Taiwan's Maritime Interests Must Not Be Sacrificed Merely to Defy the Mainland
China Times Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 18, 2016
Executive Summary: Opposing the 1992 Consensus out of sheer spite, even forcing Taiwan to surrender its sovereign territory and maritime interests, can only lead to self-destruction. Only by standing up for Taiwan's interests, and playing our cross-Strait cards in pragmatic fashion, can we protect our interests in the trilateral relationship between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei.
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The Tsai Ing-wen government has pledged to "maintain the status quo". Yet it obdurately refuses to recognize the 1992 Consensus. Its real plan is to change the status quo in the relationship between Taipei, Washington, and Beijing, and the relationship between Taipei, Tokyo, and Beijing. Its real plan is to cozy up to the US and Japan and use the conflict in the South China Sea to defy the Mainland. It seeks to lead Taiwan down a very different path than the KMT. Consider the four variables. The South China Sea conflict is nothing new. Beginning in the 1990s, then president Lee Teng-hui attempted to prevent Taiwan businesses from “going west”. He failed. Beginning in 2010, the ASEAN countries increased economic cooperation with the Mainland. They formed a free trade zone, making great strides forward. By contrast, the DPP government's New Southern Strategy shows no promise whatsoever.
Japan is perhaps the key component of the new government's “anti-China” (anti-Mainland) policy. When Tsai Ing-wen became the DPP's presidential candidate, Japan made no secret it was chummy with Tsai Ing-wen and the DPP. In 1972 Taipei and Tokyo severed diplomatic relations. Since then Japanese officials have never commented publicly on Taiwan election results. They have never offered public congratulations. The Abe cabinet broke from this precedent. He publicly congratulated Tsai Ing-wen on her election victory. This of course amounted to a breakthrough in Taipei Tokyo relations. But is playing the Japan card really in Taiwan's strategic interest? Or does playing this supposed trump card, merely make Taiwan a pawn in Japan's effort to contain China?
Consider relations between Taipei and Washington. To make Taiwan safe and secure, one must first manage relations between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei. Over the past eight years, the Ma government has managed relations between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei by “being close to Washington, being friendly to Tokyo, and being at peace with Beijing”. But this requires a foundation -- the 1992 Consensus. Tsai longs to dispense with the 1992 Consensus. But the Mainland is not the only party that opposes such a change. The US does as well. Tsai Ing-wen wants to pander to US interests, and cling to Japan, in order to strengthen an alliance against Mainland China. But how would such an approach actually play out in real life?
The United States' long-held position has been “maintain the status quo”. Every US President has reaffirmed the premise of one China, constructive cross-Strait dialogue, and opposition to any party unilaterally changing the status quo. It is widely known that divided but peaceful cross-Strait relations are most consistent with US national interests. The US economy is fragile. It cannot withstand unnecessary regional tensions or conflicts.
The US takes a hardline on maintaining the status quo. Former President Chen Shui-bian, as well as Tsai Ing-wen, who first ran for president in 2012, have both challenged the US on this. Both ran right into a brick wall. Tsai Ing-wen reported to Washington last year. She pledged to maintain the status quo and strengthen trade between Taiwan and the US. She expressed goodwill and was vetted by the US. If Taiwan panders to the US in order to defy Mainland China, how high will the price be? Will the result be worth it?
The history of US diplomacy is a history of ruthless realpolitik. In order to safeguard its own interests, the US frequently betrays its allies. Take our own case for example. The United States secretly sacrificed China at Yalta, in exchange for a Soviet declaration of war on Japan. During the KMT-CCP civil war, it sacrificed the Nationalist government. When the Nationalist government retreated to Taiwan, it cooked up the “Taiwan's status is undetermined” argument and sacrificed Taiwan. In order to halt the Soviet Union it did not hesitate to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and cozy up to Mao Zedong. To the United States, Taiwan has far less to offer than the Mainland. Does Tsai Ing-wen really believe the United States government will not sacrifice its Taiwan pawn when the time is right?
The Japanese government values the DPP government. Its common strategic goal is containing Mainland China. But the DPP government cozying up to Japan, includes Taiwan independence elements identifying with its former colonial “motherland”. These people worship Japan. They fantasize about Taiwan's inclusion in the US-Japan Security Treaty. No matter. Acting on any of these delusions will cross a line in the sand. If the DPP is not careful, it will provoke intense anti-Japanese hatred on the Mainland. The danger will be all too real. Such actions also clash with the US desire to maintain regional stability.
Improving relations between Taipei and Tokyo is not necessarily a bad thing. But not if it cavalierly sabotages cross-Strait relations. Tsai Ing-wen pledged that upon being elected she would "carefully handle cross-Strait relations, ensure clear communications, offer no provocations, and spring no surprises". She has violated all of these pledges. Tsai Ing-wen's official position on relations between Taipei and Washington is on record. When she was Chairman of the Mainland Affairs Council she authored a document entitled "The US, China, and Taiwan Trilateral Security Relationship and Taiwan's Security". It stated that “cross-Strait security requires dynamic peace and stability, Taiwan must go forward”.
But how should Taiwan go forward? It must of course increase its ability to maintain peace and stability. But this is an economic issue. Tsai Ing-wen has turned it into a political issue. She mistakenly equates recognizing the 1992 Consensus with surrender. She considers it coerced. That is why she stubbornly insists that "If we yield on this one issue, the next generation will have no choice".
In fact however, the core meaning of the 1992 Consensus is one China, different interpretations. When Tsai Ing-wen reported to Washington, she pledged to "maintain the status quo of cross-Strait relations under the constitutional framework of the Republic of China". That is in fact one China, different interpretations. Tsai Ing-wen of course understands this. But in order to avoid offending Taiwan independence fundamentalists, she is willing to jeopardize existing peace and stability. As a result, she has made an enemy of the Mainland. In order to gain support from the United States and Japan, she has surrendered our territorial sovereignty. How will she answer to future generations on Taiwan for that?
Consider the Taiping Island and Cong Zi Niao Reef disputes. President Ma resolutely refused to yield to the United States and Japan. He defended the dignity and interests of the Republic of China. Tsai Ing-wen on the other hand, submitted meekly, in deeply disappointing fashion.
Opposing the 1992 Consensus out of sheer spite, even forcing Taiwan to surrender its sovereign territory and maritime interests, can only lead to self-destruction. Only by standing up for Taiwan's interests, and playing our cross-Strait cards in pragmatic fashion, can we protect our interests in the trilateral relationship between Washington, Beijing, and Taipei.