Friday, June 5, 2009

From Flexible Diplomacy to Normal Diplomacy

From Flexible Diplomacy to Normal Diplomacy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
June 5, 2009

President Ma Ying-jeou has concluded his state visit to Central America and returned home. His "Voyage for Harmony" consolidated the support of ROC allies. It also demonstrated, through concrete action, Ma's new diplomatic thinking and practices.

President Ma, his wife Christine Chow, and over 100 members of his delegation visited Belize, El Salvador, and Guatemala. On the way there they transited Los Angeles. On the way back they transited Seattle. This is the second state visit President Ma has embarked upon since taking office. It is also the first time the First Lady Christine Chow took part in a state visit.

Compared to last time, this visit was much livelier. A number of surprises arose. Belize experienced a power failure. President Ma's armed bodyguard was detained by Guatemalan security services. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega postponed his meeting with President Ma three times, and the ROC decided to cancel the meeting altogether. When Ma greeted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, he introduced himself as "Taiwan's president." This also provoked domestic political debate.

In fact the incident over Ma's bodyguard was minor. Once it was over, it was over. It was merely the result of a miscommunication between the security services of both nations, and a mishandling of the situtation by Guatemalan officials. It will not affect relations between the two nations. President Ma introduced himself as "Taiwan's president." This is also very common. After all, the international community more is familiar with the name Taiwan. It is not necessary to read too much into this.

President Ma Ying-jeou took office a year ago. During this visit his "huo lu wai jiao," i.e., "Viable Diplomacy," or "Flexible Diplomacy," clearly distinguished itself from the diplomacy of the past. Past "Scorched Earth Diplomacy" called for the playing of zero-sum games and the fighting of battles that cannot be won. It was a strategy of reckless provocation. Taipei butted its head against a brick wall until it was left broken and bleeding. Its plight within the international community worsened. President Ma's foreign policy reversed this manner of thinking and operating. It moved toward cross-Strait reconciliation. It allowed the two sides to renounce their life or death zero-sum game. It allowed Taipei to stop squandering resources fighting over allies with Beijing. It allowed Taipei to stop writing huge checks to buy allies.

While In Belize, President Ma explained his five major foreign aid goals. These include eliminating extreme poverty and hunger, strengthening human resources development, fighting infectious diseases, promoting environmentally sustainable development, and strengthening global partnerships. Foreign aid programs require money. Only money that must be spent will be spent. Diplomacy will be forthright. Its "goals must be legitimate, its procedures must be lawful, its implementation must be effective." Only this will win others' respect.

Such a change has come at just the right time. Our past policy of checkbook diplomacy often reduced us to victims of blackmail. Large contributions often lined the pockets of local politicians. They failed to achieve their goal as foreign aid. In the spate of ensuing corruption scandals, they tainted Taipei's image. The result was a loss of both wealth and honor.

Beijing knew Taipei would be forced to compromise in order to retain its allies. Beijing and Taipei would often both offer money and deliver ultimatums. Taipei would spend freely. Oversight of these aid packages would be difficult. One could never determined where the aid would wind up. We never knew who had embezzled the funds and never dared to demand an accounting.

Vast sums were paid out to retain diplomatic allies. But all we received in return was a loss of national dignity, damage to our international image, and the loss of hard-earned taxpayer dollars. The result was clearly harmful to our overall national interests. We had to make a fresh start. But in the past Beijing stood in Taipei's way. We were forced to continue playing this meaningless game.

The main reason President Ma can now say no to such unreasonable demands, is the easing of cross-Strait relations. The two sides have now reached a tacit understanding not to steal each others' allies. Beijing has given the cold shoulder to several nations which have habitually threatened to break relations with Taipei and establish relations with Beijing. Beijing has also turned down El Salvador's invitation to send representatives to its presdential inauguration. When President of El Salvador Mauricio Funes expressed the desire to develop economic and trade relations with mainland China, Ma Ying-jeou made clear he has "no objections," and that Taipei and Beijing have such relations too. Clearly the two sides have jettisoned their previous zero-sum competition in the international arena. Other countries must understand this and adapt to it.

Such a change, has allowed both sides to forsake checkbook diplomacy. It has allowed the relationship between Taipei and its allies to finally return to normal, The two sides must seek substantive consensus, and demonstrate mutual respect. Beijing must also understand that a diplomatic truce is not a favor to Taiwan, but rather a fresh start for cross-Strait relations.

The spotlight was on Christine Chow. During her first state visit she made a concerted effort to fulfill her assigned role. She threw herself into her interactions with the local population. Chow, who has long maintained a low profile and has never attempted to curry favor with the media, demonstrated an authentic and natural style of her own. This is something rare in the political arena, and something the people deeply appreciate.

In conclusion, President Ma's "Voyage of Harmony" could be termed a ringing success. We hope he will continue implementing his new foreign policy, and correcting outdated foreign aid practices. We hope the two sides can deepen cross-Strait reconciliation. We hope both sides will demonstrate mutual respect, and contemplate the future with vision and courage.

中時電子報 新聞
中國時報  2009.06.05














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