The Nelson Report has the latest from CSIS’ Bonnie Glaser on Ma Ying-jeou’s victory and what the US should be doing. Glaser is normally a first class commentator on Taiwan affairs, but this one is well-below her usual standards….


CHINA-TAIWAN…with President-elect Ma’s inauguration getting closer, Beijing is still locked in a debate over what, and when it should offer some confidence-building measures to welcome the KMT’s return to power.

CSIS’s Bonnie Glaser has been out to the region recently, and offers her findings and advice via CSIS PacNote #24:

If Not Now, When? Will China Seize the Opportunity to Improve Cross-Strait Relations?

by Bonnie S. Glaser

Of the combinations of outcomes of the Taiwan election - a DPP or KMT victory, the passage or defeat of one or both of the referenda - the March 22 result in which Ma Ying-jeou won by a substantial margin and both referenda failed was the result that Beijing hoped for. The new situation presents a historic and strategic opportunity for China to transform cross-Strait relations. The United States hopes that Beijing will respond positively to the new situation and without delay.

In his congratulatory message to the people of Taiwan, President Bush stated: “It falls to Taiwan and Beijing to build the essential foundations for peace and stability by pursuing dialogue through all available means and refraining from unilateral steps that would alter the cross-Strait situation. I believe the election provides a fresh opportunity for both sides to reach out and engage one another in peacefully resolving their differences.” It should be clear from these remarks as well as from the comments in Bush’s subsequent phone call with President Hu Jintao that the U.S. is firmly in favor of improved cross-Strait relations. I believe that this robust support will extend beyond the Bush presidency.

Ma and the KMT are eager to move forward first on the economic agenda. This includes regular weekend charter flights beginning July 1 and daily scheduled flights by the end of the year, permitting more Chinese tourists to visit Taiwan, relaxing China-bound investment caps on Taiwan businesses, reaching agreement on avoiding double taxation, making arrangements for convertibility of currency, and establishing improved financial services for businessmen.

U.S. involvement in the implementation of these initiatives is unnecessary. The primary U.S. interest is that Beijing move with alacrity so as to boost domestic support in Taiwan for Ma’s change in policy away from emphasis on Taiwan’s separate independent identity toward the establishment of a new modus vivendi with the mainland. If China moves too slowly, this may deprive Ma and the KMT of the backing they need to sustain a policy approach that has not yet won the support of the 42 percent of Taiwanese voters who cast their votes for the DPP. With the view widely held in both the U.S. and Taiwan that Taiwan’s economic success will depend in large part on expanding economic ties with the mainland, Beijing must take steps that promote mutually beneficial outcomes and avoid increasing Taiwan’s vulnerability to mainland pressure.

Read this paragraph closely. Glaser’s position is that it is (1) in the US interest to suppress opposition to Ma’s policy of moving Taiwan closer to China; and (2) that Ma should do all this without increasing Taiwan’s vulnerability to China’s pressure. Excuse me, but if (1) is successful and the pro-Taiwan side in Taiwan’s politics is suppressed, please explain how Taiwan is going to be less vulnerable to Chinese pressure. Also please explain how sending away the last of our manufacturing capabilities and increasing dependence on China is going to make us less vulnerable to Chinese pressure. Finally, please explain how future US support for pushing Taiwan into Beijing’s arms makes Taiwan less vulnerable to Chinese pressure?

On one aspect, however, the U.S. has a strong interest, and that is permitting foreign (i.e., American) airlines to participate in the direct flights once they have moved beyond the charter flight stage and are occurring on a scheduled daily basis. The U.S. does not seek to define cross-Strait flights as international flights, but rather seeks opportunities for U.S. airlines to expand their routes and increase profits.

Pursuit of greater international space for Taiwan follows the implementation of economic items on Ma’s agenda. Achieving progress in this area is essential. U.S. opposition to the DPP-initiated referendum to join the United Nations under the name Taiwan should not be misconstrued as indicating reduced U.S. support for meaningful participation by Taiwan in the international community.

Glaser is right as far as she goes — Bush Administration service to Beijing on the referendum issue is not the same as opposition to all meaningful participation by Taiwan. Unfortunately, that is not the whole issue. The problem with the Bush Administration’s overwrought reaction to the referendum was that it was not accompanied by balancing positive reactions supporting Taiwan in other areas. Had the Bush Administration been equally vociferous in support of Taiwan’s entry into the WHO or other organizations, Glaser might have a leg to stand on here. But since the Bush Administration was practically silent on other participation, while adopting Beijing’s position on the referendum, Glaser is without support for this remark.

An early opportunity to provide Taiwan with greater international space will emerge May 19 at the World Health Assembly meeting, a day prior to Ma’s inauguration. It is unfortunate that Chen Shui-bian has opted to apply again this year, as last year, for both membership and observership using the name “Taiwan.” This has most likely let Beijing off the hook this year, although if China wanted to seize the opportunity to make a goodwill gesture, it could work out an arrangement for action by the WHA to grant observer status to Taiwan under the name “Chinese Taipei” on the second or third day of the session, once Ma is sworn into the presidency and has declared his unambiguous support for “one China, respective interpretations.”

Chinese officials say that the WHA meeting is simply too soon and no progress can be made this year. Perhaps. But it is a missed opportunity for China to demonstrate creativity and flexibility. Based on conversations I have had in recent weeks with Chinese officials, I worry that China’s fear that the DPP could return to power in four or eight years may dictate Beijing’s approach to the international space issue and result in a decision to offer Taiwan only limited participation in international organizations in ways that can be easily reversed. Such a decision would undoubtedly disappoint the United States, not to mention the Taiwan people.

First of all we see how Chen Shui-bian is the problem again (”Unfortunately Chen….”). Chinese intransigence is never a problem. The Chinese threats to plunge the region into war and to kill Taiwanese are good things which no one should ever object to. Indeed, they do not even require mention. That silly Chen Shui-bian! What a goose!

Note that Glaser is worried that Taiwan will have participation in the international community in ways that Beijing “could easily reverse.” No shit, Sherlock — what else is left? If Glaser was really concerned about this, she probably should have advocated US support for Taiwan’s entry into the UN, since that would be difficult to reverse….

Competition between the mainland and Taiwan for diplomatic allies should end immediately. If a country that is allied with Taiwan changes its diplomatic allegiance to Beijing prior to Ma’s inauguration or shortly thereafter, this would slow the momentum on Taiwan in favor of engaging the mainland. A truce should be tacitly adhered to for several months or longer. Chinese officials contend that Beijing is hard-pressed to reject the request by countries allied with Taiwan to establish diplomatic relations with China. If there are such cases, China should have prior consultations with Taipei and work with Taiwan to ensure a smooth transition so that Taiwan can maintain unofficial representative offices in those countries and protect its economic and other interests.

Here is an interesting aspect of China-Taiwan relations. As I noted last week, Paraguay will be seeking to end its relations with Taiwan and switch to China. China is correct in arguing that other nations seek to come on board. Ma has already indicated he will end the checkbook diplomacy that the KMT began all those years ago. I’m curious to see what will happen here, but it is in this sphere that China will be most likely to offer Taiwan a bone. It is also a good opportunity for China to accept such relations, oust the ROC from its relations with Paraguay, and remind Ma who is really boss.

Military/security issues in PRC-Taiwan relations are not likely to be dealt with immediately, but it is clear that Ma and the KMT want to engage on this set of concerns and make concrete progress in the first term. Prior to the opening of authorized talks on ending cross-Strait hostility, China can take steps to signal goodwill. Dismantlement of a brigade of short-range ballistic missiles deployed along China’s southeastern coast would be a symbolic gesture that the U.S. and Taiwan would welcome. Declaring a freeze on missile deployments would enable Ma and the KMT to avoid criticism that they are engaging the mainland while China continues to increase the threat to Taiwan’s security. Indeed, Ma has said that he will not agree to launch talks on a peace accord while the missiles aimed at Taiwan remain in place. Just a few days ago, Ma told a delegation that I led to Taipei, “Once we decide to negotiate a peace agreement it will be embarrassing if more than 1,000 missiles are targeting us.”

The establishment of regular direct air links should be seized upon to establish contacts between the law enforcement agencies and, if possible, the militaries of Taiwan and the mainland. Representatives from each side could be embedded in the existing delegations in charge of negotiations and in the future be included in SEF-ARATS discussions. Air corridors could be agreed upon for civilian and military aircraft that would minimize the possibility of an accidental collision. Opportunities exist for coordination and preparation for emergency response, including joint humanitarian rescue capacity and the establishment of communication links. In the near term, such measures will ensure that the air links are conducted safely; over the longer run they will aid in promoting patterns of cooperation that will create the foundation for future military confidence-building measures.

The positive transformation of the cross-Strait relationship will take a great deal of time and is not inevitable. For a long time to come, China will insist on maintaining a credible deterrent against Taiwan independence. Taiwan will also want to maintain capabilities to defend the island against attack and the U.S. will remain legally obligated to provide defensive capabilities, including weapons, to Taiwan, under the Taiwan Relations Act. It is in that context that China should evaluate and respond to continued U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and ongoing U.S.-Taiwan security cooperation. The U.S. does not seek through weapons sales and security cooperation with Taiwan to undermine the improvement in cross-Strait relations. On the contrary, the U.S. believes that it must take steps to bolster Taipei’s confidence to engage in negotiations with the mainland.

China should set aside its suspicions that the U.S. opposes and will seek to prevent the reunification of Taiwan and the mainland. For one thing, reunification is not on the agenda. Ma Ying-jeou has said that he will not engage in talks with Beijing about reunification while he is president. The more relevant question is how the U.S. will view and respond to the developments in cross-Strait relations that are under discussion, including the signing of a peace accord. The most important impact of eased cross-Strait tensions is the reduced chance of the outbreak of a war in the Taiwan Strait that would likely involve the United States. This is undeniably positive for U.S. interests. The establishment of a more sustainable status quo that can abide until the time is ripe for a permanent settlement of mainland-Taiwan differences is beneficial for the U.S., Taiwan, and China, as well as for the other nations in the Asia-Pacific region. And finally, if Taiwan can become a less contentious issue between Beijing and Washington, this will also benefit U.S. interests by enhancing Sino-U.S. trust and increasing opportunities to cooperate on other issues.

I don’t dismiss the possibility that some people in the U.S. may be nervous about closer mainland-Taiwan relations and that these concerns could influence U.S. policy in the future. To ensure that those fears do not guide U.S. policy, China should avoid seeking to extract unreasonable concessions from Taipei that would undercut support for Ma Ying-jeou and increase suspicion in the United States that Beijing seeks to reduce U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific.

The March 22 Taiwan election presents an historic opportunity to transform the U.S.-China-Taiwan triangular relationship and create win-win-win dynamics, but realizing this opportunity will require wise and far-sighted leadership on all three sides. The U.S. expects China to move relatively quickly to put cross-Strait relations on a more constructive track by taking steps in the economic realm, followed by measures in the diplomatic and security spheres. In China, a bold strategic decision will have to be made by Hu Jintao, lest bureaucratic inertia, customary caution, and constant vigilance against U.S. intentions to curb China’s rise prevent pro-active steps from being taken. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.

There’s quite a bit here in these paragraphs, but more crucial is what is not here. Note that even as we speak Lien Chan is off to China to talk to Hu Jintao, and I doubt very much they will be discussing the brush techniques in Lang Shih-ning’s One Hundred Horses. So reflecting back on what you just read, why does Glaser never mention that there is a separate set of contacts between Beijing and the KMT that does not, at the moment, openly include Ma Ying-jeou? And that this set of contacts dates back to before the 2000 election? The focus of this piece is entirely Ma-centered, as if Ma were the only and most important decisionmaker. But he is probably neither.

Also observe that China’s threat to Taiwan vanishes nigh-on completely. War is mentioned –

“The most important impact of eased cross-Strait tensions is the reduced chance of the outbreak of a war in the Taiwan Strait that would likely involve the United States.”

The outbreak of a war — this passive construction entirely removes the agency from China. Yet the US is not going to attack China, and Taiwan isn’t going to start a war. Only one actor here seeks to plunge the entire East Asian region into war: China. Let’s imagine if Glaser had forthrightly stated

“The most important impact of eased cross-Strait tensions is the reduced chance of China attacking Taiwan, an event that would likely involve the United States in a war”

But instead, she wrote “…the outbreak of a war…” as if war was like a thunderstorm that occurs without the intervention of human agency…. Another interesting neglect is Japan: it also does not appear here. YetJapan is currently reevaluating its Taiwan policy, and a Taiwan in China’s orbit has definite implications for Japan — and perhaps for South Korea as well. Once China subsumes Taiwan, that will strengthen its desire to annex the disputed islands in the waters to the south as well, and for territorial gains on other fronts. China’s expansion is a regional problem, and if US analysts are going to use terms like “responsible regional player” then they need to stop writing as if the only concern here was US-China relations. UPDATE: No mention of the D-word in Glaser’s piece either.

Glaser is kind not to dismiss the fears of those of us who believe, in the words of one towering intellect, that when the lion lies down with the lamb, the lamb doesn’t get much sleep. Ma’s whole program of stimulating the economy by opening it to China depends on Chinese cooperation absolutely. China holds the whip hand here. Glaser advises China not to extract “unreasonable” concessions from Taiwan — but does not define unreasonable. When negotiators come from a culture where transactions are expected to produce a clear winner and a clear loser….

I’ve blogged before on the cargo cultish way in which “opening to China” is advocated. Another dawning cargo cult is the idea that Taiwan’s democracy will somehow transform China’s. If only Taiwan “opens” to China, then its democratic ideas will somehow flow into China like rays of light illuminating change in the political landscape. This is often presented as a possibility, but the underlying view is that of inevitability. This despite the fact that the constant flow of students from China to the western democracies has not resulted in any such change (as the recent hu-ha over Tibet has shown), nor have the million Taiwanese now there wrought any such mutations in the Chinese body politic. What no one ever mentions is the opposite possibility, far more likely, that China will change Taiwan’s domestic polity, and not in positive directions. With a longtime anti-democracy politician soon to be President of Taiwan, and a leadership in Beijing that hates Taiwanese democracy, I don’t think we’ll be seeing positive transformations of our island’s political structure any time soon.