Without China Ties, Int'l Ties Are Bleak
In this exclusive interview, the former secretary general of Taiwan's National Security Council offers a frank assessment of the country's foreign affairs predicament in the wake of recent protests.
Without China Ties, Int'l Ties Are BleakBy Jung-Shin Ho, Kwangyin Liu
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 545 )
As a key player in cross-strait policymaking under two Kuomintang (KMT) presidents, Su Chi has long been regarded as an important Chinese affairs advisor for the government of President Ma Ying-jeou. Su Chi once headed the Mainland Affairs Council under then President Lee Teng-hui and later served as secretary general of the National Security Council in the Ma administration until he resigned for health reasons in February 2010.
During the recent Sunflower student protests in Taiwan against the Cross-strait Agreement on Trade in Services (CATS), Su Chi led a delegation to China in his capacity as chairman of the Taipei Forum, a private think tank. His meeting with Zhang Zhijun, minister of the Chinese State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office, attracted widespread attention. In an exclusive interview with CommonWealth Magazine, Su Chi offered his views on cross-strait ties and the triangular relationship between Taipei, Beijing and Washington in the wake of the uproar surrounding the CATS.
Following are highlights from the interview:
On April 1, I led a high-profile cross-strait policy delegation to Beijing and Shanghai. We had a dinner meeting with Zhang Zhijun and also met with Ministry of Commerce officials. The message they gave us was very clear – the service trade agreement is not renegotiable.
Zhang even provided an example saying that the United States and South Korea once renegotiated a trade pact, but that it was the United States demanding this, not South Korea.
Therefore, right now I'm quite pessimistic. First, we don't know how long it will take to pass a "Cross-strait Negotiations Monitoring Act." And second, if we must "legislate first and review later," how do we know how long the review process will take?
If the service trade pact cannot be passed by June, I foresee that the subsequent Trade in Goods agreement and the mutual exchange of representative offices will also be affected. Cross-strait relations will grind to a halt.
A meeting between Ma and Chinese president Xi Jinping is inherently difficult and definitely impossible in the context of a multilateral, international event. It is only possible in a bilateral context. In the wake of the furor over the service trade agreement, a Ma-Xi meeting has become even more difficult.
The service pact turmoil will also affect international relations. It will cause Taiwan to lose international standing. Everyone will regard Taiwan as an unreliable trade partner. They will have even more misgivings about negotiating with Taiwan.
I recently talked with two foreign representatives to Taiwan and with one deputy representative. They gave me such an impression. A former member of the Democratic Party in the United States even openly used the term "unreliable." They all feel regretful that Taiwan has become so introverted. Once Taiwan has marginalized itself, others won't have exchanges with us. That's why cross-strait relations will affect our international relations.
Last year, Taiwan signed a trade in services agreement with China in June, a free trade agreement with New Zealand in July, and an economic partnership agreement with Singapore in November. I am very sure that Taiwan and New Zealand had concluded negotiations far ahead of the agreement's signing, but New Zealand had decided to wait for the official signing until after the service trade agreement with China had been signed. There was probably Chinese pressure behind it in this case, but it is also possible that they were worried themselves.
There is an even earlier case. China joined the WTO (World Trade Organization) in December 2001, and Taiwan followed a little over a month later. Taiwan, however, had actually finished accession talks one or two years beforehand – we were only waiting for China.
Back then Taiwan still had considerable economic strength – about 1 to 4 compared to China's economy. But now we have a ratio of 1 to 12. Some even say it's 1 to 15. At that time, more than a dozen WTO member states had already adopted the stance "China first, Taiwan second." Given that now Taiwan is not as strong as before, this is sure to be even more the case.
Yet now no one is using this logical argument at all. I just don't get it.
Why is the Ma government unable to persuade the nation? The basic factors are the fear of China and anti-Ma sentiment, but at a deeper level it's the power struggle between Ma and (parliamentary speaker) Wang Jin-pyng, as well as the Democratic Progressive Party's chairperson elections.
The Ma-Wang power struggle is the most crucial one, because if Ma and Wang cooperated, the DPP would be nothing to worry about.
Don't Narrow Down Cross-strait Ties to Mere Economics
I think the strategic mistake that the Ma government committed was its attempt in the wake of ECFA (the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement) to narrow down cross-strait relations to economic problems, and then to further narrow down economics until only the early harvest lists remained, while avoiding talking about the political implications.
Why are politics important? If it wasn't for ECFA, how could we have gotten the subsequent agreements on fishing and investment with Japan, or visa-free travel to the United States? It's because other countries feel if cross-strait ties are fine, they don't need to worry about exchanges with Taiwan.
Cross-strait reconciliation is very important. Why isn't the Ma administration explaining this to those on the outside? If you're only looking at GDP, which has only increased a little bit, then you're missing the main point. The political significance of signing these agreements is greater than their economic significance. President Ma should explain these relations very well to the public. We should look at cross-strait ties and international relations within the same context. We can't draw such a hard and fast line between politics and economics, or we'll be tying our own hands.
I think the Ma administration may be a little lacking in confidence, thinking that talk about politics is not what people want to hear. Now countries around the globe think that President Ma is weak. This will also affect their future dealings with the Ma government.
(Sighs deeply.) Since the Ma administration has ignored the Taiwanese people's psychological fears of China for a long time, turning things around now will not be easy at all.
No International Ties without Cross-strait Ties
For Taiwan, China is both an opportunity and a threat. But presently public discourse is lopsided – it only sees the threat. The Ma government, for its part, only emphasizes the economic advantages (of closer ties). They aren't talking clearly about the political significance.
As for the DPP, their biggest mistake has been to make too clean of a separation between cross-strait and international relations. They got it wrong: without cross-strait ties, there are no international ones. The DPP behaved very unreasonably this time. I think they have completely gambled away their credibility with the United States.
Actually, as result of this anti-China attitude, Taiwan will likely become more dependent on China. Since cross-strait ties are not good, international relations are problematic too. If the Trade in Services agreement and the Trade in Goods agreement aren't handled well, Taiwan will find it absolutely impossible to participate in the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership of the 10 ASEAN members and its FTA partners) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership).
And don't forget, such countries as Peru and Chile are all being careful not to upset China. Taiwan won't get around a single one of them, which means that we will need China even more and will have no other choice but trade with China. This is extremely ironic.
Translated from the Chinese by Susanne Ganz