You keep reading ‘em, I’ll keep churning ‘em out….

Jon Adams, the local correspondent who has been turning out some really high quality stuff recently, visited Kinmen this week to take a peek at the future of Taiwan-China relations….

Direct cross-strait travel is largely prohibited because of the decades-old standoff between Taiwan and China. But here in Kinmen, Chinese tourists visit freely and Taiwanese businessmen can ferry across the strait to the mainland.
The Kinmen model will be expanded to all of Taiwan if either of the two candidates in the Taiwan’s presidential election Saturday has his way. Their only argument is over the speed and scale at which that should happen.
For behind all the boisterous rallies and China-bashing rhetoric across Taiwan in recent days, this election is not about the usual hot-button issue of unification with, or independence from, China – neither of which is in the cards anytime soon.
Rather, it’s about how economically close Taiwan should be with its giant neighbor. Will it be an uneasy handshake or a passionate embrace?
Either way, the candidates’ willingness to engage rather than confront Beijing signals a pause in Taiwan’s independence push and the likely cooling of a long-simmering Asian flash point.
“No matter who wins, we’ll move closer to China,” says Lin Wen-cheng, a China expert at National Sun Yat-sen University in Kaohsiung and a former adviser to two Taiwan presidents. “Cross-strait relations are going to improve.”

Adams’ work contains a significant improvement over that of other foreign media workers here: no quotes from taxi drivers. I’m not sure that people are “voting their pocketbooks” as Adams structures it — people in Taiwan are not making a choice between an economic future and no economic future. Rather, they are making a choice about what kind of economic future they want, as well as rendering a verdict on Ma Ying-jeou — far more so than Frank Hsieh.

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Ted Galen Carpenter has a piece on the Taiwan election in the Wall Street Journal. You may remember him around last year claiming that Taiwan was “free riding” on the US defense agreements. Some highlights of his current work:

Ma Ying-jeou’s impending victory in Taiwan’s presidential election Saturday promises to usher in a period of relative calm in the island’s turbulent relations with mainland China. Mr. Ma’s Kuomintang Party is determined to end the bold and provocative policies that President Chen Shui-bian has pursued toward Beijing over the past eight years. Beijing and Washington will both be relieved to have a government committed to preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait rather than pushing the envelope on a transition from de facto to de jure independence.

It’s funny to read people in Washington claim that Chen was “pushing the envelope” when people in Taipei are claiming what he did was no real use. Carpenter’s claim of Ma’s impending victory is also an eyebrow raiser, but I doubt he reads my blog, and so is stuck with the Ma’s Going to Cruise! propaganda of yesteryear. Still, an admirably succinct presentation of the Establishment view that Chen is a problem for the status quo. All honor to Carpenter for saying later that the missile build-up is provocative….

Beijing has an opportunity to maintain the momentum toward peace and stability, but it remains to be seen whether Chinese leaders will be wise enough to seize the moment. President Chen’s strategy of antagonizing Beijing by such measures as substituting “Taiwan” for “China” in the names of state-run corporations, purging most Chinese history from Taiwanese school textbooks, and seeking admission to the United Nations under the name “Taiwan” understandably made sensible Taiwanese nervous, but Mr. Ma must show that his more subtle and conciliatory approach will reduce tensions and bring tangible benefits.

Ever notice how Libertarians writing on Taiwan sound just like Beijing writing on Taiwan, only more so? Carpenter neglects to note that Chen was just returning “Taiwan” to names that had been “Taiwan” historically — like the shipbuilding corporation and the post office. Note the underlying accusation that Chen is irrational — “sensible people” were made nervous by him. Mad Chen(tm) lives! Nothing is ever said about Beijing’s irrational behavior — antagonizing Taiwan with threats, refusing to speak to the DPP, and so on. It’s ironic to look at the language Carpenter uses, and then mentally frame a picture of Chinese troops killing Tibetans. Who are the irrational people in this equation? Chen doesn’t make me nervous. Americans serving Beijing and saying that democracy supporters are irrational — those make me manic, however.

After arguing that Beijing should not give the DPP ammo to use against Ma by continuing the missile buildup, Carpenter then notes:

…Republic of China (Taiwan’s official name) has now dwindled to 23 mostly small nations in Africa and the Caribbean. There was some logic to Beijing’s strategy when President Chen repeatedly adopted measures to assert Taiwan’s sovereignty and separate national identity. Chinese officials wanted to demonstrate to Taipei that such conduct was counterproductive and would only increase Taiwan’s diplomatic isolation. The same consideration motivated China’s effort to exclude Taiwan from membership in international bodies, including even relatively apolitical ones like the World Health Organization.

Beijing was not responding to Chen, but strategically moving into Africa and Central America to capitalize on opportunities in countries that have FTAs with the US, and to dislodge the US from its position in those areas. It is wrong to perceive the Chinese moves in the China-Taiwan context — that is just cover.

This is, of course, just another way of blaming Chen for perceived foreign policy failures. It is funny that people complain about the DPP’s loss of diplomatic recognition, when the reality is that the KMT lost far more nations than the DPP has, and that the Chinese could easily buy the remainder if they wanted, for I have heard what Taiwan pays. But they won’t, because one of the props of that virtual state, the ROC, is recognition by other nations. Without that, Taiwan would become…. alone or, to use another word: independent…

Carpenter correctly notes that nobody in Taiwan supports annexing the island to China, and thus argues that Beijing should not pressure the KMT to annex the island to China — not because that would be a bad thing mind you, but because it would undermine the Great Mr. Ma. He concludes that the ball is in China’s court — it should stop bullying Taiwan — not because bullying is wrong, but because that would be bad for relations with a Ma Ying-jeou-run Taiwan. Even when the Establishment advocates something sensible, it is for the wrong reasons…. *sigh* It does appear from this piece, however, that it is widely understood that a Ma presidency does not mean that the Taiwanese have given up on independence.