President Ma's State Visits and the Meaning of Diplomatic Truce
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 29, 2008
In mid-August President Ma Ying-jeou will visit Paraguay and the Dominican Republic. This will be his first trip outside the country after becoming president. During this trip he can realize his concept of a "diplomatic truce." The outcome will be an important indicator of his policy's success or failure.
The Ma administration's biggest difference with the Chen administration, is that the Ma administration is not irreconciliably hostile towards mainland China. Ma hopes to dissolve cross-Strait confrontation, promote cooperation, and increase Taiwan's room for development. On the diplomatic front, Ma has renounced his predecessor's "scorched earth diplomacy," which only wound up burning the ROC's fingers. Nor is Ma adopting his predecessor's "transit diplomacy," which abused the hospitality of our diplomatic allies. Ma's visits are no longer subterfuges. They are merely means of facilitating his transit through the United States. They are unlike Chen's visits, which squandered energy and resources merely to upgrade Chen's city of transit and duration of transit.
This change is correct. The Chen Shui-bian administration turned "transit diplomacy" from a positive into a negative. Besides allowing Chen to bask in glory, it had no real diplomatic function. Chen Shui-bian's plane was parked on the tarmac. By sheer coincidence, Air Force One, the U.S. President's plane, parked next to it. Chen chose to play up this triviality, as if it had some sort of special political significance. This sort of "transit diplomacy" has become a self-deceptive, nauseating farce. The result has been the breakdown of mutual trust and serious damage to Taipei-Washington relations. With each transit, Chen Shui-bian's treatment went from bad to worse. It went from being invited to baseball games and steak dinners, to being shunted off to Alaska to endure the cold arctic winds. Taipei-Washington relations are warming up again. It might be better not to put invest too much emotion into Ma's upcoming transit through the US. Allow it to be remain a plain and simple transit, and allow people to catch their breath.
A "diplomatic truce" is not fruit one can pick off a tree. The Ma administration must have no illusions about that.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Francisco Ou's basic direction is correct. His long struggle to maintain diplomatic relations in Latin America, has made him deeply aware that vicious cross-Strait diplomatic struggles have left both sides wounded. They have wasted resources. They make no sense. They have harmed our international image. He believes that whether we have 23 or 30 allies makes little difference. Quarrels in international organizations over nomenclature and protocol have paralyzed ROC diplomacy, and have been of little help to the people. These concepts, coming from a veteran diplomat, are more avant garde, innovative, and pragmatic than the public on Taiwan is accustomed to.
The problem is it takes two to Tango. A truce requires both sides to lay down their arms. In the cross-Strait diplomatic war, Taipei finds itself at a major disadvantage. Past investments of resources were intended to prevent the total loss of sovereignty and international living space. Our survival hung by a thread. We had no capital to squander, or latitude for mistakes.
In the absence of specific concessions by Beijing, it is too early for Taipei to declare a truce. Doing so may inflict serious harm upon ourselves. Even if Beijing were to fall asleep at the wheel and lose several allies, it wouldn't harm their international stature. Taipei, by contrast, is hanging on for dear life. If 23 allies are reduced to 13 allies, or 3 allies, this could delegitimize us as a regime. This has already become an international law issue. Beijing has power. Once we make concessions, they may counterattack. If the ROC pulls back its line of defense, regaining ground may be even more difficult.
Therefore, we hope that before any "diplomatic truce" is implemented, we focus on communication and persuasion, and not make costly unilateral concessions. After all, this is another way to safeguard our national sovereignty and survival. We must never confuse means with ends.
President Ma's trip is hardly a junket. First, he must consolidate Taiwan's diplomatic standing in Latin America. He must improve the ROC's image, which has been tainted by numerous bribery scandals. Since President Ma has an aptitude for foreign relations, he can be an effective PR man. He can win the support of Latin American allies. He can even win the support of local populations. Cross-Strait relations have been signifcantly improved. Beijing wants the Olympic Games to be a total success, and is worried about negative developments. This is an ideal opportunity for the ROC to strengthen its diplomatic hand.
President Ma must also improve communications with the United States. As a result of the new administration taking office, cross-Strait relations are no longer on red alert. But the closer Taipei and Beijing get. the bigger the problem for the United States. Washington is no longer as sure as it once was whether Taipei is on its side, or Beijing's side. President Ma has not made his position clear. So far the new administration's policy is giving people the impression that it is leaning all the way toward Beijing, without any reservations or safeguards.
But the United States is Taiwan's most important supporter, militarily, economically, and diplomatically. Ever since reports of frozen arms sales, the United States has been waiting for the Ma administration to give the US an accounting. If he has a chance, during his transit through the United States, President Ma can do much in this respect. He can also help the public on Taiwan better understand. The President is someone who must take on major tasks. Instead of worrying about such details as saving money on charter flights, he should spend his energy thinking about the direction in which the nation must develop.