Saturday, April 24, 2010

GWU Cross Strait Relations Seminar

Notes on the Conference at GWU the other day, from someone present.

Highlights -- Doug Paal said that Taiwan had not asked for F-16 C/Ds in the latest round of talks.

Shelly Rigger with excellent comment on the LY in Q&A session.

But overall, it is clear that Washington doesn't get ECFA (or perhaps gets it too well) and its probable effects as well as resistance to it, nor do they, who love Ma so much, understand how completely out of touch with the mainstream he is. It reminds me of a couple of years ago when I remarked that the "process of engagement" is now the new status quo -- and how difficult it will be for the DPP to meaningfully extricate itself from this policy/POV.


“Navigating Cross-Strait relations”
George Washington University
Date: April 21st 2010, 10:00 am - 4:00 pm

The Conference was a whole-day event, funded by TECRO. Shawn McHale opened the session, and then gave the floor to Jason Yuan, who basically read from his prepared remarks. A number of points:

• Taiwan needs partnerships based on shared interests and values. The TRA is the cornerstone of bilateral ties. Thanks to US support we have a full-fledged democracy and economy.
• Major challenges ahead because of Beijing’s pursuit of unification through threats and coercion.
• DPP unsuccessful in gaining international support. Ma has new approach, replacing “confrontation” with “flexible diplomacy”. This has gained US support and approval: stopovers and arms sales.
• In Asia there is a growing trend towards regional economic integration. Taiwan will be marginalized if we do not move towards ECFA. There is no compromise on sovereignty: just a return to an accelerated track enhancing our competitive edge. We aim for similar arrangements (FTAs) with other countries.
• The new approach is also leading to a win-win-win situation in international organizations: Taiwan was observer in last year’s WHA and received an invitation for this year’s meeting “at the same time as other countries.” He is therefore optimistic on Taiwan’s future.

FIRST PANEL: Taiwan’s external environment; implications for Cross-Strait

Shirley Kan (CRS) was the first speaker. She made a number of comments:

• If you want to be a student of Taiwan developments, you have to get accustomed to paradoxes: a) if you want consensus, don’t call it a consensus, b) if you want independence, don’t say so, and c) if the US wants to reduce a military threat, it has to sell arms.
• She said that much of what happens depends very much on Taiwan’s own actions (or inactions): some negative examples:
o Beef issue
o Government inefficiency, obstruction and bureaucracy
• Also some comparative advantages and opportunities:
o Freedom and democracy
o Economy dominated by service sector
o It is good at emergency aid: expand on that: build a hospital ship
which could assist in international crises and disaster relief.
o It could be more forthcoming on security assistance: piracy threat,
reconstruction in Afghanistan or Iraq.
o It has a professional and free press
o It needs to build itself into a reliable and credible international partner
• Its leaders need to make strategic decisions on its international
orientation: does it want to have one “primary” relationship (i.e. China) or
does it want to have a range of good relationships.

Conclusion: Taiwan has lived with, and thrived, its ambivalent status quo. It gradually needs to build up its role internationally. She closed by mentioning that Taiwan’s status quo had changed several times over: 1885 becoming a Chinese Province, 1895 becoming a Japanese colony, 1945 end of WW-II, and late 1980s transition to democracy. Thus, change does occur but much stays the same.

Phil Saunders (Defense University). Phil tried to establish an analytical framework for the PRC’s approaches towards Taiwan:
• A “zero sum” logic, utilizing its increasing military, political and economic leverage to deny Taiwan international recognition, and to force it into unification;
• A “United front” logic, using alliances – both with the US, the KMT and others – to mobilize against Taiwan independence. He said this may work, but makes it also harder to gain support for unification;
• A “persuasion” logic, offering positive incentives and make it attractive (or less unattractive) for Taiwan to join up with China.

He said that different measures and tactics could be “measured” on how well they do under each of the logics: e.g. liberalizing agricultural imports from Southern Taiwan would rank well under the “persuasion” and United Front logic, but would not fall under “Zero sum.”

On the Chinese side, there is tremendous inertia: the PLA has a hammer, and “if you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

The logics may also change, e.g. if they would shift from a “deterring independence” logic to a “promoting unification” logic. The question is: which logic will produce faster results.

Teng Chung-chian, Dean, College of International Affairs, National Chengchi

Teng painted a very rosy picture of the Ma administration’s policies. He compared it to several developments in Europe:
• He claimed Helsinki accords led to relaxation in East West relations in Europe, which led to fall of Berlin Wall in 1989, which led to German unification.
• The economic agreements after WW-II led to European economic integration and now to sifting of some powers from the states to the EU = political integration.

In Taiwan, the Ma administration was successfully moving in this direction:
• Under the DPP/CSB administration there would have been an uproar about a contract between Palau and the Chinese Petroleum Corp. Now it is “no big deal,”
• “Everyone is basically for ECFA”, in Taiwan there is only opposition against the contents (agriculture, labor??)

• Mike Fonte led the charge, asking if the Chinese realized that economic liberalization would lead to political liberalization. Teng emphasized that ECFA was a stepping stone for Taiwan for integration “in the larger environment” of Asia;
• Shelley Rigger actually also questioned the appropriateness of the comparison with the EU, saying that European integration had “stalled out”.
• Gerrit van der Wees asked Shirley Kan to elaborate on the “strategic orientation” issue, emphasizing that many in Taiwan felt the Ma administration was moving too closely to China, and was putting all eggs in the China basket. Also he commented to Teng that as a European he could see very few parallels, particularly due to the difference in size (China big, Taiwan small, while in Europe there is a reasonable balance). Shirley responded that the
policies of Ma (and of the US!!) were too sinocentric, and that we should have more respect for a fellow democracy.
• John Zeng (CTI-TV) asked Shirley about the beef issue: he said that the US should be more aware of the fact that the original problem was caused by the “initial mishandling by the Ma administration” and prompted by genuine concerns about food safety. Shirley responded that there was “bipartisan mishandling” (thus also blaming the DPP), and emphasized once again that US beef is “perfectly safe.”
• Joe Bosco (formerly SecDef Office) asked about ways in which Taiwan could use disaster relief to promote its international presence.
• CNN reporter: Chances for Taiwan to be involved in TPP?
• Shawn McHale: Lessons from China’s reactions to Taiwan for interactions with other countries in the region?
• Bruce Dickson: How does US arms package affect X-Strait? Shirley: reference to TRA and the fact that it gives Taiwan confidence in negotiating with China.
• Gerrit van der Wees asked Phil Saunders to add a fourth logic to his analytical framework: that China becomes democratic and accepts Taiwan like a friendly independent neighbor. He said that Great Britain originally opposed US independence, but are now the best of friends, and that the USSR opposed Baltic independence and now lives with it.

Lunch presentation by Doug Paal

In the introduction it was mentioned that Paal worked at the NSC under Reagan and Bush Sr and was head of AIT-Taiwan form 2002-2006. He started out by saying that China has 11.9% growth, that there was lots of Taiwanese presence, and that this is propelling growth in the region.

He then jumped straight into ECFA, saying that it brought a “new level of engagement” with China, and would mean “more protection for Taiwan’s economy. He praised the leadership in China for NOT demanding equal access to Taiwan’s market e.g. agricultural products.

He said in view of ECFA there should be a parallel track for US-Taiwan economic ties: Expand TIFA, move towards FTA or chose Dan Rosen’s Trans Pacific Partnership forum TPP. He referred to an ADB forecast that there will be growth across the region, and said that without closer ties the US will be unilaterally disadvantaged….

Then some remarks about military / defense: US arms package is what Taiwan needed. He supports Ma’s efforts to restructure military into an all-volunteer force: smaller but more effective. Taiwan is a very defensible island, in spite of any perceived imbalance across the Strait: in 1945 MacArthur skipped Taiwan “because it was too difficult” and went to Okinawa instead.

On the political side: the KMT has suffered some setbacks recently, but the DPP has not found the catch-phrase yet that will propel it beyond 51%. He said that King Pu-tsong has developed a new approach to local politics (“do not rely on factions or money, but field strong, clean candidates”) and the US should expect that Ma will be re-elected.

He said that the challenge to the DPP is to have broad appeal. For a democracy it is essential to have accountability, and the two turnovers have shown this system works quite well. He did refer to “questions about the judicial system.”

On the diplomatic side, he said that Ma’s transits had been “handled successfully (by Ma)” and that this had resulted in “increasing approval” by the US. The “diplomatic truce” was holding although China was way to miserly with granting Taiwan international space.

Returning to X-Strait talks he said there was a limit to what could be dealt with during this Ma administration: ECFA is probably the “last major” item that could go through. He said that China’s appetite for concessions from the Taiwan side far exceeds Taiwan’s capabilities to make long-term concessions, because it is a democracy.

He referred to a Shelley Rigger statement/analysis that the PRC insufficiently realizes that most people in Taiwan don’t feel that TI is the way to go, and that they (in particular the PLA) are overreacting and that the hardliners still hold sway. He said Taiwanese businessmen in China had urged PRC leaders to relax and set aside the “One China” principle, but there is a power struggle going on, and they are unable to compartmentalize and put it on the back-burner.

He said that right now is an extremely sensitive period (Isn’t it always?) since everyone is jockeying for position in anticipation of the power changes at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. But the fact is: they are changing.

Against this background it is important for Taiwan to diversify its connections, and not be locked into a one-way dependency. He concluded by praising the Ma government position on referendums.

Questions and Answers:

• What is the long-term prospect for Taiwan? Answer: Taiwan needs to patient, smart, move adeptly, ride the next technological wave. If it can protect it autonomy until China changes and accepts Taiwan, then we could have a situation like Austria and Germany, where you have same language, but at same time separateness. The point is that it is a long-term process and Taiwan shouldn’t give anything away now.

Right now China is very self-assured and bombastic but at some point they will stumble and then Taiwan has to make its move. Taiwan needs to be taken on its own merits. Maybe Taiwan should have made a deal in 1991, when China was weakened internationally after Tienanmen, but now China is powerful and Taiwan needs to move cautiously to protect its separateness.

• Mike Fonte: Mike stated that the DPP position is that Taiwan is already a sovereign and independent state, and that if you want to change that, you need a referendum. Paal responded that Ma had not surrendered his stance on sovereignty. He referred to Bruce Gilley’s “Finlandization” and said this is not widely shared, but that the DPP should realize these voices are out there. He emphasized that the US will respect the consent of the people through a democratic process, but then went on to say that without changing the 1999 party plank on independence it will not be possible for the DPP to get 51% of the vote.

• Question about arms sales? Paal stated blithely that CSB didn’t want to buy the weapons package and kept postponing it (not mentioning the KMT LY obstruction). Paal also said that Taiwan “didn’t ask for F-16 C/Ds in the latest round of talks.”

• Norman Fu: Ma’s transit visits went exceedingly well. Would the US be willing to elevate Ma’s visit by inviting him to DC, eg for a cultural event. Second question: some like Bob Sutter have expressed reservations on the Cross-Strait ties, saying that Taiwan might move too close to China and that this might force the US to reassess its policies.

The US has a national interest in seeing Taiwan do the right thing. E.g. the arms sale was in Taiwan’s interest but also in that of the US. The same applies to possible visits. He said that he could foresee Ma attendance at the 2011 APEC meeting on Honolulu (as Party Chairman) a possibility.

On Sutter’s concerns: he didn’t share those. He felt that “balance” across the Strait has never been part of US policy No one seriously holds the view that detente would damage our interests, not even if the PLA/PLN had bases on Taiwan. The important thing is not to lose your marbles.[MT -- this is an answer to a way-out hypothetical. Paal does not mean this very seriously, I heard]

Afternoon session

Sarah Friedman, anthropologist Indiana University, had done fieldwork on mainland brides in Taiwan and explained how due to the work of several NGO’s their position had improved.

Megan Greene, historian at the University of Kansas, had done research on how past science and technologies policies had stimulated Taiwan’s economic development, and analyzed how this could be a model for China.

Shelley Rigger said that her presentation would be more conventional, analyzing the surface waves, while Sarah and Megan had presented the deeper underlying currents. She revisited her presentation two years ago, when she had talked about CSB’s failed “Plan A” and contrasted that with Ma’s promising “Plan B”.

She then analyzed where Plan B was going:

• Economy is recovering from recession, and the recovery was helped by China’s growth.
• Cross Strait relations going well / tension is low
• But Ma’s approval ratings remain low, so it is not a home run
• Taiwan’s citizens don’t want to move too fast and ask whether Ma is protecting Taiwan’s economy and strategic interests.
• Ma actually doesn’t have much room for maneuver: his Plan B has only a narrow passage between the rocks, which produces a lot of anxiety.

There is so much focus on Cross Strait issues because it will determine Taiwan’s future, but to narrow the political divide it is necessary to end the endless cycle of fruitless debate and develop other issues where the parties can distinguish themselves.

Questions and answers

• Deepak question for Sarah: info on the demographic background of the Taiwanese men who marry mainland brides. Answer: not really.

• Tiffany Kuo: I would have a different take on CSB’s policy on foreign brides: there were legitimate concerns on national security, trafficking that you seem to sweep under the

• Gerrit v.d. Wees query for Megan Greene whether she implied that technology and industrial policy could only succeed under an authoritarian regime . She responded that in the initial phase in Taiwan everyone was accustomed to a top-down approach, and when that disappeared in the 1990s and 2000 the policy seemed to be rudderless.

• Question on contrast between Plan A and B. Shelley Rigger responded that in parts of his policies (enhancing Taiwanese identity) CSB was very successful, but that his policy attempting to minimize interactions with the PRC didn’t work and was overtaken by the wave of business interactions with China. Ma’s Plan B is “managing the relations more effectively.”

• Jacob (Dty at TECRO) first complimented the speakers for this “feast” (for which TECRO was paying) and then asked Shelley Rigger – referring to an article she wrote two years ago “Seven Reasons why Ma should win” why there is not enough support for Ma in the LY. Not enough “payback”?

Shelley responded that the high KMT majority is actually a curse: the LY doesn’t feel the urgency to “produce” but everyone is playing their own agenda. The KMT LY is defeating itself. She disagreed with the proposition that in the latest rounds of elections the DPP was really “coming back.” She said the real reason is that “Ma doesn’t care as much about winning
seats as about getting the right people.”

• Steve Philips asked Sarah Friedman whether Taiwan’s rules on foreign brides was more odious than in other nations and Megan Greene whether the rationale that economic development leads to political liberalization was understood by the PRC.
Daily Links
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Anonymous said...

Based on sketchy information at best, Taiwan's Ministry of National Defense submitted a formal letter of request (LOR) for price and availability data for 66 F-16 C/D aircraft in 2006. That LOR was not accepted, and both the Bush and Obama administration's NSC Staff has discouraged MND from re-submitting another formal request. So MND is waiting for some sign from the Obama administration that it's OK to re-submit the LOR, or at least to submit it at a propitious and appropriate time.

It's not clear what Doug means by these "latest round of talks." The annual arms sales talks went away in 2001.

Thomas said...

Thanks so much for this rundown. It looks to me like most of the panelists support continuing autonomy for Taiwan but have unrealistic expectations of Ma's ability or interest in maintaining that autonomy.

It also pains me that so few people brought up additional steps that the US can take to help Taiwan be less isolated. They seem to be happy with letting the US play the role that Britain played to Tibet many years ago: Sympathetic observer.

Marc said...

"California has 3 billionaires who have never held elective office running for statewide positions. I’m all in favor of electing billionaires instead of politicians. That way, we eliminate the middlemen."

Please credit political humorist Will Durst

Marc said...

Does anyone else consider these comments, which compare the Taiwan-China relationship with the historical relationships of certain Western countries (Austria-Germany, UK-US, EU-former Soviet countries), to be false analogies?
Whether it’s the result of a scholarly bias or a lack of knowledge of Asian history (or could there be a desire to avoid openly referring to China’s imperialistic past?), these analogies from Western geo-political history appear to me as wishful thinking at best, and, at worst, reveal a colonial mindset.

What we don't hear (enough) about is the historical relationships of China and other Asian countries, which I think provide a more valid way to assess current events.

“It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” – Sun Tzu