Shadow Government

Why Taiwan finds Washington unreliable

Over the past decade, Washington's Taiwan policy has created unnecessary dilemmas for Taiwan's political leadership. On the one hand, if a president of Taiwan is considered too provocative toward China, Washington, rightfully irritated over undue tensions, will freeze relations with the democratic island. On the other hand, if a president of Taiwan reconciles with China, Washington's impulse is to neglect relations, confident that the cross Strait "problem" is resolving itself. It's a small wonder why many Taiwanese believe that Washington is unreliable.

President Chen Shui-bian faced the former from Washington. While no one in Taiwan doubted that he would protect Taiwan's de facto independent status and its hard won democracy, or fight for its international dignity, he lost the confidence of Washington and then his own people when relations with both China and the United States soured.

President Ma Ying-jeou faces the latter. He has made major strides in easing tensions with China. And while relations with Washington are not characterized by tension, they are almost non-existent. Ma has negotiated a free trade agreement with China, from which Washington can benefit by leveraging its close relationship with Taipei to enter the China market duty-free. But no U.S.-Taiwan free trade agreement is pending. And, while China's military pressure is unrelenting (not a single of the 1,000-plus missiles pointed at Taiwan has been dismantled,) Washington is taking its commitment to helping Taiwan defend itself rather lightly. Taiwan badly needs more F-16 fighter aircraft to recapitalize its aging air fleet. None seem forthcoming. This is all the more troublesome given China's stepped up aggression against its other neighbors such as Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, and India. It is just a matter of time before Beijing loses patience with Taipei's refusal to discuss its political future. Taipei will need to show it cannot be pushed around.

In addition, the people of Taiwan profoundly desire a greater international personality, but China heads off Taiwan's participation in just about any international organization. Washington's diplomacy, which can help Taiwan enter organizations where statehood is not a pre-requisite, has been languid.

The main tasks of a Taiwan president in a democratic system are threefold: maintain decent relations with China, warm relations with the United States, and increase Taiwan's international status. A president who cannot do all three is doomed to failure in Taiwan's fickle political system.

Washington has an interest in encouraging all three pillars of any Taiwan's president's success. It wants relations between Taiwan and China to be stable. At the same time, the United States wants Taiwan to hold on to its democratic status, even its ill-defined international status, until the day when China can be more reasonable in its approach to Taiwan's future. Once China abandons its stubborn -- and for Taiwan, unacceptable -- stance that the only solution to the conflict is the absorption of Taiwan by China, many creative diplomatic solutions will open up.

It is thus incumbent upon the United States to reward Taiwan's China diplomacy with bilateral initiatives that increase Taipei's international status and help it deter China's military coercion. Washington can start by highlighting to American businesses the opportunities Taiwan has created through its economic cooperation framework agreement with China. While it negotiates a free trade agreement with Taiwan, Washington should also send the U.S. secretary of commerce to the island with a delegation of leading businessmen to scout out new investment opportunities. Not only can the United States benefit from Taiwan's closer links with the mainland, but more American investment on the island will also increase Taiwan's international prestige.

Regarding military cooperation, Washington should sell both the additional F-16s to Taiwan as well as submarines promised, but never delivered, by President Bush in 2001. The F-16s will not solve every military problem but will signal strong support from Washington and send the message to Beijing that its arms build-up will not go unanswered. As a stealthy, survival platform, submarines are an effective answer to Beijing's naval build-up (that is why every U.S. friend in the region is buying submarines in response to China's underwater threat). Finally, Washington should energetically push for Taiwan's participation in functional United Nations organizations.

A reinvigorated Taiwan policy will encourage Taiwan presidents to keep relations with China on an even keel while holding out hope that Taiwan will not live in international isolation. The purpose of U.S. policy should be to discourage unneeded cross Strait tension while binding the democratic island ever closer to Washington.


Shadow Government

Liu's Nobel proves China is more than its rulers

Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo should remind the world of two things about China: one pessimistic, one optimistic. The former: The Chinese Communist Party is accustomed to controlling all politics at home and has not loosened its grip on political debate one iota. The latter: Liu is one Chinese of many who are fighting for, indeed risking their lives for, democratic change in China.

Consider the party's behavior. First it tried to bully the Nobel committee into abandoning its consideration of Liu. Then, it engaged in its familiar threatening and bullying rhetoric even after the deed was done. The party's propaganda and internal control apparatus removed any mention of Liu's victory in China's media. Then it announced that Sino-Norwegian ties would be damaged, notwithstanding the fact that the government in Oslo has nothing to do with the Nobel committee's decisions. This is a ruling party that seems not to understand that the rest of the world does not work in accordance with the party's precepts. Note to observers of China: In China there is no such thing as an independent civil body. So Beijing assumes that other governments can, with a wave of a hand (or the shake of an iron fist), stop political activity considered objectionable by a ruling government.

All the nongovernmental organizations we hear about operating in China, while doing great work, can be shut down at the whim of a Communist Party leader. China assumes the same about other countries. It wants to conduct its relations with others through official government channels and get others to pretend that the Communist Party is China. Liu's case is proof positive that nothing can be further from the truth. There are many Chinese who want nothing to do with the party, in fact, who are working toward its demise. The mistake we often make is to limit our engagement with China to the party and therefore ignore the many Chinese who desperately disagree with their government and want another direction for their country. Unfortunately, the party still dominates. This leads to the type of behavior we have seen recently from China in the South China Sea and with Japan, where it expects others to bend to the party's will. Accustomed to getting its way at home, the party is left befuddled when it cannot do so abroad, hence the empty threats aimed at the Norwegian government. Ironically for China, these histrionics amplify the case of Liu and attract more attention. Now the world can read not only about Liu's accomplishments, but also witness China's very bizarre reaction.

That leads to the good news. While the party remains dominant, there are many Liu's within China working for change. If they do not like China's authoritarian ways at home, chances are they do not like China's authoritarian ways abroad (ignoring international law in the South China Sea, forcing Japan to abandon its own legal procedures in the case of captain Zhan Qixiong). They are the hope for a truly peaceful rise for China. While most governments ignore them -- it is obviously easier to deal with the party and avoid the tension that engagement with China's democrats would bring -- the Nobel committee has not. Perhaps other democracies, like our own, will begin to take the Liu's of China and what they stand for more seriously and conduct an engagement policy that engages all of China.