Sovereign Territory and Rare Earth: Diaoyutai and the DPP
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
September 30, 2010
Global events are unpredictable. Who would have guessed that the Cheonan corvette sinking incident would trigger an international tug of war, and even become a footnote in the September Dioayutai incident?
Following the Cheonan incident, the US and the ROK held naval exercises in the Yellow Sea. These were followed by joint US/Vietnamese naval exercises. People cried that "The United States is returning to Asia," and is engaged in renewed efforts to contain Mainland China. Under the circumstances, Japan's detention of people at Diaoyutai, and Wen Jiabao's demand that Japan release them without conditions, was tantamount to a global game of chicken, a contest to see who would be the first to blink. In the end, the Japanese released the detainees. At this point, it is hard to say who won and who lost. But clearly Beijing has both the will and the way to defy the dictates of the United States and Japan.
Diaoyutai has long been a raw nerve on Taiwan's political scene. This time was no different. The Ma Administration's speech was nothing new. DPP Chairman Tsai Ing-wen's remarks however, were food for thought. Tsai Ing-wen said "Diaoyutai belongs to Taiwan." Although this quoted old Executive Yuan cases, coming from the mouth of Tsai Ing-wen, it was tantamount to a declaration of "quasi-Taiwan independence."
A full-fledged declaration of Taiwan independence would have quoted Lee Teng-hui, who said "Diaoyutai belongs to Japan." "Of course it belongs to Japan." When Lee Teng-hui said this, he had already stepped down. When President Chen Shui-bian took a boat to Pengjia Island, he declared that "Diaoyutai belongs to the Republic of China." This was another statement of position by a Green Camp leader regarding Diaoyutai.
Tsai Ing-wen's statement reveals her dilemma. On the one hand, she cannot echo Lee Teng-hui's declaration that "Diaoyutai belongs to Japan." If she were to make such a statement, the DPP would not have a leg to stand on. It would also find it difficult to mend relations with Beijing. On the other hand, she did not want to repeat Chen Shui-bian's declaration that "Diaoyutai belongs to the Republic of China." First, she had to mollify Taiwan independence elements. Secondly, invoking the Republic of China involves Diaoyutai in a "Greater China" struggle. But after all, there is no "Nation of Taiwan." Tsai's "Nation of Taiwan" is a fiction. If one hopes to assert sovereignty over Diaoyutai, what way is there but to assert that "Diaoyutai belongs to the Republic of China?"
The Taiwan independence movement would like to rid itself of Diaoyutai. It wants to rid itself of Diaoyutai in order to rid itself of Beijing. But Tsai Ying-wen dares not get rid of Diaoyutai. Clearly she is concerned about a backlash from Beijing. But if she cannot get rid of Diaoyutai, she cannot get rid of Beijing, even though she may have repudiated the "Republic of China." As we can see, she is trapped on the horns of a dilemma.
For Beijing the Diaoyutai incident involves two strategic elements: "sovereign territory" and "rare earth." This is where advocates of Taiwan independence within the DPP should focus their attention. The territorial issue is an issue of sovereignty. Beijing's tough stance on sovereignty needs no further comment. The issue of "rare earth" Beijing is tackling using economic means. Mainland China is already "the world's factory" and "the global marketplace." Japan cannot hold out in the long term. This is the main reason Japan felt compelled to release the detainees and swallow its pride. It effectively backed down under Beijing's economic threats. This should serve as a warning for the DPP.
Taipei is in coopetition with Beijing over two issues, "sovereignty" and "economics." On the issue of sovereignty, the DPP repudiates the "1992 Consensus" and "One China, Different Interpretations." It asserts that "the Republic of China is an alien regime." It attempts to promote "Taiwan independence" in a power struggle with Beijing." Is this a workable policy? On the issue of economics, the economy on Taiwan and the economy on Mainland China are inseparable. If the DPP returns to power and resumes its Taiwan independence path, Beijing may well nullify ECFA. How will the DPP cope with such a threat? This is a strategic possibility the DPP must anticipate. Actually, Beijing need only declare a "suspension of dealings between the two organizations." Any DPP-ruled central government would buckle under the impact. The 1992 Consensus allows the two sides to coexist. Taiwan's economy is inseparable from the Mainland's. If the DPP returns to power, but insists on repudiating the 1992 Consensus, the consequences will be unimagineable.
The political situation on Taiwan is changing. Some on the Mainland are even "pinning their hopes on the DPP." This tells us that if one day the DPP returns to power, but refuses to make a declaration even more explicit than the "five noes," Beijing will punish the DPP for promoting Taiwan independence. By applying economic pressure, it can exert complete control over Taiwan's political and economic systems. The DPP regime will become a fragile government, highly susceptible to extortion. Therefore in the eyes of the Beijing authorities, a DPP return to power may constitute a windfall opportunity to resolve the cross-Strait dilemma. Why shouldn't it look forward to a DPP return to power?
In recent years, the global situation and cross-Strait situation have undergone dramatic changes. The Diaoyutai issue has also undergone changes, both internationally and across the Strait. The Diaoyutai issue involves both "sovereign territory" and "rare earth." Cross-Strait issues will as well. Tsai Ing-wen has attempted to get rid of Diaoyutai. Instead she has repudiated the Republic of China. Her attempt has merely exposed the shortcomings of her strategy.
Beijing's "sovereignty/economics" strategy has been applied not just to Diaoyutai, but to the Taiwan Strait. This is precisely why Beijing is pinning its hopes on a DPP return to power.
2010.09.30 03:15 am