Friday, March 20, 2009

The Process is the New Status Quo

Several times over the last few months, I've noted that the Process is the New Status Quo (Feb '09, Jan '09, Dec '09, )By this I mean that the process of Taiwan moving closer to China is now the status quo. Movement closer is good, but If Taiwan balks, there will be criticism from people who want Taiwan to Just Enter The Process. The process of engagement thus has a built-in ratchet effect: it can't move backward because increasing distance violates the New Status Quo, which is the Process. Hence movement forward is now the only permissible movement. Ergo, movement is now the Status Quo.

This line of thinking was already nascent in the constant attacks on Chen Shui-bian by US officials for "provoking" China and threatening the Status Quo with his weird love of independence and democracy, silly man -- who would ever want those two things? Implicit in such criticisms was a view that the status quo meant positive relations -- movement toward annexation. Conversely, China's military build up was almost never portrayed as a violation of the Status Quo by US officials although it most certainly was. China's emergence as the future regional hegemon even as the Bush Administration ran the US into the ground has blown up the Status Quo. RIP, five decades of US policy.

Yesterday, AIT Chairman Raymond Burghardt confirmed that, indeed, the Process is the New Status Quo:
“There is not a view in Washington that there is some kind of red line in terms of cross-strait engagement. There is not a concern that moving beyond economic issues into the political and military realm is threatening to us,” Burghardt said. “We are comfortable with what’s happening and where it seems to be going.”

What would make the US uncomfortable, he said, would be a breakdown in cross-strait negotiations and reaching an impasse that could lead to tensions re-emerging.
What did Burghardt say?
1. There is no "red line." If there is no red line, then there is no Status Quo. Period.
2. The US likes the current direction (towards annexation).
3. The US does not like the other direction (away from annexation).
That, in the proverbial nutshell, equals the Process is the New Status Quo. I couldn't have said it better myself.

There was something else that struck me about the Burghardt remarks. Kyodo reported:
'The commitment to help Taiwan to acquire the equipment needed for its defense remains in effect,'' Burghardt said, referring to the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, which requires Washington to assist Taipei in maintaining its defense capabilities.

Closer cross-strait relations do not threaten U.S. interests in the strait, he said, dismissing as outmoded the notion of a U.S.-friendly Taiwan forming with Japan part of a defensive ring hemming in China's military.

''There is often an assumption of a geo-strategic character to American policy toward Taiwan, which isn't really there,'' Burghardt said. ''I have never heard in a policy discussion, I have never seen in a policy document on Taiwan, any of those great chestnuts of Asian geo-strategy: 'unsinkable aircraft carrier,' 'first island chain'...It just ain't there.''
Perhaps it is just talk, but it is would be interesting to see to what extent Japanese thinkers agree with Burghardt.

Someone called and reminded me yesterday that Ma had asked that Beijing's Anti-Secession Law, a bit of propaganda aimed at Taiwan, be annulled. It's pretty much a win-win for Ma, since Beijing will never get rid of that law, and in the unlikely event that they do, he can take credit and display the move as evidence of China's goodwill. Similarly, the Ma Administration also asked the CCP to dismantle the missiles now aimed at Taiwan. China will never do that, since its hardline position has reaped big rewards. Additionally, military officials in Taiwan also appeared to demand confidence building measures (CBMs) with Beijing as a precondition for more progress toward annexation.

Sometimes I don't pay much attention to what is said, because so often, saying is meaningless static -- what counts is doing. When Speaker of the Legislature complained that the Legislature should be given oversight on the ECFA/CECA agreement, his words made headlines. Public opinion, as Echo pointed out the other day, is overwhelmingly behind him. Did anything actually happen? No, the process of moving closer to China has been handed off to unelected heavyweights, and the people's elected representatives have been carefully excluded from the process. Can you recall Wang leading KMT-controlled legislature in actually doing anything?

CBMs are not really between Taiwan and China, of course, but between the KMT and the CCP. There must be many KMT heavyweights who can hardly bring themselves to trust the CCP. Perhaps, at some point, the process will stall when the faction that wants to sell Taiwan to China as a bargaining chip for their dream of future position in China -- the real prize -- realizes it can't sell everyone else in the KMT on the idea of trusting the CCP to deliver on its promises, because the CCP cannot make any credible gestures of trust. One wonders what the US will say then. Will Ma become a "radical" who "provokes" China at that point? Will Washington push Taipei to get moving on annexation? Stay tuned for further installments of The Process is the New Status Quo.

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Anonymous said...

Great analysis Michael. Too often when I bring this up with people in the US. They react as if I'm Gen. Turgidson trying to shoot down the beautiful China dream.

Dixteel said...

''There is often an assumption of a geo-strategic character to American policy toward Taiwan, which isn't really there,'' Burghardt said. ''I have never heard in a policy discussion, I have never seen in a policy document on Taiwan, any of those great chestnuts of Asian geo-strategy: 'unsinkable aircraft carrier,' 'first island chain'...It just ain't there.''

I don't like this guy because in my opinion he is one of those American establishment thinker that just don't give a crap about what Taiwanese think. But on this statement he is not totally wrong and it's debatable.

I might be wrong, but I think some people over emphesis the importance of island chain concept. The
"island chain" analogy might come from land strategy thinking of containment and might be misleading in terms of naval strategy. The importance of Taiwan as a strategic location is debatable and I think also depend on who you talk to.

China seems to think of it as important. Of course you can argue they only try to annex Taiwan because of pride, but as much as Chinese value their "face," I highly doubt they only want Taiwan for its pride. If it's economy, Taiwan already helped China in that respect. What's the point of acquiring the extra small piece of land when they can lost area 100 times bigger than Taiwan to the Russian? Maybe they want to eliminate Taiwan's democratic influence and power. That is very plausible but there are many other ways to achieve this than annexation. So I think they actually value Taiwan as a strategic location as well. Probably to fulfill their dominance in West Pacific, I am not too sure. Perhaps the US and others can find a way to convince China that "hey buddy, you don't really need that island. And we are not trying to and cannot contain you using it. Relax, man." And maybe that's what they are trying to do now.

Japan seems to value greatly Taiwan's strategic location. I think perhaps this is due to WW2 experience when the US has Philipine and was able to impose an embargo on Japan. Especially the lack of oil importation strangles Japan's economy. I think perhaps they are affraid if China annex Taiwan, China can again in similar way strangle Japan and dictate its policy.

The US probably seriously don't give a crap about Taiwan's strategic location. It has Guam as a major naval base in the west pacific already. Also it has strong allies such as Japan in the region. Most importantly the US has a navy that is still far superior than the rest of the world. If Taiwan falls into China's hand, and the US want to take Taiwan, they can probably just do that anyway due to their naval dominance.

Regardless though, the most important thing about Taiwan to the rest of the world is certainly not its strategic location. Other values are more important to Taiwan and the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

You're so right. Actions speak louder than words. If Wang was real, he'd lead the legislature in passing a law spelling out specifically that the president must consult the legislature before signing an economic agreement with China (or some other category of nations). Since he doesn't, it begs the question, what the hell is his political aim? He never is known for ever doing anything productive, but just says these things that would be nice to do from time to time. What a weirdo...

Arthur Dent said...

Spot on. The latest comments from Raymond are quite shocking in their abandonment of 50 years of US policy. What can Taiwanese make of the new policy or US position? Lets also remember that Obama probably isn't pushing Taiwan Beijing ties but rather the State Department is. Nevertheless Clinton's prioritisation of economy over human rights set the whole administration off on the wrong foot right from the start. Suddenly, human rights is less important than environment and business ... meanwhile on plant denial ... Ma just has to pretend there's no problem and it just goes away. Good job the media's working so hard to paint everything in such a cosy light.

STOP Ma said...

In other words, "the new status quo" = "the end justifies the means". And the U.S. doesn't give a flying crap if the sacrificial lamb in all of this is freedom and democracy for the Taiwanese people.

This is all very depressing, but alas, not surprising. It's like watching a familiar film in slow-motion.

Anonymous said...

The new status quo is, the U.S. is running out of money, and is willing to sell China whatever it wants.

Carlos said...

A "neutral" Taiwan Strait (that one government can't blockade) is important to Japan because most of its shipping goes through there. It's also important to Japan that China's politicians and military have someone else to focus on. The "unsinkable carrier" part of it isn't that big a deal.

It'll be interesting to see Japan's reaction. They won't like the idea of putting their supply line in China's hands, but they were counting on the US to keep it from happening.

I can't imagine the US caring except for sentimental pro-democracy reasons... which usually lose to economics.

Thomas said...

My 2c: I found Burghart's comments troubling but unsurprising. They are troubling because, once again, a US official has shown that he can only think in terms of US/China interests. The thing that pisses me off more than anything is that Americans persist in seeing figureheads such as Ma as representative of all of Taiwan. So if figureheads such as Ma want to get closer to China, and this is what the Chinese want, then moves towards annexation must be good for everyone (meaning the US and China only).

The Americans show very little care for what the Taiwanese really want. This is hardly shocking. I would say that Americans have never been good at putting themselves in the shoes of others when it comes to foreign policy -- in this case the "others" are the actual inhabitants of the island they wish to see bartered away.

Dixteel is also probably right that the situation is not helped by the fact that, for the US, Taiwan just doesn't have the strategic value that it used to. This means that American support has to be based solely on compassion for the locals, and when that compassion can be easily glossed over by sweet-talking politicians such as Ma and the KMT old guard, there is little hope left for anything but a flimsy, half defense of Taiwan's "democracy." The only way around this would be for a unified public opinion in Taiwan to make ignoring Taiwanese interests impossible. And that's not gonna happen soon.

Ok, it's my 3C: I think that comments such as those by Burghart also reflect a certain "nice guy" stance on the part of the Obama administration. The Obamites announced that they were pressing the "reset" button with Russia, and indicated they could give up the missile-defense system in Eastern Europe. The Obamites have loudly proclaimed a new interest in working with Iran. Obamite Hillary went to Beijing, where she glossed over human rights issues. Even the provocation of the Chinese Navy in the South China Sea has quickly been put to bed, although the Obamites did send a destroyer to the area as a consolation to those who don't agree with this sedate approach. Where has there been friction? With allies. Obama and Merkel clearly don't see eye-to-eye on the economic crisis. Obama clearly didn't care much that Gordon Brown was coming to visit a few weeks ago, as was duly noted by the UK press. Mexico a big trading partner? Well, Obama's administration clearly didn't mind reversing Bush admin decisions to allow Mexican truckers access to American roads, which is a goal of NAFTA. Now the Mexicans have announced their own protectionist measures. And the Japanese are starting to guess about the extent of US commitment to their country as well.

All of this is a problem because all the Americans really needed was to reassure their strategic competitors -- not jump into bed with them -- and reinforce alliances in their own backyard.

It is clear that, officially, Taiwan can't count on too much American support. I just hope that public opinion in Taiwan can somewhat restrain Ma and the Old Guard. I am getting more and more pessimistic.

Marc said...

I've long wanted to post this dialogue from the film, "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen" (Terry Gilliam), which always comes to mind when I read about these "realist" strategies. I share it here:

The Right Honorable Horatio Jackson: Ah, the officer who risked his life by single-handedly destroying six enemy cannon and rescuing 10 of our men held captive by the Turk.

Officer: Yes, sir.

Jackson: The officer about whom we've heard so much.

Officer: I suppose, sir.

Jackson: Always taking risks beyond the call of duty.

Officer: I did my best, sir.

Jackson: Have him executed at once.

Functionary: Yes, sir. Come along.

Jackson: Such behavior is demoralizing for ordinary soldiers and citizens who are trying to lead normal, unexceptional lives. Things are difficult enough without emotional people rocking the boat.

pro formosian said...

investors will be allowed to open companies they fully own in Taiwan, according to a statute on their investment as amended.

reeb said...

The new status quo is, the U.S. is running out of money, and is willing to sell China whatever it wants.

Bingo. ~Except they can't sell Taiwan since they don't own it. Instead the US just threw in the towel on any future support.

Hillary/State/Kissinger are all in on it. Taiwan's goose is cooked. The mustard is off the hotdog.

The US needs $2T+ more funding and the FED can't monetize/QE the creation of all of it. (although the recent $300B is a start). They need the PRC's cash flow more than then need Taiwan for economic survival. (thanks to massive Wall St. theft).

Add: Do you ever wonder why Obama still supports Tim Geithner? Imo, he (and the Clintons to some extent) are the Chinese money connection.

Both Tim and his father Peter are old Kissinger and Ford Foundation/Rockefeller hands. I know this has been mentioned before, but here are a couple of links to explain some interesting details: (one of which is that Obama's mother worked for Geithner's father.)

How Geithner Became Secretary of the Treasury

The big money behind Geithner

The President of the New York Federal Reserve Bank, the Chinese-speaking Geithner is an associate of Henry Kissinger who can be counted on to convince the Chinese Communists to continue to buy U.S. debt and finance Obama’s massive expansion of federal government power. That is why Obama and his fellow Democrats are putting so much faith in him.

As Henry Kissinger recently put it, when he was celebrating U.S.-China relations on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Obama’s mission is to usher in a “New World Order.” He forgot to mention, of course, that it is a China-dominated New World Order in which the U.S. has become a subsidiary of China Inc.

Lastly, here is one more tidbit to share (clipped from tickerforum):

I got to thinking about the Federal deficit. Currently forecast by the White House to be $1.75T in FY09.

So I thought to myself - how much additional Ts have to be sold each and every week to fill that $1.75T gap?

$1.75T divided by 52 = $33.65B/week. Knowing that our deficit will be greater than forecast, let's call it $35B/week of new Ts that have to be funded.

That's $35B of money that will be sucked out of the capital markets every week this year because we need to fund the budget shortfall.
With the constant capital outflows from equity mutual funds, this is going to add up to a total disaster for the stock markets.