Saturday, October 06, 2012

Hsiao and Hsiao Score in The Diplomat

A load of persimmons on its way to market.

The Diplomat hosts another good piece by Russell Hsiao and Michael Hsiao....
While such official statements reflect the different interpretations of the “status quo” between Washington and Beijing, such ambiguity does not necessarily serve U.S. interests in the long term since it is based on a flawed premise guiding Washington’s views of cross-Strait relations. These scales are preventing policymakers in Washington from shaping a course of action in the Taiwan Strait which could be more conducive to its values and interests in the region. To be sure, there is a bureaucratic tendency in Washington to observe events in the Taiwan Strait in binary terms: independence or unification, ergo war or peace respectively. The line of argument goes: If Taiwan asserts de jure independence, then Beijing – under its anti-secession law of 2005 – would invade Taiwan. Alternatively, if the two sides of the Taiwan Strait were to unify, then there would be peace. This is a false choice – and one that plays into Beijing’s hand.

Furthermore, this view does not hold water since Taiwan is neither moving toward so-called independence nor unification, and the belief that it is in Washington only hamstrings the latter’s ability to exploit the opportunities that exist in the current situation. In other words, U.S. policy has become shackled to the mirage of inevitability. Moreover, the strategy is inherently reactionary and prohibits Washington from taking action that could secure its interest by forfeiting its decision-making to Beijing. And based on the increasing power disparity in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing defines what it means to be independent and what unification means. In other words, Beijing defines the terms for peace and war. This kind of “status quo” is unsustainable.

To be sure, over the last decade, there appears to have been a fundamental shift in the Taiwanese electorates’ attitude that all political parties vying for power would have to accept. Specially, Taiwanese voters’ have moved away from supporting either “unification” or “independence” as immediate political goals.In fact, according to a September 2011 public opinion poll conducted by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, that asked respondents their positions on cross-Strait relations, 87.2 percent stated they support maintaining the “status quo,” while only a combined 7 percent of respondents indicated they want unification or independence “as soon as possible.” According to a more recent August 2012 poll, the Taiwan Mood Barometer Survey (TMBS) by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR) -- a new polling agency-- only 18.6 percent of Taiwanese say the two sides of the Taiwan Strait should “eventually” unify, while 66.6 percent disapprove of the path toward unification. Taiwan is a status quo power, China is not.
The middle two paragraphs contain observations that I've made for many years on this blog. It's good to see them on a website with a wide audience like The Diplomat. Hsiao and Hsiao don't mention how Beijing deploys "being provoked" as a policy action to gain leverage over the media and over analysts in foreign lands, but manipulating US opinion into this either annexation/or independence mindset is one of its most successful and pernicious effects. As I've also noted, because Washington starts coughing up furballs whenever Taiwan makes independent sovereignty noises, Beijing can use the threat of war as leverage to transfer tension in the Beijing-Washington relationship to the Washington-Taipei relationship.

Unfortunately the last paragraph fundamentally misinterprets Taiwanese voters in two important ways. First, voters have not "moved away from" either supporting independence or annexation, because they had never moved toward one or the other of these options. At no time has a significant minority, let alone a majority, of voters opted for either. Second, the key point here is not that Taiwanese appear to support the status quo because it saves them from making a choice; but rather, they support the status quo because it is a form of independence and at the moment, the only form of independence available to them. This means that the public will inevitably be made unhappy by moves that place the island closer to China, politically (though they are delighted with the opportunity to exploit China's economy), while moves that slouch towards meaningful independence, such as joining the UN (near-90% support), will make them happy.

Thus what politicians must really respect is the fact that Taiwanese don't want to be part of China and moves in that direction will make them unpopular, as actually happened to Ma in his first Administration. Hsiao and Hsiao could also have included the fact that large majorities, typically around 70%, identify themselves as "Taiwanese", another thing that politicians have to respect. That is why the "status quo" to the Taiwanese is not a nether region between the Scylla of annexation and the Charybdis of independence, but treated by Taiwanese as an inferior but still desirable form of independence. And why every four years Ma Ying-jeou magically becomes Taiwanese for about three months, until he performs some kind of Confucian ceremony in a temple, which I believe is to cleanse himself of any residue of Taiwaneseness that may be still be clinging to him post-election....
Daily Links:
  • DPP demands economic officials be replaced.....
    The opposition parties listed a number of indicators: Taiwan ranked last in GDP growth in the second quarter among 12 Asian countries; it has the highest unemployment rate of the four Asian Tiger economies; its consumer price index hit a four-year high in August; and the composite index of monitoring indicators flashed a 10th straight “blue light” last month, indicating that the economy remained mired in a slowdown.
    ....Nothing will change, but at least displeasure is being indicated.
  • Lai Fu-shun with excellent piece in the Taipei Times on who really owns the Diaoyutai/Senkakus.
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! Delenda est, baby.

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