The New Administration's Diplomatic Challenges
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
April 25, 2008
Although Washington is not allowing Ma Ying-jeou to visit the United States, it is sending a higher-ranking envoy than usual to his inauguration. On the one hand this defers to international realpolitik. One the other hand it expresses goodwill towards the new administration. The international community also welcomes the imminent return to rational and pragmatic diplomacy. The new administration's first challenge will be to revamp the ROC's diplomatic strategy. It must defend the nation's sovereignty, uphold its dignity, ensure its survival, and provide for its future development.
When the outcome of the presidential election was announced, the international community breathed a collective sigh of relief, and focused its attention on cross-strait reconciliation. Long ago planned but long delayed exchanges may soon take place. A new dawn is breaking on once troubled cross-strait relations. The atmosphere of growing optimism has even led to hopes for a diplomatic truce.
Such expectations are unrealistic and must not form the basis for diplomatic strategy. Beijing may display unprecedentes flexibility by allowing Vice President-elect Vincent Siew participate in the Boao Forum and an historic Hu Siew Summit. But such flexibility will probably not extend to the diplomatic arena. The CCP has long maintained distinct internal and external policies. It may treat compatriots on Taiwan more gently, but it is unrealisic to expect the CCP to accept the Republic of China's sovereignty in the international arena. The mainland China Ministry of Foreign Affairs has long maintained a hardline position regarding Taiwan. The mainland is currently experiencing a surge of nationalist sentiment reminiscent of the Boxer Rebellion. Under such circumstances the mainland authorities will be under pressure not to give way.
Moreover, given the mainland's economic rise, international developments have benefited the mainland authorities. They believe time is on their side. They want to avoid driving the public on Taiwan toward independence. Nevertheless they must provide incentives for the comparatively moderate Kuomintang government. Only then can the KMT influence the public on Taiwan. But how far Beijing is prepared to relax its attitude toward Taiwan, in what areas, and in what manner, remains unclear. Whatever it gives, it can take away. Therefore it is not something one can depend upon. We must not harbor any illusions. Otherwise we may harm the ROC's interests.
The ROC's diplomatic plight is the result of the disparity between its strength and the mainland's, and the CCP's insistence on playing a zero-sum game. Being weaker, we must make increase our strength and accumulate bargaining chips. Only then can we defend our sovereignty and ensure a modicum of breathing space in the international arena. Unfortunately the outgoing DPP's diplomatic efforts have been a complete waste. They have provided Chen Shui-bian with photo-ops and opportunities for electioneering, but little else. The ruling DPP has frittered away precious diplomatic capital accumulated through long years of hard work. Its Taiwan independence provocations have depleted the reserves of sympathy the international community once felt for the ROC, and undermined Taipei's once close relationship with Washington. Ma Ying-jeou is inheriting a foreign policy debacle. He must rebuild foreign relations from scratch. Although Taipei/Washington relations can be quickly rebuilt, relations with other nations will need considerably more effort. The unprecedented appointment of Latin American expert Francisco Ou as Minister of Foreign Affairs will return professionalism to diplomacy. It will also help manage crises that have arisen in our relations with allies in Latin America, our diplomatic stronghold.
The mainland's foreign policies are not under our control. Therefore one cannot expect major breakthroughs merely because our ruling administration and foreign policies have changed. But at least our diplomacy can get back on track. At least we can do what we ought to do, and not do what we ought not to do. At least we can begin giving priority to our long-term interests, adopting the most advantageous strategies for safeguarding the ROC's sovereignty, ensuring our survival, and providing for future development. At least the new administration will restore the dignity of professional diplomats, and allow our foreign policy to reflect the aspirations of 23 million Chinese on Taiwan.
In fact, the Republic of China's greatest asset is its values. We have relations with fewer countries than the mainland. We have even fewer votes in the United Nations. But the ROC has undergone a second change in ruling parties. It has demonstrated to the world that the Chinese people are capable of establishing a free, democratic, open, and mature society. To the world's advanced democracies, the continued existence of these values is something precious and worth defending.
The ROC understands the harsh reality of international realpolitik. But we have ignored the intangible values of civilized human society. We have failed to properly market the ROC's virtues. More can be written about this in the future. Because the ROC needs to survive internationally. we need the support of the major powers. Domestic opinion has an influence on decision-making within these major powers. If the ROC's civilized values meet with the approval of international public opinion, their government's foreign policy will reflect that opinion. Many political leaders' decision not to participate in the Beijing Olympics torch relay or the opening ceremonies were based on public opinion and domestic pressure. The ROC government is far more powerful than the Tibetan protestors. If Tibet can gain international sympathy, so can the ROC.
Faced with the rise of mainland China, the ROC finds itself in a position of political weakness. We have also lost our economic advantage. But we must not lose our self-confidence and fighting spirit. The ROC is valuable not merely for its tangible economic achievements, but also for its intangible civilized values. We must reaffirm the value of our continued existence. We must find new ways to market this beautiful island of Taiwan to the international community.