The ROC Must Rebalance Too
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
November 27, 2012
Summary: U.S. President Barack Obama's "rebalancing" act is affecting the Asian-Pacific strategic picture. We on Taiwan should not exaggerate its political or military significance. Instead, we should pay close attention to the economic situation. We should be vigilant. We should do some "rebalancing" of our own.
Full Text below:
U.S. President Barack Obama's "rebalancing" act is affecting the Asian-Pacific strategic picture. We on Taiwan should not exaggerate its political or military significance. Instead, we should pay close attention to the economic situation. We should be vigilant. We should do some rebalancing of our own.
Obama's rebalancing has political and military undertones. He uses such terms as "returning to Asia," "entering China's backyard," and "neo-containment." We need not repudiate such perspectives. But they overlook the forest for the trees. They use 60s era Cold War rhetoric to interpret 21st century world events.
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union faced off against each other, primarily in Europe. The United States formed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact. One military alliance pitted itself against the other. Today, the Asian mainland has become the rebalancing arena for the United States and Mainland China. The US-led TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) is emerging. Mainland China is the hub of the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership). These two economic organizations cooperate as well as compete.
Obama has held high the banner of "returning to Asia." Intentionally or otherwise, he has implied that the US is "resisting the rise of China." But Obama knows that military force is not the solution. The solution to the problem is economic. The TPP is the economic means by which Obama seeks to achieve rebalancing.
By the same token, Mainland China, Japan, and South Korea announced a tripartite FTA in Phnom Penh. They are jointly promoting the RCEP. Japan and South Korea have clashed over Dokdo. Japan and Mainland China have clashed over Diaoyutai. These clashes were necessary responses to nationalist sentiments at home. But the RCEP shows that the three governments realize that the future requires economic coopetition. Disputes over islands are trees. Economic alliances are the forest. One must not destroy the forest for the sake of the trees.
This requires a broader view of history. The wars of the 19th century arose due to economic factors. In extreme cases, one side seized territory from the other, and turned them into colonies or foreign concessions. The main cause of wars during the twentieth century was ideology. The themes of the Cold War were "containment" and "exporting revolution." But since the twentieth century, forcible economic colonization is no longer possible. Communist regimes have disintegrated, one after the other. Either that, or they have undergone glasnost and perestroika. Rebalancing is less and less likely to lead to war. It is more likely to involve economic and trade coopetition. Obama's rebalancing is no exception.
NATO confronted the Warsaw Pact. Now the RCEP is confronting the TPP. Paradoxically this is "ASEAN plus six." ASEAN was seen as a military alliance to confront Beijing. Clearly the political climate has changed. It has presented nations the world over with new challenges. Future world powers and world leaders can no longer rely on military means to achieve their ends. They must be creative. They must depend on trade and economics. The US-led TPP is attempting to use stringent labor conditions and environmental conditions to weaken backward economies, in order to gain an advantage. Will it prevent the Mainland Chinese led RCEP, a relative latecomer, from catching up? This will be the acid test for the United States' rebalancing act.
The Asian-Pacific region is undergoing rebalancing. We on Taiwan must also think about rebalancing. We need not harbor fantasies about rebalancing the military picture in the Asian-Pacific region. Instead, we should give serious thought to affecting the economic and trade picture. We should try to join both the TPP and the RCEP. If we fail, we will become "economic orphans." The political implications would be unimaginable. We on Taiwan should respond to the new strategic picture in two ways.
One. We must establish more peaceful and stable cross-Strait relations. We should upgrade. We should trade the 1992 consensus in for "one China, different interpretations under the big roof concept of one China." Together with the Mainland, we should seek a shared definition of "one China." This would stabilize cross-Strait relations. The Mainland must realize that Taiwan is willing to participate. We may not be able to participate in the TPP and RCEP. But Beijing is hardly the only party that could exclude us. If Mainland China forces other countries to persecute Taiwan, politically and economically, it will surely harm cross-Strait relations.
Two. We on Taiwan must establish a political and economic consensus between the ruling and opposition parties. Refusal to liberalize economically, will make it impossible for us to survive. Liberalizing economically, on the other hand, will inflict pain. The ruling and opposition parties must work together to minimize the pain of economic liberalization. They must avoid turning the pain caused by economic liberalization into a bargaining chip in a political struggle. Politically speaking, the DPP has been taken hostage by Taiwan independence hardliners. Its concepts of national and constitutional allegiance, and its cross-Strait policy, must be replaced. It must not cling to fantasies that it can benefit from "rebalancing" and "neo-containment." Su Tseng-chang and Tsai Ing-wen must not be even more blind to history than Shintaro Ishihara. They must not remain blind to the bigger picture.
The global political and economic picture is changing dramatically. Governments the world over are attempting to rebalance themselves. We on Taiwan must give careful thought to rebalancing our nation's governance and cross-Strait relations.