APEC’s Bright Spot, Taiwan's Blind Spot
United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 15, 2014
Executive Summary: Thirteen years ago, during the Shanghai APEC summit, the Mainland authorities spoke of Mainland China’s “peaceful rise.” Recently, during the Beijing summit, Mainland authorities spoke on an equal footing with the United States, of “shared rule by great nations.” The President of the Republic of the Philippines will be hosting APEC next year. Under the rippling waters and shade trees of Yanqi Lake, Aquino the Third could only joke that a small nation could not put on such a grand show.
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Thirteen years ago, during the Shanghai APEC summit, the Mainland authorities spoke of Mainland China’s “peaceful rise.” Recently, during the Beijing summit, Mainland authorities spoke on an equal footing with the United States, of “shared rule by great nations.” The President of the Republic of the Philippines will be hosting APEC next year. Under the rippling waters and shade trees of Yanqi Lake, Aquino the Third could only joke that a small nation could not put on such a grand show.
The current APEC meeting has become the Mainland authorities’ stage for its dream of a Great Nation. Behind the scenes, other governments competed with each other in an attempt to strut their stuff. It is often said that "diplomacy is an extension of domestic politics." National rulers who encounter problems at home often try to reverse their fortunes or minimize their domestic losses through foreign relations.
Take the South Korean authorities for example. Their FTA with the Mainland Chinese authorities has attracted much attention. Upon taking office last year, President Park Geun-hye promoted her “economics of happiness" policy. Her goal was to change the ROK-US and ROK-EU FTAs signed by the Lee Myung-bak government. These widened the gap between rich and poor. She actively supported SMEs, and delayed the signing of FTAs with other countries. She hopes to change the chaebol-dominated economy. But large chaebols dominate the Korean economy. The impact of her "economics of happiness" has been limited.
In recent years South Korea has fallen victim to "Samsung's Disease." The main causes of this disease are the sharp depreciation of the Japanese Yen, pressure from Apple iPhones, and a rising tide of Mainland China mobile phones and other products. Samsung now faces an unprecedented dilemma. Samsung's contribution to South Korea’s GDP has slipped from 23% to 18%. This has had a severe impact on the economy. To overcome this economic hardship,
Park Geun-hye has chosen a "politics depends upon the United States, economics depends upon China" strategy. She has fast-tracked the FTA with Mainland China. She hopes to take a bite out of Mainland China’s domestic market, thereby addressing Korean companies’ financial difficulties. Park Geun-hye has adopted a "first make friends, then do business" approach, that is definitely Mainland China’s cup of tea.
Now take Japan. Mainland China’s Xi and Japan’s Abe held a Xi-Abe meeting. Xi Jinping received Abe with chilly formality. He never once cracked a smile. He fidgeted while listening to the translators. He looked away from Abe. How did Abe feel? Probably embarrassed. The atmosphere of this meeting with Japan may have been cool. But at least Xi Jinping and Abe shook hands. The discord between the two countries has not vanished. But at least the meeting signaled a reconciliation of sorts. The two governments’ administrative agencies and industrial firms can now resume normal exchanges. The impasse has been broken.
As soon as Abe assumed power, he attempted to restore Japan's great nation status through a two-pronged military and economic approach. He also butted heads with Beijing by claiming sovereignty over the Diaoyutai Islands. Abe’s hardline military and diplomatic posture caused difficulties for Japanese companies operating in Mainland China. The Abenomics "three arrows" failed to achieve the results expected. This led to a sharp drop in his support. Abe went to great lengths to arrange a meeting with Xi Jinping. He repeatedly dispatched negotiators. He agreed to make concessions on Diaoyutai sovereignty and Yasukuni Shrine visits. Abe was forced to bite the bullet in exchange for a brief 30 minute meeting with Xi, approved only at the last minute. He was forced to eat crow for his past insolence. Abe may have been embarrassed. but he had little choice.
Finally, take the United States. For President Obama the midterm elections were a debacle. He arrived in Beijing a lame duck. He summoned up all his courage for a showdown with Beijing at High Noon. Obama's stance was simultaneously humble and headstrong. He said that the United States needs its partnership with Mainland China. To win the goodwill of the Mainland authorities on Hong Kong, he expressed support for freedom of speech but added that the United States would not get involved. This was realistic and helped establish bilateral political trust.
On international anti-terrorism issues, Obama successfully obtained the Mainland authorities’ support. Beijing agreed to provide 10 million USD to help Afghanistan rebuild. It agreed to the establishment of a tripartite United States, Mainland China, Afghanistan dialogue mechanism. On bilateral issues, Beijing and Washington agreed to establish a military confidence building mechanism, to reduce the risk of accidents. They relaxed requirements on business visas. They made Sino-US "bilateral investment agreement" a priority issue. More importantly, Obama and Xi Jinping reached an agreement on climate and carbon reduction issues. The New York Times described this achievement as "extraordinary."
Consider the conduct of the governments of the United States, Japan, and South Korea. Each government has its difficulties. Those in power must assess their situation. They must attempt to break through. They must not squander any opportunities. Obama’s philosophy of peace, proceeds from the easy to the difficult, from differences to common ground. To reverse his decline in approval back home, Park Geun-hye changed course to restart her FTA strategy, and used APEC to highlight her desire to restore the glory of the Korean economy. Abe bit the bullet. He attempted to create an atmosphere in which Beijing and Tokyo could remove their armor and Japan’s domestic economy could bounce back.
As far as Taipei is concerned, we missed our flight. But we must try to catch the red eye. Elections are not everything. We face tough problems and difficult dilemmas. We must maintain long-term growth to ensure the nation’s survival. This is the goal toward which we must strive.
2014.11.15 02:23 am