Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Trouble in Taiwan

China has issued a not-so-subtle warning to the US that the US needs to more to rein in Taiwan's hopes for independence from the mainland. On Feb. 27th, Taiwan abolished the National Unification Counci, a body tasked with creating guidelines for the eventual unification of Taiwan and China. While the Council had been largely defunct since Taiwanese President Chen assumed office in 2000, Chen did issue a campaign promise not to take steps to inflame the independence movement, specifically promising not to abolish the Council. China is upset that the US has not been more involved in restraining Taiwan in such moves.

The US policy towards Taiwan has long been based on "strategic ambiguity"; that is, it's not clear what the US would do in case of a Chinese invasion. Most analysts assume that the US reaction would depend on the nature of the provocation: If Taiwan moves towards independence prompting a Chinese invasion, the US would likely not aid Taiwan, while if China launches an unprovoked invasion, the US most likely would come to help Taiwan.

Moves like abolishing the National Unification Council are unnecessary fingers in the eyes of China. China has long tolerated the de facto independence of Taiwan but is unwilling to see that become de jure. Steps like this increase the chances that Taiwan will seek formal independence. The US must, for the sake of Asian stability, restrain Taiwan and encourage Taiwan to stick to the deal as it exists. Anything else risks upsetting a fragile balance.

4 comments:

Michael C said...

There are lots of reports making the connection of abolishing the council with DDP's poor local election performance last year. However, the conditions that fostered the decision are there way before the election. The number of missiles China pointing at Taiwan is on a steady increase of 75 to 100 per year since Chen became the President. Last year the Anti-succession law provided an open military option to China to resolve the conflict. In both events, US exert little to no pressure to Beijing. President Chen's promise, the four no's and one without, is pre-conditioned with no military aggression. China is the one who is rocking the boat.
The council was longer functioning because the pan-blue Legislature slashed its annual budget to a mere NT$ 1000 (about US$ 32). The China reacted in typical fashion. It’s US’s over reaction and wrongly expects Taiwan to remain docile that’s surprising.

Michael Turton said...

Chen did issue a campaign promise not to take steps to inflame the independence movement, specifically promising not to abolish the Council.

Clearly incorrect. Chen's "promise" was contingent on China dropping its intention to annex Taiwan by force. Since the Anti-Succession law, along with the military build-up, upset the status quo and declared China's intention to annex the island by force, Chen was absolved of any promise he might have made.

You can question the political wisdom of Chen's move -- and you don't identify the real problem with it in your piece at all, it seems to have gone right by you -- but you can't accuse him of breaking promises.

China is upset that the US has not been more involved in restraining Taiwan in such moves.

Yes, I can see why China needs the US to retrain Chen from abolishing a defunct government organ with an annual budget of $32. What a horrible, threatening act! Much worse than pointing 800 missiles at Taiwan and threatening to murder Taiwanese if they act on their desire to live in an independent, democratic state.

BTW, you do realize that China has been arguing that Taiwan is an "internal" affair for thirty years, now, right? It's a might hypocritical for China to yammer for three decades that the US is interfering, and then suddenly ask the US to interfere. That needs to be pointed out.

Moves like abolishing the National Unification Council are unnecessary fingers in the eyes of China.

Actually, they are totally necessary steps in abolishing the legacy of authoritarian government in Taiwan. Reform of the government structure has been going on for the last 15 years here, and much more is needed. The NUC was going to go sooner or later anyway.

The real issue here, which you studiously ignore, is that Taiwan itself is a finger in the eye of China, and there is no move it could make except suicide that China would approve of.

China has long tolerated the de facto independence of Taiwan but is unwilling to see that become de jure.

Well, it would be more truthful to say that there was nothing China could do about Taiwan's being under no one's rule despite its urgent desire to annex it. It merely made noises about annexing it, which the Chinese Nationalist government agreed with. Meanwhile nobody asked the Taiwanese whether they felt like being annexed to China.

Steps like this increase the chances that Taiwan will seek formal independence.

Yes, of course. That is why they must be made. Formal independence is a long way off, and will require first that commentators on the issue, who help shape public opinion, adopt a more ethical and pragmatic view of things than "Chen crazed, China patient." That is merely repeating Chinese propaganda.

The US must, for the sake of Asian stability, restrain Taiwan and encourage Taiwan to stick to the deal as it exists.

What deal? There isn't any deal!

Anything else risks upsetting a fragile balance.

There isn't any balance anymore. China now has military ascendancy over Taiwan, and the US has been tilting toward China for the last twenty years. The "ambiguity" that you refer to in your second paragraph has been replaced by a veiled agreement that China can annex Taiwan, an island no ethnic Chinese emperor ever owned. The US simply says it cannot do so by force. At the moment, the US position, weirdly, is that it is willing to go war to prevent violent annexation. Say what?

It is both curious and sad that you regard Taiwan, the victim in this case, and the last legacy of the Great Game of the 19th century, as the cause of the problem. Independence and democracy are not threats to anyone. Rather, people who make threats and point missiles are the problem. The real issue here is not that Chen is "rocking the boat." It is that you do not ask the US to restrain China, the real threat.

Michael Turton

Seth Weinberger said...

This post really seems to have irked supporters of Taiwan, which means that I'm on the right track. The more people who violently disagree with you, the more right you are!!

Anyway, I've decided to reply in a new post, as these are some serious and important issues.

Michael Turton said...

This post really seems to have irked supporters of Taiwan, which means that I'm on the right track. The more people who violently disagree with you, the more right you are!!

Hey, congrats! Since China violently disagrees with Taiwan indepedence....