Some Assumptions about Cross Strait Relations

On April 9, 2014, President Ma Ying-jeou of the Republic of China spoke to Americans via video-conference to discuss his foreign policy.

The talk seemed to contain some interesting assumptions.

1. Better cross Strait relations will not change the US interest or commitment to Taiwan in the long run.  What happens if you convince Washington that cross Strait relations will be resolved peacefully?

2   That Taiwan must continue to strengthen its economic ties across the Strait, and rely on the US for security.   In my mind, such a division of labor will not work in long-term.

3. The problems with TISA (the cross Strait agreement on the service industry) are related to education rather than the content of the agreement.   This was his effort to address the occupation of the Legislative Yuan by students opposed to greater mainland influence on Taiwan, as well as those who felt the process of reaching agreements across the Strait are undemocratic.  Ma’s approach suggests that economic benefits will consistently trump other concerns.  Sorry to be cynical, but the last century is filled with people and states deciding to put national pride and identity before standard of living.

4. That cross Strait integration is inevitable.   This is much like the argument that globalization is inevitable.   I would argue that economic integration waxes and wanes over time.

5. TISA was some sort of litmus test for others (like the US and a possible investment agreement) to decide whether they can negotiate trade or investment deals with Taiwan.   Beef and pork as a barrier to trade deals with the US was not mentioned.

6. Economic and cultural agreements can be divorced from political influence or interference.   I am not arguing that the PRC is unique, but what large country doesn’t use economic and cultural ties to enhance its political  influence?

Just my two cents.

 

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Taiwan’s Sunflower, or the 3-18 Movement

Over the past years, we’ve seen the color revolutions in Eastern Europe and the Jasmine Revolutions in the Middle East.  In Taiwan, we are witnessing the Sunflower Movement of students and others who want to limit their country’s dependence on China.  It is also called the 3-18 Movement because it started on March 18.

First, students occupied the National Assembly.   They accused the ruling party, the Chinese Nationalist Party, of not allowing sufficient review of a new trade agreement with China focused on services rather than goods.   The Nationalists has promised a detailed review of the agreement, then appeared to reject that promise.   The student movement is thus about ties to the mainland, and democracy on the island itself.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26641525

http://focustaiwan.tw/news/aipl/201403180044.aspx

Second, support for their cause grew:

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2014/03/23/2003586323

Students fear that the agreement will increase dependency on the mainland, and bring in low-wage labor.  In short, they have the concerns that people all over the world express about globalization.  Add to this the mainland’s claim that Taiwan is part of China.  Many people on Taiwan know that the mainland wants to increase its influence on the island in order to push the island toward unification under the Beijing government’s control.   Students on Taiwan may not articulate it, but they are clearly worried about United Front tactics–a combination of political coalition building and subversion that the Chinese Communists know how to do very well.  Students fear that closer ties to China will mean less democracy on the island–thus creating a key test for the Nationalist Party and President Ma Ying-jeou.

Then, one Nationalist Party leader, the Speaker of the National Assembly, broke with President Ma Ying-jeou, and said he would not support removing the students from the Assembly hall.

http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/front/archives/2014/03/21/2003586173

Efforts to occupy other government buildings has been met with resistance.

http://focustaiwan.tw/news/asoc/201403240009.aspx

On top of that, the President, Ma, is very unpopular with most voters right now.  He’s a lame duck and cannot run for president again.

To make it even more complicated, the Ma administration said passing the services agreement with the mainland was vital, because this would enable Taiwan to forge trade agreements with other countries.  Two United States Congressmen have already said that Taiwan’s services agreement with the mainland is not a factor in future agreements with Washington.

The mainland is very uncomfortable about all of this, for two reasons.

1. The fear that cross Strait economic integration (which the Beijing government sees as a precursor to political unification) will be slowed.

2. The concern that more people in China will see student protects and want to speak out about the authoritarian government in Beijing.

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Ukraine: What’s at stake? Possible solutions?

My two-cents:

www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-ukraine-obama-20140320,0,1196927.story

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Ukraine Crisis, Does It Matter for China?

The current crisis over Crimea, part of the Ukraine taken over the Russia, raised some uncomfortable issues for China.   The PRC has time and again emphasized the importance of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, and the need to respect the territorial integrity of other counties.   In exchange, China expects others to respect those principles in their dealings with China.  This means that China does not accept even the hint of independence for Tibet, Xinjiang, or Taiwan.   In the latter case, the Chinese Communist Party makes clear that it considers Taiwan to be part of China–the problem is that people on the island and some foreigners do not recognize this reality.

Here is how events in Ukraine and Crimea raise problems for China.

1. Russia invaded the Crimea, then held a vote to build legitimacy for making that region part of the Federation.    China’s experience of imperialism and invasion makes its leaders sensitive to these sort of territorial changes.

2. China does not want to legitimize the idea of elections for succession.

3. Russia is a quasi-ally of China.  Both rail against US power.   This complicates Beijing’s efforts to criticize Moscow.

For the people of Taiwan, any sign that the international community will accept the use of force to change national borders is unsettling, as it may embolden China to increase its pressure for cross Strait unification.

ch-map

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Xinjiang and minorities in China

Perhaps some problems cannot be solved.

The recent massacre at the Kunming train station is part of an escalating series of attacks by Uyghurs (a Turkic people who are usually Moslem) and government reprisals in China.   It is fair to describe the recent attack as terrorism.

Here is a good overview of recent violence: http://www.rfa.org/english/news/special/UyghurUnrest/Home.html.

The Han-Chinese dominated People’s Republic of China cannot loosen its grip on the areas of significant Uyghur population (in part of northwest China known as Xinjiang) for several reasons.

1. The Communist Party has spent decades trying to assimilate and to dominate Uighurs. Just as Beijing is not going allow significant democratic reform in eastern China, the regime is not going to make sudden or major changes to its policies toward minority peoples.

2. Western China has vital natural resources needed for China’s economic development. In particular, China is eager to access resources that do not need to travel by sea.

3. Western China is a sensitive border area.   Due to a century of unequal treaties and imperialist pressure, China is extremely sensitive about protecting its borders and in preventing an perceived threats to sovereignty.

4. Any loosening of policies towards Uighurs would raise expectations of changes for Tibetans or others.

Many Uighurs will never embrace citizenship in the PRC, for several reasons:

1. The conflict is multifaceted: ethnic, linguistic, economic and religious.  China’s treatment of Moslems (and other religious groups) has been brutal, particularly during the Mao years (1949-1976).

2. The hatred between Han and Uighurs has been hundreds of years in the making, and will not disappear.

3. Some of the most militant Uighurs are inspired by and supported by radical Islamic movements in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

4. Uighurs are poorer than Han Chinese, a gap that has probably grown over recent decades as coastal China enjoyed the fruits of the reform and opening policies started by Deng Xiaoping.

In short, neither side will win. China will not gain the support of many Uighurs, and the Uighurs have no hope of obtaining greater autonomy, much less of establishing an independent regime. In this context, the best one can hope for is that Uighurs seek non-violent ways to gain support (inside and outside of China) for better treatment and the Beijing government can more finely tune its efforts so that individual murderers can be captured without large scale arrests or harassment of Uighurs.  In short, there is no good short-term solution.

Mosque in Xinjinag.   Note the cameras monitoring activity.

Picture 042

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Can better relations between some countries be bad for the US?

Here’s an interesting brief essay that suggests that improving cross Strait relations could harm United States’ interests. http://thediplomat.com/2014/02/the-u-s-stake-in-the-cross-strait-dialogue/

Should the US try to limit the pace of cross Strait reconciliation? Should the US help “save” Taiwan by limiting improvements in cross Strait relations, based on the idea that China could dominate the island?

A minefield on Jinmen, a small island off the coast of China’s Fujian Province, and the site of military conflict between China and Taiwan during the 1950s:

HPIM0335

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Direct talks between ROC and PRC officials?

For most of the Cold War, the ROC on Taiwan and the PRC on the mainland claimed to be the real China. Since most of the nations of the world switched recognition to the PRC, however, the ROC on Taiwan has shifted to a less adamant position. In dealing with each other, however, each side maintained the “unofficial” nature of their contacts, so as to not legitimize the other side. Last week in Nanjing, the fig leaf of unofficial contacts became a bit smaller, as the two acknowledged each other by using official titles. That might not seem like much, but it is a step toward more “normal” relations across the Strait. http://www.taiwantoday.tw/ct.asp?xItem=214278&ctNode=445.’

Which side benefits from this? Does the ROC edge toward becoming acknowledged by the PRC as a legitimate political entity? Or does the PRC benefit by pulling the ROC closer to unification?

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