Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: political science
Tuesday, 25 March 2014 00:00

The Sunflower Movement

 Image Courtesy of AOL News   

Taiwan’s peaceful democracy has been wracked by  protest over the last few days in response to the passage of the Service Trade Agreement with China, a follow-up agreement to the Economic Cooperation Framework agreement (ECFA) passed in 2010. The police violence surrounding the events has left many Taiwanese citizens scratching their heads, wondering how this could have happened in a country known for its friendly and peaceful society. Many wonder what has happened to the democracy in Taiwan, and what this means for its future.

The protests began on Thursday, March 18 when a group of students entered the Legislative Yuan in Taipei around 8pm and occupied the chamber. The occupation began as a response to the announcement by the administration of president Ma Ying-jeou the previous day that the agreed upon line-by-line review of the Service Trade Agreement had reached its expiration and the agreement would pass through the legislature without review. By the end of the day, over 300 people had entered the building and occupied the chamber.

The politics of Taiwan are divided between the Kuomintang party and the Democratic Progressive Party, respectively known as the blue and green parties. The ruling Kuomintang is the more conservative of the two, often shying away from any talk of Taiwanese independence and seen as more conciliatory to the People’s Republic of China. It is under the leadership of the Kuomintang that the first government-to-government meetings between Taiwanese ministers and their counterparts in the Chinese government occurred since the end of the Chinese civil war. Their leadership has also seen the expansion of Chinese trade and tourism in Taiwan, and a dampening of talks of a Taiwanese nation.

The Service Trade agreement opens up 64 sectors of the Taiwanese economy to direct Chinese investment, a move which is seen by many of these protestors as being one step too close to integration of the two economies. In my previous article, I wrote that the much feared takeover of the Taiwanese economy by China has yet to happen, and that still seems to hold true. However, the ways in which the KMT party pushed the agreement through the legislature, by executive order rather than open debate, appears to many Taiwanese citizens to be a quite tyrannical move.

One can only imagine what the Ma administration is trying to accomplish by insisting that there be no compromise and that the agreement will pass through the legislature as previously planned. The pressures on the Ma administration by the Taiwanese population may not be as strong as their suspected desire to impress Beijing enough to have a face-to-face meeting between Ma and Chinese president Xi Jinping.

If indeed Ma wants to go down in the history books as the hero, he is certainly pursuing an odd course on his way to fame. Ma’s domestic approval ratings have already hovered at around 10% for most of the last year before the protests even began. Yet, despite his abysmally low popularity, Ma and Premier Jiang Yi-huah thought it a good idea to send in the riot police on the night of Sunday, March 23 to break up the protests. There were reports of over 100 injuries to unarmed students, reports, and citizens following the incidence of violence.

I have heard several critiques of the protestors, that young students cannot possibly understand the complexity of these issues, and that most of the demonstrators there have little knowledge of the real stakes involved. Many people I have spoken to believe these young protestors are just there to be with their friends. While it’s true that the sunflower painting, arm band making, and constant Instagraming of selfies may seem juvenile in comparison to more violent protests going on in Crimea or Bangkok, this is an important distinction of Taiwanese culture not to be trivialized. Taiwanese society is characteristically nonviolent, the jovial events going on at these protests are a result of a Taiwanese shared consciousness that values peace and social gathering. It is these values that the Ma administration seems to be so out of touch with, and the reasons that the use of water cannons and riot police is so shocking to observers in Taiwan.

At this point, it seems that the protests have become about more than just Sinophobia or concern over ECFA and the Trade Services Agreement. Other Taiwanese groups, like the strong anti-nuclear and gay marriage movements, have also joined in the protests to voice their concerns and oppose the administration. Taiwan is still a very young democracy, less than 30 years old. The protests are now about the vision Taiwan has for its self-determination and the way it wants its democracy and society to be shaped for future generations.

The KMT will almost assuredly suffer severe political backlash as a result of the way the current administration has responded to the demands of the student protestors. Taiwanese politics are notoriously divided and at times raucous, especially where the issue of Taiwanese independence and Taiwan’s relationship with China is concerned. The opposition party has a chance to seize on this political capital and vindicate everything these student protestors have been saying, turning this from a fringe student movement into a mainstream political change that will drive the KMT out of office. Regardless of what happens in the halls of the government, however, the anger and hurt associated with this Sunflower movement will almost certainly continue far into the future, spelling only sadness for Taiwan’s young, fragile democracy.


Wednesday, 12 March 2014 00:00

Say Goodbye to Taiwan?

I recently had a conversation with a Taiwanese-American friend of mine visiting Taipei from California about the future of Taiwan in relation to the rise of China. He was of the opinion that Taiwan had already lost the long term battle for sovereignty, and that it was only a matter of time before it would be absorbed into China in a manner similar to Hong Kong, the "one country, two systems" model. As a business man, however, he viewed this eventual unification as likely to take place in the manner of a corporate merger, with the possibility of a military conflict between China and Taiwan completely forgone.

John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, a renowned theorist on US-Chinese relations, weighed in on the debate last month with his much talked-about piece "Say Goodbye to Taiwan", published in the National Interest. Mearsheimer is an academic known for his solid support of the realist theory of international relations, namely that all states exist in a state of anarchy and are constantly seeking to maximize their power vis-a-vis competitor states. In Mearsheimer's estimation, every country would relish the chance to rule the entire world given the opportunity. It is this course of the accumulation of regional hegemony that will eventually bring the United States and China into conflict over the issue of Taiwan.

While it is true that successive leaders of the People's Republic of China have made it clear that China's stated intention is eventual unification with Taiwan, Mearsheimer's quite pessimistic view of the future of Taiwan is based upon the assumption that the current status quo is unsustainable. The 2010 Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement and the subsequent Trade Services Agreement signed between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, however, demonstrate some of the headway that the countries have made in mutual recognition of the other. Critics of the agreements would argue that the agreements actually bring the two sides closer to unification, but the much feared Chinese takeover of the Taiwanese economy following the signing has yet to occur. If anything, the recent conclusion of the first government to government meeting since the end of the Chinese Civil War gives credence to the idea that, at least for the time being, China is willing to at least partially acknowledge the authority of the government in Taipei.

Taiwanese national identity has undergone a rejuvenation in the past two decades, particularly since the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the emergence of a multi-party democracy. Should pro-de jure independence advocates have their way, China will almost certainly respond with military force, despite the doubts of those who believe Beijing would never resort to such an extreme solution. However, the issue of Taiwanese independence is something to which the Chinese government would almost assuredly respond to with a fervently nationalistic knee jerk; there is little room for a rational, measured response where issues of high sentiment are concerned.

Mearsheimer argues that the best way for Taiwan to solidify its current status would have been the bomb, though he concedes that neither Beijing nor Washington would be comfortable with a nuclear-armed Taipei. Mearsheimer, however, reveals his tendency to view all these developments through the lens of great power competition. There are other ways Taiwan can preserve its current status into the the long term, namely by coalition building with other Asian states anxious about the rise of China in the region. By remaining relevant in the continuing territorial disputes in the South China Sea, Taiwan asserts its position as an agent in the Asia Pacific region rather than merely a bystander. Though few states recognize Taiwanese sovereignty, building closer economic and cultural relations with states like Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia would give Taiwan valuable Asian allies in its struggle for self-determination.

In the estimation of realists like Mearsheimer, a strong offense is the best defense, and Taiwan, with its limited military might, cannot stand against the Chinese for very long. While this is true, it is not necessarily true that Taiwan would be completely abandoned by the United States were it to be threatened by mainland China. While China sees the issue of Taiwan as an internal challenge, and an attempted takeover of Taiwan would most likely not be a prelude to Chinese expansionism throughout Asia, in terms of strategy a Chinese Taiwan would not bode well for the United States. By shifting much of its naval might to the Pacific, the United States has made a strong statement that the region is of great value to its interests, interests that include containing the growing might of China.

Mearsheimer, though an accomplished academic, has a penchant for a viewing events in a way that feels more like a Netflix series than a balanced interpretation of facts. In the long term, China is facing an environmental crisis far more devastating than is being talked about and an economy burdened by an aging population and growing inequality. Their military, though rapidly modernizing, is still at least a decade away from catching up to other world powers. The political consciousness of young Chinese is growing at a fast pace thanks to new exposures to media and communication, and an invasion of Taiwan may do more harm than good to China's face. None of this is to say that China will forgot about the issue of unification with Taiwan anytime in the near future, but if Taiwan is careful about the way they approach the issue, their doomsday may not be as imminent as Mearsheimer believes.

 

Originally published on the blog: One Student's Thoughts on the Way the World Works

Image source: WebProNews


Tuesday, 12 March 2013 11:54

Beyond the "Taiwan Paradox": Expanding Taiwan’s International Participation

Taiwan is one of the world's most dynamic economies and a consolidated democracy. Even though Taipei has economic and cultural offices in 60 countries, memberships in 32 IGOs (including the WTO, APEC and ADB) and another 22 quasi-memberships, the Republic of China (ROC) has diplomatic relations with only twenty-three states and is often prevented from accessing international bodies. This situation of diplomatic marginalization of a success story can be described as "Taiwan paradox", and is due to the People's Republic of China's (PRC) curtailing of Taiwan's possibilities of becoming a normal member of the international community. International participation is vital for Taiwan's security and economic competitiveness. Ranging from realism to constructivism, there are diverse ways in which Taipei can overcome the "Taiwan paradox".

1) Leveraging on Taiwan's strategic relevance: Taiwan's continued geopolitical separation from the Chinese mainland represents a vital strategic value for U.S. interests in the western Pacific. In addition, all states that rely upon either Asian sea-lanes or continued U.S. presence in support of strategic order (thus avoiding Chinese regional hegemony) have important interests at stake in the future of Taiwan, even if some do not admit it. If Taiwan were to become part of the PRC, Beijing's navy would no longer be hemmed in. As a matter of fact, it would be able to extend its reach to the "second island chain" - Guam, the Marianas and some other small islands in the central Pacific - not exactly a "Great Wall". Thus, Taiwan's economic integration with / dependence from the Mainland is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the absorption of the island by the PRC. The Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) with the Mainland is not a geopolitical event horizon, provided that Taiwan shows commitment to national defense and willingness to reaffirm its statehood. The ROC government should constantly remind its interlocutors of the critical strategic importance of Taiwan in order to garner diplomatic support and sympathy.

2) Improving Taiwan's political status through economic engagement: There is a synergic relationship between Taiwan's global economic significance and international stand. Taiwan is ideally positioned to become a regional center and a global node for trade, commerce and finance. Especially after the inking of ECFA. Thus, it would make a positive difference if the Taiwanese government could attract more international businesses to the island. Notably, that requires further economic liberalization and reform. According to Paul Wolfowitz, convincing one major international corporation to make Taiwan the base for its regional operations would perhaps be worth more than attaining new membership and participation in international organizations. Also, economic contacts with other countries strengthen Taipei's international visibility and political status. Therefore, Taipei should pursue closer economic relations / integration with the United States, Japan, the European Union, Singapore and other ASEAN countries, and Pacific countries. Economy put Taiwan on the map. Being wired to the global economy is the best way to keep Taiwan there.

3) Avoiding "deal with the devil" shortcuts: With the consolidation of the cross-Strait "diplomatic truce" the PRC is showing some willingness to accord Taiwan specks of international space. Therefore, as in Taipei's quest for observer status in the WHO's World Health Assembly (WHA), Taiwan can talk directly to the Mainland in bilateral consultations behind closed doors and work a solution out. However, this modus operandi sets dangerous precedents for Taiwan's participation in international organizations, especially for organizations anchored in the UN framework. Given that China's goodwill is contingent on the quality of cross-Strait relations, the issue of Taiwan's accession to international organizations should not be confined into an internal cross-Strait framework. On the contrary, Taiwan should always try to internationalize its bids for participation and solicit the involvement (and support) of the international community, particularly of major powers. This option, of course, does not exclude negotiations with Beijing. In essence, for Taipei is more beneficial to present Taiwan's inclusion in international organizations as a highly sensitive international issue rather than relegating it to the cross-Strait dimension.

4) "As-if participation": There is a further strategy available to Taiwan to seek greater engagement with international organizations, including especially those of the impervious U.N. system. Taipei should not necessarily pursue membership or participation, but what Jacques deLisle labels "as-if participation." Taiwan should commit "unilaterally but publicly and solemnly to acting as if it is (or as if it were) a member of an international organization or regime, pledging to live up to all relevant standards." A high level of compliance with the obligations entailed in membership can strengthen Taiwan's case for inclusion in institutions and regimes from which it has been kept out. Borrowing the words of Jacques deLisle again: "The more Taiwan can walk and talk and act like a member of a regime that is open primarily or exclusively to states, the more hope it has of securing the benefits of state (or nearly state-like) status in the international system."

5) "Letting Taiwan go to the world, letting the world see Taiwan": Continuing and diversifying Taiwan's assistance projects in developing countries shows Taipei's commitment to the global community. Through its development aid, Taiwan reaches out to the world, enhances its international visibility and prestige, and legitimizes its aspirations to be a full-fledged international actor. However, Taipei should also intelligently play the cultural card in order to "let Taiwan go to the world, and let the world see Taiwan." Taiwan needs to pool its resources to create a joint strike capability in soft power. To such aim, the government should institute a Ministry of Soft Power that would combine and multiply the national initiatives in cultural relations, public diplomacy, and other forms of attractive power. Furthering Taiwan's image as an "island of creativity and pluralism" is a very effective way to heed Benoit Vermander's exhortation that while Taiwan strives to become a "normal (ordinary) member", it can transform itself into an "outstanding (extraordinary) member" of the international community.

Paolo Sarpi, the greatest Venetian political thinker, argued that sovereignty (and statehood) should not be claimed, but professed as a creed. Taiwan can successfully participate in the international community only if it believes in itself. To believe in itself, Taiwan should first of all see itself as a pluralistic society rather than a politically divided community. Finally, Taiwan should realize that time is not working against its international participation. In the Asia-Pacific Century, the possibilities are not "to the strong alone;" they are "to the vigilant, the active, the brave."

This speech was first presented at the "Taiwan 3.0 Symposium" (TAIWAN 3.0:我心目中總統候選人的條件) on March 8th, 2013 in Taipei
Image source: WebProNews

 


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