Want bulk indian spices? My wife orders them off Yahoo — the big silver bags range from $60 for a bag of turmeric to $120 for a bag of cloves. This week I am existing on cabbage and tomato curry. Yum.

The Council on Foreign Relations offers this interview with Taiwan expert Alan Romberg, on the new Ma regime. The skinny is simple: Romberg offers the Establishment view that Ma means better Taiwan-China relations. That’s probably true too, in the way that the Warsaw Pact offered better USSR-Eastern Europe relations….on to the discussion:

Ma wants to take things back to a period about 13 years ago but he is not about to even talk about unification, much less to negotiate anything. Rather, he wants to take this issue, the principle of One China, in which he has his own definition, then set the issue aside and move ahead with the PRC on a variety of fronts. He wants an economic agreement, quite early on; to establish much more frequent charter flights than now exist, then scheduled flights. Then over the period of what he hopes would be his first term, a peace accord, and what he calls a “modus vivendi,” an agreement by which Taiwan could have greater international participation or what Taiwanese call international space. He looks forward to a much more robust relationship across the Taiwan Strait and a much reduced level of military confrontation.

This is pretty much the same language Ma has been using for the last two years, right down to the peace accord and the modus vivendi. The DPP also wanted peace but was unwilling to sell Taiwan to get it, so it is hard to see how Ma can avoid that and get what he wants: Taiwan will almost certainly be sold to China somehow. But Romberg was asked if the PRC will accept Ma’s position, and answered:

I think they will go along with the way he has been handling the One China issue. Basically they say they won’t accept what he says but they will live with it and move on. During the campaign, Ma was quite insistent on sticking with this “One China, Respective Interpretations” approach. President Chen, and Frank Hsieh the nominee of the Democratic Progressive Party, the DPP, both said the PRC had never accepted this and was not going to accept it. Well, I spent a lot of time in conversations with officials and experts on the mainland and I think it’s very clear that they are going to accept it. The PRC was anxious to get out of this very confrontational mode that they were in with Taiwan and try to put this whole thing back in a box and try to establish relationships that would over time win hearts and minds, but also to focus on their high priority, which is economic development.

I think it is obvious that the PRC interlocutors were being disingenuous with Romberg — the “confrontational mode that were in” was entirely the result of choices made by the PRC in how it would react to Chen Shui-bian. Nobody held a gun to their heads and forced them not to negotiate, brand Chen a radical, and repeatedly refuse or disengage from talks with Taiwan on a range of issues. The PRC could have gotten out of the confrontational mode anytime they wanted, merely by choosing to talk.

More interesting than any of the policy stuff, a pavane whose moves all performers are familiar with, is Romberg’s take on Ma the person:

He is certainly very comfortable with Americans and other Westerners in English. He is fluent and has spent a lot of time, as you say, being educated in the West. He’s a very calm person who does not, at least as far as one can tell, easily get riled up. One of the charges against him from his opposition in the election is that, on issues where he was pressed hard, he was very uncertain of himself and kind of flip-flopped. The biggest example of that in the campaign was when Frank Hsieh said that Ma had a “green card”–a permanent residence card to the United States and Ma was asked, do you have a green card, and he said “no I don’t.” It turned out that he had had a green card but he believed it had expired and so there was a great debate on whether it had expired.

Ma gets so many points for speaking good English and knowing how to handle Westerners….. he strikes me as vindictive, easily flustered, spoiled, egotistical, and something of a mama’s boy. But that’s just my opinion based on watching him since the early 1990s. I’ve never actually spoken to the man….

Ma has been talking about the fifty year peace agreement, originally an idea put forward by Soong in 1999 for the 2000 Presidential campaign. Romberg observes:

Ma, when he originally talked about this, talked about it for a period of thirty to fifty years. In my conversations in Beijing, people have said “we’re perfectly happy to talk about a peace agreement but we’re not going to sign a piece of paper that essentially says we essentially recognize that Taiwan is not going to be unified with the mainland for such a long time, even if that turns out to be the case. We just can’t accept that long of a period of time as a formal position, codified in some sort of document.”

Romberg does I think misunderstand on one point:

One of the issues that have been under negotiation but never came to fruition under the Chen Shui-bian government but I think will under the Ma administration is PRC tourism.

PRC tourists have been coming for a while — one sees them at all the tourist sites, but thankfully they travel in tour groups and thus never show up to crowd the really good spots — but their number has been carefully limited. Hopefully Taiwan will preserve this policy of confining them to Sun Moon Lake and various department stores, parting them from their cash, and sending them on their way. Much money has been expended on preparing for the anticipated hordes to be let in under Ma, so expect these numbers to rise.

In addition to pressures from Beijing and from Washington, Ma also faces the impatient wrath of the foreign businessmen. The Taipei Times reported on the European Chamber of Commerce:

By August, the ECCT expects Ma to realize his campaign promises, including direct weekend charter flights to China, allowing 3,000 Chinese tourists per day to Taiwan and eliminating the 40 percent cap on China-bound investments while providing tax incentives for high-tech companies, as a way to boost the local economy and create a friendly environment for foreign businesses, ECCT chairman Philippe Pellegrin told reporters after a board meeting with the chamber’s 15 directors.

And of course:

In addition, the chamber expects that by the second phase in December, Ma would lift foreign investment limits such as the 0.4 percent ceiling on Chinese H-shares, remove the ban on Chinese imports and develop a global marketing campaign to highlight the nation’s advantages and development potential.

In a year, the chamber hopes Ma will fulfill his “roadmap to prosperity” by implementing regular direct passenger and cargo flights across the Strait, lowering corporate and personal income tax to levels that are competitive with Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea, and extending the tax loss carry forward period to 15 to 20 years from the current 10 years, while revitalizing the coastal zones to develop the yachting and water sports industry.

So from the period May to December, or about six months, foreign capital expects that Ma will completely open Taiwan to China, after eight years of carefully managed contacts. The pressure on Ma to deliver is immense….. and lots of things can go wrong here.