New Taiwan Administration and Premonition of Diplomatic Breakthrough

September 16th, 2008


Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou delivered his inaugural address titled Taiwan’s Renaissance.

It was well-composed speech, reflecting the president’s views clearly, while not evoking excessive alarm or expectations on such complex and sensitive issues as the future of Taiwan’s democracy, relations with the United States, the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and cross-strait relations.

It is noteworthy that the address uses the expression “Taiwan’s dignity”. And it premises the advancement of cross-strait relations on the island’s  international dignity.

While I have pointed out in the past the danger of Taiwan being dragged into unification by China’s strategy as a result of accepting Beijing-proposed peace agreement talks, I wrote at the same time that I would be able to watch them with peace of mind if the Kuomintang became responsible for negotiations conditioned on joining the United Nations.

Ideally, Taiwan should be admitted into the United Nations. At least, It seems reasonable today to expect Chinese President Hu Jintao to display the level of flexibility to allow Taiwan to join international economic, social and healthcare organizations to keep its dignity.

In reality, Taiwan is a full member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

If APEC extends an invitation to President Ma, how would China react to it? It would be a test for President Hu’s flexibility.

Behind the policy of acknowledging “one China, respective interpretations” lies Ma’s thinking that Taiwan is part of the Chinese community, and that thinking runs through his address.


Stimulus to self-trapped China  

In the speech, there is an expression that Taiwan is the only Chinese community in which power shifted peacefully twice. It is well said to press China for democratization and to emphasize that Taiwan is more democratic than Singapore.

At the same time, I am afraid it would confound the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which places high priority on the identity of the people of Taiwan.

If the one-China policy is defined as loosely as the Commonwealth of Nations, however, in which India acknowledges the crown of Britain as a symbol of the free bond, any interpretation is possible. In fact, Pakistan has repeatedly left and joined the Commonwealth.

Thus, the establishment of the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou might be a chance to break the diplomatic gridlock in East Asia.

In a sense, China is caught in its own trap.

During the DPP era, Beijing often invited Kuomintang leaders to China and treated them respectably for the purpose of giving an impact on the political balance in Taiwan. It is unreasonable to explain at this point that it was because the Kuomintang was not in power. Beijing would have to formally come in contact with the Kuomintang’s leader, who is Taiwan’s president, in some way or another — possibly at an APEC summit.


The door to Japan also to open

This would be a chance for Japan as well. Taking a hostile policy toward the Taiwan president of the DPP, China used to stiffly opposed Japan’s attempts to make contacts with Taiwan. Since the United States was also cold toward the DPP for some unexplainable reason, Japan had to pay heed to both China and the United States in dealing with Taiwan.

Japan may no longer have to care about their reactions. Taiwan and Japan have strong historic and economic ties, and treating Taiwan coldly by disregarding those ties was unnatural. Japan might now be freed from this spell.

The DPP might be unhappy with Japan’s about-face to establish friendly ties with the Taiwanese government.

Nevertheless, deepening relations with Japan would bring benefits to Taiwan. Those benefits would be Taiwan’s asset when the DPP returns to power in the future — possibly four, eight or more years from now.

Lastly, in conducting cross-strait talks, the Ma administration must never give in on Taiwan’s sovereignty and its security.

Then my last words: any kind of “one country, two systems” formula is designed to set a time limit on Taiwan’s freedom whether it is good only for half a century or a century. Again, Taiwan must not accept any unilateral arms restrictions or neutrality. There is no comparison between China and Taiwan in terms of size. Once security means are abandoned, there will be no measures to defend Taiwan when the situation changes.

Taiwan must keep this point in mind.