Thanks to Jason at Wandering to Tamshui for passing me this one: John Tkacik is my new hero:


Chen Lets off Steam


The Wall Street Journal (Asia)

March 1, 2006

It’s fashionable in some quarters to suggest that the Bush administration is exasperated with Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian’s supposed attempts to “provoke” China. And that Monday’s announcement that a cross-strait reunification body known as the National Unification Council “will cease to function” has caused further anger in Washington.

The truth is rather different. The prevailing sentiment in the Bush Administration is to sympathize with President Chen’s frustration that, after six years of policy concessions and diplomatic outreach to Beijing, he has gotten nothing in return. People in the administration working on China say that Monday’s symbolic decision — the council is not being formally disbanded and, in any case, for all practical purposes ceased to function many years ago — “has not happened in a vacuum.” In particular, they point to last year’s enactment of China’s anti-secession law, mandating the use of force to take the island, and the luring of Taiwan opposition leaders Lien Chan and James Soong to the mainland on high-profile visits designed to isolate President Chen.

See? I knew the Nelson Report that Bush was personally furious was a crock. Glad I said so too.

“China surrounds this guy and is closing in on the last piece of metaphysical territory he controls,” one told me. “They try to isolate him and beat him down. What do they expect?” Add in Beijing’s military buildup, with an estimated 800 ballistic missiles now targeted against the island, and its relentless efforts to deny Taiwan any access to international bodies — even over matters of life and death, such as a possible avian flu outbreak — and it’s clear which side the provocations are really coming from. Beijing “can’t constantly increase the pressure on someone and not expect it to blow,” said one China-watcher in the Bush administration.

Tell it like it is!

It’s not just the White House that understands President Chen’s dilemma. He is caught between unbearable pressure from Beijing — aided by the pro-China Kuomintang and People First Party in Taiwan — and pro-independence forces within his own Democratic Progressive Party, as well as the avowedly pro-independence Taiwan Solidarity Union. Within that context, President Chen has steered a clever path, making repeated concessions to allay any concerns Washington might have initially had about Monday’s move.

Just what I’ve been saying all along, that Chen is a pragmatic politician. None of that Chen-is-crazed nonsense that one reads in the pro-KMT propaganda that leaks into the international media. After observing that Chen convinced the White House envoys things weren’t so bad, and promised not to mess with the four “No-s”, Tkacik goes on to note:

That won’t, of course, stop Taiwan’s pro-China politicians from trying to cause trouble over the issue. They risk seeing one of their most important cards — the charge that Mr. Chen is “jeopardizing Taiwan’s ties with its most important ally” — undermined by Washington’s relaxed reaction to Monday’s announcement. No wonder then that opposition leaders are already trying to stir up controversy by calling for a symbolic “recall” vote in the Legislative Yuan and threatening a mass demonstration on March 12. The possibility this could degenerate into the same sort of violence seen during the protests that followed President Chen’s narrow re-election in March 2004 cannot be ruled out, and the Bush administration would be well-advised to prepare for this eventuality. But hopefully reason will prevail, and Taiwan’s pro-China politicians will realize that such an overreaction is unlikely to gain them support among Taiwan’s voters or any sympathy in Washington — where it would only cast doubt on the opposition parties’ commitment to democracy and rule of law.

The pan-Blues are “Pro-China politicians.” PRO-CHINA! In print, baby! In the Asian Wall Street Journal. Yowza! This dude is channeling me! John Tkacik, if I ever run into you in Taipei, I am definitely buying you dinner. And lunch. And breakfast. In fact, you can marry my daughter. Just what I’ve been saying all along about the Blues — even the same phrase. I also like the way he points out the blowback from the Blues’ pro-China policy in Taiwan as well. No one has yet said in print that the “protests” in Taipei after Chen’s election in 2004 were stage-managed for the international media — which fell for them completely — and that many of the protesters were paid, but Tkacik sure looks like he is moving in that direction. Go John!

He closes with something I say quite a bit too — that Taiwan is an opportunity to be grasped, not an annoyance to be dealt with:

Given a few weeks of quiet, Washington and Taipei can turn their attention to these issues — and Taipei will once again have a chance to show that it is a more reliable and valuable U.S. partner in Asia than Beijing will ever be.

It’s not often that you see something in the international media that isn’t at least faintly pro-KMT. What is the sound of one island clapping? I hope Tkacik can hear it.

In the meantime, let’s sit back and enjoy our favorite flatpeter politician, Ma Ying-jeou, doing the Ma Shuffle (that’s one step forward and a step to each side, then a 180 degree turn and do the same thing) as we wait for Beijing to indicate its ire in more concrete ways.