United Daily News Editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
August 18, 2016
Executive Summary: To appease public outrage, Minister of the Interior Yeh Chun-jung landed on Taiping Island yesterday and reaffirmed out sovereignty. President Tsai has approved her New Southern Strategy. But she did not rule out cooperation with the Mainland. Is this the first of the new government's policy changes? If so, we look forward to more such changes.
Full Text Below:
The Philippines emerged victorious in the South China Sea arbitration dispute. But its victory did not raise tensions in the region. Instead the Philippines stressed its willingness to share South China Sea resources with Mainland China. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte sent former President Fidel Ramos to Hong Kong to “break the ice” and restart talks with Mainland China. Ramos fulfilled his mission. The Mainland invited the special envoy from the Philippines to Beijing.
President Duterte may be a populist. But when it comes to diplomacy, he is a pragmatist. He has no desire to butt heads with the Mainland in the South China Sea. The 88-year-old Ramos is a capable ambassador. He has used his image, experience, and contacts to defuse diplomatic crises. Three years ago, a Philippines government vessel fired upon the Kuang Ta Hsing, a fishing vessel from Taiwan, and killed one of its crew. Ramos enabled the two sides to investigate the case together. He was neither overbearing nor servile. His performance was impressive. Taiwan does not men of his caliber. But blue vs. green distrust means that ideology trumps all. Therefore the talents of such individuals can seldom be put to use.
Ramos hopes to mend relations with the Mainland over the South China Sea. That will not be easy. The two sides will communicate in two stages. The first will be exploratory contacts in Hong Kong, that will create a climate conducive to reconciliation. According to Ramos, his job in Hong Kong is not to negotiate, but to restore the traditional friendship between the two nations. Therefore Ramos visited a number of old friends in Hong Kong, all high ranking CCP officials, including Wu Sichun, President of the South China Sea Institute. His visit lasted five days. Ramos and Fu Ying, Chairman of the National Peoples Congress Foreign Affairs Committee, announced that the two nations would discuss "maritime conservation" and "avoid tensions while promoting fisheries cooperation". The Mainland then invited the Ramos to visit Beijing.
Leaders of the Philippines did not allow themselves to be carried away by their arbitration victory. Instead, they realized that their national interests lie in smooth foreign relationships. They noted that Aquino, who demanded arbitration, was already out of the picture. Duterte was in charge. The heads of state could now modify Philippines-Mainland relations to meet with the best interests of their respective nations.
Also worth noting is the relationship between the Mainland and South Korea. In May, South Korean President Park Geun-hye agreed to deploy the THAAD missile system. This triggering tensions in Mainland-ROK relations. The Mainland issued “limits on Koreans", forcing Korean entertainers to cancel scheduled performances on the Mainland. The Mainland tightened requirements for Korean entrepreneur visas. It threatened to remove South Korea from its list of approved parts suppliers.
In fact, the Mainland did not actually implement the so-called "limit on Koreans" policy. So far only South Korean entertainers and talent agents have been affected. The impact has yet to extend to the economic and trade levels. The South Korean public has accused the Mainland of lacking the tolerance befitting a great nation. But the South Korean government is cautious. It sent six members of parliament to the Mainland. They stressed that the THAAD missile system was not directed against the Mainland. Cheong Wa Dae will be using the Hangzhou G20 meeting in early September to melt the ice. South Korea's deployment of the THAAD missile system has undermined its relations with the Mainland. Nevertheless the two sides continue to talk, allowing for eventual reconciliation.
Mainland relations with the Philippines, and Mainland relations with South Korea, offer a valuable lesson for cross-Strait relations. The DPP government has been in office three months. Cross-Strait channels of communication have already been severed. STA negotiations have essentially been abandoned. Neither side trusts the other. The number of Mainland tourists and Mainland students arriving on Taiwan has steadly been reduced. The impact on the private sector is increasingly evident. In the absence of channels of communication with the Mainland, Beijing has repeatedly extradited scam artists from Taiwan to the Mainland for trial. The Mainland is gradually reducing Taiwan's international wriggle space. Yet the Tsai government is doing nothing to defuse the situation.
Taiwan's current diplomatic difficulties are the result of the Tsai government's cross-Strait policy. It is overly rigid and has failed to keep up with the times. In the long run, this will leave Taiwan increasingly isolated and incapable of determining its own fate. The DPP has chosen to be part of the United States' Asia rebalancing policy. It seeks to reduce economic dependence on the Mainland with its New Southern Strategy. From a strategic perspective, this seems reasonable. Alas, dependence on the US means forfeiting Taiwan's primacy. To wit, the downgrading of Taiping Island in the South China Sea arbitration case to the status of a “reef”. To wit, the unsustainable nature of the New Southern Strategy. Formosa Plastics steel mills have been repeatedly subjected to extortion by foreign governments. Is the Tsai government really too obstinate to make the necessary changes?
To appease public outrage, Minister of the Interior Yeh Chun-jung landed on Taiping Island yesterday and reaffirmed out sovereignty. President Tsai has approved her New Southern Strategy. But she did not rule out cooperation with the Mainland. Is this the first of the new government's policy changes? If so, we look forward to more such changes.