Beware of Turning Diplomacy Inside Out
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
March 9, 2012
Summary: Cross-Strait relations have stabilized in recent years. Cross-Strait diplomatic confrontation abroad has also moderated. And yet our government has encountered obstacles in the appointment of representatives to several usually friendly nations. Our relationships with them have stagnated. What does this "inside out" turn of events mean? Has a problem arisen within our diplomatic hierarchy? The question is one President Ma must take seriously.
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Cross-Strait relations have stabilized in recent years. Cross-Strait diplomatic confrontation abroad has also moderated. And yet our government has encountered obstacles in the appointment of representatives to several usually friendly nations. Our relationships with them have stagnated. What does this "inside out" turn of events mean? Has a problem arisen within our diplomatic hierarchy? The question is one President Ma must take seriously.
ROC Representative to Singapore Vanessa Shih stepped on a landmine in Taipei/Singapore relations. As a result she was recalled. Only yesterday did Singapore finally approve the appointment of Hsieh Fa-ta as her successor. Prior to this, ROC Defense Minister Kao Hua-chu led a delegation to Singapore. Green Camp legislators, in contravention of bilateral confidentiality agreements, recklessly revealed this fact. Bilateral relations suffered yet another blow. At the same time, ROC Representative to Japan John Feng has retired. Successor Shen Ssu-tsun does not speak Japanese well and is not knowledgeable about Japan. This has also invited criticism.
Vanessa Shi was Ma Ying-jeou's personally appointed representative to Singapore. But she could not win the trust of the Singapore government. Does Singapore hold a grudge against President Ma? Perhaps not. But bilateral frictions have persisted for several months. Lien Chan was commissioned to attend the APEC Summit and act as go-between. The hope was that he could communicate with former National Security Council Secretary-General Ting Mou-shi before visiting Singapore. But he was turned down. From this we can see that Singapore's displeasure was hardly trivial. Our candidates for Representative to Singapore were belatedly approved. The Taipei/Singapore economic partnership agreement was delayed for nearly two years. There may well be a deeper reason. The Ma administration's response may well be tardy.
Vanessa Shi is a trusted diplomat born in the 1950's. Her recall was more than a personal setback. It was a setback for every diplomat of her generation. Consider the controversy over Shen Ssu-tsun. He may be a qualified career diplomat. But Japan is a country with special cultural characteristics. It is very different from the Czech Republic or Canada. A representative who lacks knowledge about Japan will inevitably appear inadequate. President Ma may underscore his support for Shen Ssu-tsun by offering a direct line to himself. But Vanessa Shi also had a direct line to Ma. Nevertheless she still stepped on a landmine. Clearly stable diplomatic relations depend more on day to day vigilance than on a diplomat's relationship to a president.
The administration could not find a knowledgeable Representative to Japan, This represents more than an inability to pick qualified talent. This represents the emptiness of the diplomatic talent pool. This includes Representative to the United States Jason Yuan, He is 70 years old and about to retire. Where will we find a qualified successor? This is another thorny issue for the Ma administration. Especially given the U.S. beef imports controversy, TIFA, arms sales, and other issues currently on hold. These increase the difficulty of choosing a representative. New personnel reluctantly assigned to these positions may not be up to the task. Inviting experienced veterans to return will only inspire resentment among those in line for promotion.
This gap in succession is a side effect of two changes in the nation's ruling party. So far no effective solution has been found. Simply put, the Chen Shui-bian regime refused to swear allegiance to the Republic of China during its eight year reign, This shock to the system marginalized professional diplomats. During these eight years, ignorant amateurs ordered about and interfered with knowledgeable professionals. They disrupted the promotion of professional diplomats. Their refusal to swear allegiance to the Republic of China created a rupture in the system, leading to a massive brain drain. The Ma administration was unable to remedy this situation during its first four-year term. Cross-Strait relations were being mended. Diplomatic relations were neglected. They changed from a state of confrontation to a state of truce. They fell apart, Some overseas stations were unable to formulate new operational principles. As a result morale plummeted and discipline was lost.
Consider the most obvious example. In recent years overseas stations experienced frequent lapses in discipline, and even scandals relating to personal conduct. These have inflicted serious damage to the Republic of China's national image. Last year the ROC Representative to Fiji, Chin Ji-hsing was involved in an illicit affair. He is also suspected of misusing public funds. Subsequently the ROC Representive to Kansas Liu Shan-shan was suspected of abusing her domestic staff. She was arrested in the United States and must stand trial. Recently, ROC Representative to South Africa, First Secretary Lu Ching-yang, alleged persecution by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over the disbursement of public funds, She threatened to seek political asylum in South Africa. These incidents of illicit affairs, abuse of foreign domestic staff, and political asylum scandals, reveal Ministry of Foreign Affairs mismanagegment. They also reveal a personal ethical crisis among diplomats. This is an even more serious problem than the lack of diplomatic talent,
The relationship between Taipei and Singapore has changed. Faultlines have disrupted the personnel succession in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Diplomats posted abroad have been repeatedly involved in scandals. These reveal the loose screws in the diplomatic machinery. They reveal a deeper crisis in national allegiance and personal ethics. We would like to offer President Ma a suggestion. Cross-Strait relations are undergoing a thaw. But multi-lateral diplomacy must not be ignored as a consequence. We have won visa-free entry to over a hundred different countries. But we cannot ignore the cultivation of long term diplomatic relations. This series of "inside out" events is a warning sign.
2012.03.09 01:52 am