in Chen.

With Chen's record of initiating "surprises", Beijing has repeatedly warned Washington that he would likely declare Taiwan independent should the referendum succeed.

Under Taiwan's Referendum Law, a referendum only succeeds if more than half of Taiwan's 16.8 million eligible voters cast ballots, and more than 50% of the votes support the initiative. Despite an intensive publicity campaign, two previous referendums held along with the presidential election in 2004 failed to meet the first standard.

Tsai's article makes it clear how surreal the whole affray is.

Beijing warns the US Chen will declare independence if referendum succeeds.
How? The legislature is dominated by the pro-China parties and a change of the Constitution requires a lengthy process. The public prefers the current ambiguity. It would be nice if Tsai's piece had acknowledged the impossibility of an independence declaration.

Two previous referendums have failed.
Exactly, and there are competing referendums at the moment, one KMT, and one DPP. Last time around ballot box shenanigans and a campaign to get people not to vote were effective in defeating the DPP's referendum. Some pundits have argued that a defeat would be bad for Taiwan's democracy. It wasn't the first two times, and it isn't going to be now.

Entering the UN under the name Taiwan is a violation of the status quo.
Taiwan can't enter the UN, because new entries require Security Council approval and China has a veto.

China has maintained calm.
Why should it say anything? Washington does pretty much whatever it wants. As I have noted in the past, Washington's assumption of the role of "reining in Chen" allows the authoritarians across the Strait to appear patient, even statesmenlike.

What's going to happen? Nothing can happen. The referendum will pass or fail, meaningless either way because China has veto power in the UN. Hsieh will probably win the election, and life will go on as usual with our divided government.

Tsai's piece says that former ambassador to Taiwan Harvey Feldman, a longtime China and Taiwan specialist, was disappointed in the referendum push, but Feldman offered some harsh criticisms of Dennis Wilder's comments:

A former U.S. State Department official and one of the drafters of the Taiwan Relations Act yesterday criticized U.S. National Security Council (NSC) Senior Director for Asian Affairs Dennis Wilder's remarks last week that "Taiwan, or the Republic of China, is not at this point a state in the international community."

Harvey Feldman, former director of the U.S.'s Office of the Republic of China Affairs before the U.S. ended diplomatic relations with Taiwan, said "Wilder's comments are a lame kind of expression of the U.S.'s formal policy since the Truman Administration."

Wilder made the remarks last week as both the ruling Democratic Progressive Party and Kuomintang are proposing referendums on Taiwan's return to the United Nations, albeit under different national titles.

In addition, President Chen Shui-bian and the government has filed an application with the United Nations for the Republic of China to join the world body under the name of Taiwan.

Feldman, a Distinguished Fellow in China Policy at the U.S. thinktank Heritage Foundation, said that under American law, the U.S. has no basis for opposing Taiwan's membership in any international organization.

Section 4(d) in the Taiwan Relations Act states that the withdrawal of diplomatic recognition from Taiwan provides no basis for opposing its membership in the international financial institutions or any other international organization, Feldman said in his research paper entitled "The Taiwan Status Quo 'As We Define It.'"

The Bush Administration also came under fire from Freedom House (which published a wildly pro-KMT, pro-China view of Taiwan in its annual review):

A U.S.-based human rights group criticized the United States on Monday for pressuring Taiwan to abandon plans for a public referendum on whether the island should petition for entry to the United Nations.

Freedom House, a nonpartisan organization partly funded by the U.S government, said such pressure is inconsistent with the U.S. push for democracy around the world.

Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, said the United States "has no business in joining with China to bully the Taiwanese people."

The Bush administration's condemnation of the referendum sends a message, she said, that "the spread of democracy and freedom is not a priority when it offends a large, powerful country."

The US has overreacted again, misplaying the whole hand, and blowing up this referendum bigger than it should have been. It would be nice if the US would react to Chen Shui-bian's moves with a studied silence, rather than jumping in on Beijing's behalf, and instead let the Chinese fire off blasts of bombastic, threatening rhetoric in the best injured-Emperor fashion, thus making themselves look bad. Instead, the Administration has brought down the ire of its own supporters on itself, suppressed a democracy while supporting a dictatorship, and triggered a wave of negative publicity.

And all for a referendum on a UN entry that can't. possibly. succeed.

At the same time, Taipei, and analysts within the island, don't seem to get that there is a crisis in its support in Washington. This is partly because in Chinese culture what is said counts for little (and so what Washington says is discounted), and partly because Taiwan is so totally insular (a friend of mine once called it "a nation with the heart of a province") but is also partly the indirect result of the State Department's noisemaking. Whenever State hacks on Taiwan, a mob of Taiwan supporters outside the government rush to the island's aid: old Taiwan hands, longtime supporters, Congressmen, and organizations interested in Taiwan, Asia and human rights. This gives Taipei the reassuring illusion that it has broad support in the US, which in turn makes Taipei think that this means something as far as the administration is concerned. It doesn't. Somehow Taipei needs to get that message, and soon.


Anonymous said...

“What's going to happen? Nothing can happen. The referendum will pass or fail, meaningless either…”

I say this is American-centric point of view. At this point, referendum is the only way to show collective will of people on Taiwan. Maybe the referendum will not pass this time. We will know for sure, though, the percentage of people who vote for UN application under the name Taiwan.

With a FRIEND that willing to sell you out, Taiwan needs to gauge the collective will of its people and chooses its own path.

偕偕王 said...

Haven't you felt the inexplicable anguish most Taiwanese have had for decades?

Without strong will, America would still be an English colony, World War II might not be won, etc.

If there's not a market for a new nation "Taiwan", America should not worry.

America's worried/annoyed (or use your own word), good, it means we might just make it finally.

Anonymous said...

There are other, less dangerous ways to gauge the interest of the people.
The point here is that people of Taiwan needs to be realistic about US support, which isn't as strong as they think. As such, and unilateral (and ultimately futille) push for UN does nothing but provoke Beijing AND Washington at the same time..

Godwin said...

Great post, a breath of fresh air.