Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Cohen and Chen: those DPP obstructionists

China Reform Monitor summarizes:

During May’s U.S. – China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, senior U.S. officials were told by Chinese counterparts that Beijing would not brook any interference in the South China Sea, which, they said, was now among China's core national sovereignty interests, on a par with Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang. To underscore this position, China subsequently conducted naval exercises around the Spratly Islands – disputed with Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. In response, at this month’s Asian Security Summit in Singapore U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that the South China Sea was an area of growing concern for the U.S.: “We do not take sides on any competing sovereignty claims, but we oppose the use of force and actions that hinder freedom of navigation.” Gates also said a peaceful and non-coerced resolution to the Taiwan issue was “an abiding national interest,” and vital for the security of Asia. A new forum for defense ministers from ASEAN, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the U.S. will meet for the first time in Hanoi in October to address these outstanding issues, Australia’s Canberra Times reports.

It's important to keep in mind the rising tone of China's expansionism -- the South China Sea islands, which no Chinese emperor ever owned or claimed -- are now a core interest of China.

China's hardline stance on expansionism failed to appear in an SCMP piece today on a related issue. Jerome Cohen had another one of those swing-and-a-miss pieces in SCMP that, but for its recapitulation of KMT talking points and refusal to mention the real issues behind ECFA, might have been good. Yea verily, he wrote long ago: (Ties that blind) "Improved cross-strait relations appear to have come at a cost to some civil liberties in Taiwan" but all that goes out the window when discussing economics. Today he and YJ Chen, discussing the role of the legislature, scribed:
Amid the arguments about the appropriate legislative review process, it is easy to lose sight of the Ma Ying-jeou administration's real accomplishment in dealing with Beijing. During the past two years, despite the mainland government's desire to avoid either acknowledging the legitimacy of the Republic of China on Taiwan or weakening Beijing's claim to sovereignty over the island, the SEF has concluded a series of important agreements with Arats without agreeing to Beijing's "one China" principle. And the latest agreement allows for institutional development in cross-strait relations by providing, for the first time, for establishing trade offices, monitoring agreement implementation, settling relevant disputes, terminating the agreement and organising a facilitating bilateral joint committee.
Look how carefully Cohen reframes and softens Beijing's declared aim that ECFA is the first step in the annexation of Taiwan. Down the memory hole goes that aim! Cohen then goes on to say that Ma's accomplishment is to get ECFA signed without agreeing to Beijing's "one China" principle, though in fact China is treating ECFA as a domestic matter. And no one knows what the KMT acknowledged privately.

Once China's position that ECFA is the first step in annexation is removed, you can then go on to claim that the DPP is being irrational. Which is exactly what Cohen and Chen go on to do. If you forthrightly state that ECFA is the first step in annexation, you cannot then go to paint the DPP as obstructionist and unreasonable.

Cohen, an old mentor of Ma's, and Chen then criticize the Ma Administration for
From the outset of its cross-strait negotiations, the executive branch has sought to minimise the legislature's role. The Ma administration did not submit any of its first dozen agreements with Beijing for substantive legislative review since it claimed no legislative amendments were needed to implement these agreements. Because the ECFA's implementation requires amendments of related legislation, the executive branch had to submit it for review. Yet it has been striving to limit the review's scope to prevent the legislature from modifying the agreement and to avoid delaying its start, scheduled for January 1.
The clash between the legislature and executive in Taiwan is old. Before Ma was elected I wondered in these pages whether Ma would face the same trouble Chen did, since it seems to be structural and related to the ROC's chronically weak presidency. Note that Cohen wrote in another piece last year:
2009: Without party control, Mr. Ma had a hard time pushing through his agenda. Not long after Mr. Ma’s inauguration, the legislature rejected the president’s appointments to both the Control Yuan, responsible for investigations of government, and the Examination Yuan, in charge of civil service recruitment. Concern about legislative approval also reportedly discouraged Mr. Ma from appointing certain experts to the Council of Grand Justices, Taiwan’s important constitutional court. More recently, the legislature refused to approve nearly half of the 50 “priority” bills proposed by the administration and adopted only four of the nine bills identified by Ma as “must” legislation for the just-concluded legislative session.
Cohen & Chen then go on to review the "is it animal, vegetable, or mineral?" problem of what ECFA is. President Ma, who gives every appearance of not wanting legislative review -- it is easy to see why! -- argued first that it was a treaty, which meant that the legislature could only give a straight yes/no vote on the agreement as a whole. Then it became a quasi-treaty, or the functional equivalent of a treaty. Meanwhile the legislature, which points to several precedents in which international economic agreements have been reviewed line by line, argues that ECFA should be reviewed by the legislature piece by piece. Good on 'em!

In the next section Cohen and Chen argue that the legislature should have the power to review and amend ECFA. Kudos to them for being on the side of right! But then they character:
Yet, in view of the current partisan political climate, the concern that a clause-by-clause review might substantially delay the trade pact's approval should not be overlooked. If the DPP acts reasonably and constructively in the review, rather than engage in the obstructionist tactics that the KMT fears, it will gain public support.
Hahahaha. Poor put upon KMT! Fearing those obstructionist tactics of the dastardly DPP! Cohen and Chen simply subscribe to the old "if you agree, you're rational, and if you don't, you're obstructing." Democracy is nice, provided it doesn't interfere in "rational goals."

C &C also err in another way in that last sentence, which is simply a KMT talking point, not serious analysis.
If the DPP acts reasonably and constructively in the review, rather than engage in the obstructionist tactics that the KMT fears, it will gain public support.
Remember that back in July of 2009 they wrote:
If the DPP continues its ostrich-like stance toward these historic talks, it risks losing much of its existing popular support.
As commentor Feiren noted in a comment on that post on my blog, Cohen and Chen had, in simply repeating China Post talking points, badly misunderstood the mood in Taiwan. The reality is the opposite -- by opposing ECFA, the DPP gained public support. The DPP would go on to hand the KMT defeats in the next few elections, satisfaction with Ma, already falling, would plummet into the 20s and remain there, and the public would never evince majority support for ECFA in any serious poll. The "obstructionist tactics" -- you know, like talking to the public, running in elections, critiquing policy, having debates, calling for referendums, writing commentaries and making speeches -- appear to be quite popular with the public. That is evidenced by the simple fact of the last few elections here, and by the current situation in which two areas in the north, often thought to be KMT strongholds, are now in play in the mayoral elections come November. That could change, but right now the KMT is unpopular at the national level. US commentators need to face the fact that ECFA is not popular, despite what occasional erroneous reports in the international media claim.

The hack on the DPP is totally unnecessary; it adds nothing to the piece.

Anyone who wants to gauge the national mood need merely look at the 104 Job Bank survey on ECFA. 104 Job Bank is Taiwan's leading internet job ad site. The Taipei Times report said:
The survey, which polled 2,292 Taiwanese workers on June 28 and June 29, found that 31.9 percent of respondents believed that the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) would likely lead to higher unemployment, while 15.8 percent feared that the agreement would make it harder for people to find jobs.

Max Fang (方光瑋), the online manpower agency’s public relations manager, said that less than 40 percent of the workers surveyed were upbeat about the trade pact, with only 13.5 percent saying the job market would benefit from it.
These figures underline those found in other polls.

Cohen and Chen have been awesome voices calling for change in China. On Taiwan, when dealing with judicial matters, they have also been powerful voices. I deeply honor and support this service to the people of Taiwan. But when it comes to economics, suddenly Beijing's aims are blurred, KMT talking points are repeated, and the situation on the ground is ignored. Why?
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Marc said...

You can save the $ on a trip to hear Chomsky: Here's his paper in its entirety:

Gerd said...

If you are interested in language theories, I very much recommend reading "Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes" by Daniel Everett about language and culture of the Pirahã.

Anonymous said...

You're forgetting that Taiwan also makes claim to those islands, and neither Malaysia nor the Philippines nor Vietnam have ever had legitimate claim to any of those islands, never settled any of them to any significant degree and were not present there before the Chinese.

That aside...

Dixteel said...

The reason to why is actually a very good question. Here is my speculation:

- Cohen and other American never really grasp the concept that many Taiwanese wishes to remain indepedent.

- It once again goes back to the old fallacy in the US that any economic improvement, engagement and intergration will change China politically.

- Therefore, any engagement of China and Taiwan would be welcomed, the annexation and surrendering posture under this engagement ignored.

- Cohen and other American might care about human/political rights, but overall, they don't understand that Taiwan at least has some human/political rights and was improving specifically because it is independent from China. As Taiwan moves closer toward China, human/political rights will worsen in Taiwan.

Michael Turton said...

Sage, Cohen knows that Taiwan wants to be independent and that few Taiwanese want to be part of China or the PRC. But the class of Americans he represents thinks that they will be making the big $$ off China when they sell Taiwan to China using the apparently democratic tool of KMT-CCP cooperation. I'm not sure whether they really believe that the world will have peace that way, or whether they just don't care. My money is on (b), given that our elites really don't seem to care about anything -- unemployment, the environment, health care, our national infrastructure, the manufacturing base, etc, as long as Wall Street is happy. And Wall Street is totally behind Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT.