Beijing vs. Washington: Taipei Should Contemplate a New Strategy
China Times editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
February 7, 2013
Summary: The government under the leadership of President Ma must enlighten the
public. It must lead public opinion. It must insist that Taiwan is part
of China, but not a province of the People's Republic of China. It must
insist that we are both Taiwanese and Chinese, but not citizens of the
People's Republic of China. It must make a distinction between
nationality, ethnicity, and political authority. It must argue that Taiwan
also has rights and responsibilities vis a vis the future of China as a
whole. It must refuse to be a tool of containment in the hands of
foreign forces. It must refuse to be a tool to hobble Mainland China's
development. It must return to the middle way. It must oppose Communism,
but not China. What could possibly be wrong with such an approach?
Full text below:
During an interview with AFP in New York, ROC Representative to the United States King Pu-tsung stressed the importance of maintaining a trilateral balance between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei. He said "Taiwan needs the strong support of the United States, because the United States is an important ally. But care should be taken in handling relations with Mainland China, because the Mainland is now Taiwan's largest trading partner." When dealing with Mainland China, Taipei upholds the 1992 consensus and "one China, different interpretations." King said "What we have is strategic ambiguity. Upholding the Republic of China is our best shield. Taiwan still needs a strong defensive capability." King concluded that "We have our own pragmatic way of survival."
King Pu-tsung's job in the United States is to maintain and expand the interests of the Republic of China. It is to represent and reflect the policies of President Ma Ying-jeou. Consider what King said. He said that upholding the Republic of China is our best shield. He said that Taipei upholds the 1992 consensus. He said that Taipei must balance its relationship with Washington and Beijing, and that Taipei has its own pragmatic way of survival. These remarks deserve affirmation. But some of the views he expressed may call for closer scrutiny. For example, his remarks about strategic ambiguity in Taipei's arms purchases, and President Ma's remark that he would sacrifice himself before relinquishing Taiwan's sovereignty. People back home may disagree with his remarks and his wording.
First of all, King Pu-tsung's use of the term "Taiwan's sovereignty" is imprecise and could provoke controversy. Secondly, for years politicians and academics on Taiwan have parroted the rhetoric of U.S. hegemony. They use academic terms such as soft power, smart power, strategic ambiguity, and tactical clarity. These terms are not without meaning. But to a considerable degree they sacrifice our own political primacy and rhetorical initiative. Terms such as strategic ambiguity, tactical clarity, or vice-versa, are political jargon. Taipei's room for maneuver is actually quite limited. President Ma Ying-jeou's strategy is actually quite clear. It is to remain close to Washington, friendly with Tokyo, and at peace with Beijing, while continuing to improve cross-Strait relations. Representative King's talk of strategic ambiguity is dubious.
King Pu-tsung has admitted in interviews that he must be careful what he says. The outside world will assume that what he says represents the views of President Ma. He spoke of Washington's perspective on cross-Strait relations. On the one hand, Washington hopes that the two sides will continue to improve relations. On the other hand, it worries that the two sides will become too chummy too soon. This newspaper recently published an editorial noting how Washington wants the two sides to improve relations, reduce tensions, and maintain a dynamic equilibrium with the status quo, but only as Washington defines it. It does not want to be kept in the dark. It does not want any surprises. It wants everyone to be on the same page. Simply put, Washington will not allow Taiwan independence, nor will it allow Beijing to use force. The two sides may reconcile, but they will not be allowed to cooperate. Washington's policies are all motivated by self-interest.
We know this to be the case. Therefore to uphold the interests of the Republic of China, and to ensure a bright future for the Chinese people as a whole, Taipei must do what it must, and not do what it must not. Consider arms purchases. Taipei must have the ability to defend itself. It must demonstrate a determination to defend itself. But it cannot bear the burden of a cross-Strait arms race. Merely acting as a tool of Washington's policy of containing Mainland China's development is also contrary to the larger cause of the Chinese people as a whole. Given continuous improvements in cross-Strait relations, military procurement should be reduced. We must make more efficient use of limited resources. Taipei may even wish to consider the development of offensive weapons. But we should publicly promise never to be the first to use them. The international factors may be complex. But it would be both cheap and effective. It would be better than having Washington's fingers around one's throat on every issue that arises.
Washington does not want to any accidents or surprises. So why can't Taipei expect the same from Washington? Washington wants to control every last detail. Washington knows that improved cross-Strait relations is not a bad thing. But the three parties' interests do not always coincide. Washington can and may undermine improved cross-Strait relations. So should Washington be informed in advance, during, or afterwards? To what extent should Washington be informed? These questions call for diplomatic skill and political wisdom. This is all "Introduction to Political Science 101." Politicians and diplomats may not always speak the truth, at least the complete truth. But they must not tell outright lies.
Today the two sides' strengths and weaknesses are obvious. Times have changed. Time is clearly not on Taipei's side. Obstinately refusing to reunify will only lead to annihilation. Relying on Washington is no answer. Taiwan independence can only lead to war. Being reunified under Beijng's terms would be tough to swallow. Blindly yielding to pressure from Beijing could lead to covert abuse. After much thought, it would seem that a rational love for Taiwan requires everyone to endure hardship, set ambitious goals, vow to return to the Chinese mainland, and seek a way out through an economic strategy for China as a whole. The government under the leadership of President Ma must enlighten the public. It must lead public opinion. It must insist that Taiwan is part of China, but not a province of the People's Republic of China. It must insist that we are both Taiwanese and Chinese, but not citizens of the People's Republic of China. It must make a distinction between nationality, ethnicity, and political authority. It must argue that Taiwan also has rights and responsibilities vis a vis the future of China as a whole. It must refuse to be a tool of containment in the hands of foreign forces. It must refuse to be a tool to hobble Mainland China's development. It must return to the middle way. It must oppose Communism, but not China. What could possibly be wrong with such an approach?