Sun, Aug 08, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Win support by stressing the nation's democracy

By Liu Kuan-teh 劉冠德

Let's face it. For the past four years, Taiwan's politics have been driven by domestic considerations. The direct result has been a difficult diplomatic environment for the nation that stems largely from China's rise. China is growing both economically and militarily. But more importantly, in recent years China has reached out to the world and exerted increasing influence in global affairs. Under the doctrine of "great power diplomacy," Beijing has launched a series of diplomatic initiatives to improve its international status.

That explains why President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) recently reminded the public about the importance of Beijing's so-called "peaceful rising." The theory of China's peaceful rising entails a well-arranged exchange of visits of national leaders and the use of economic incentives to attract foreign investment. But it also conceals a parallel intensification of China's political power by strengthening military capability.

To what extent has the nation dealt with the rise of China's global influence? Premiere Yu Shyi-kun and Chen are scheduled to visit Taiwan's diplomatic allies in Central America this month. And while most domestic attention has focused on post-election political wrestling between the pan-green and pan-blue camps, the Chen administration did score some political points through low-key diplomatic maneuverings.

Presidential Office Secretary-General Su Jen-chang (蘇貞昌) visited the Philippines in early June and allegedly met with high-ranking government officials. Around the same time, Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (李顯龍) made his first trip to Taiwan since 1992 and exchanged information with political and economic heavyweights in Taipei.

Those diplomatic interactions illustrate a structural transformation of the country's foreign policy orientation. Only by redefining a grand strategy and reallocating limited resources can the nation earn more international recognition. During his first term, Chen unveiled his diplomatic philosophy of advancing a new image for Taiwan as a responsible member of the international order. However, no major progress has been made, except for increased support from the US and Japan on Taiwan's bid for observer status in the World Health Organization.

After successfully winning reelection, Chen initiated steps to broaden Taiwan's ties with its neighbors. Su and Lee's visits serve as good examples of the administration's relocating its "Go South" policy to southeast Asia. The renewal of the "Go South" policy will diversify Taiwan's economy away from overdependence on China. Consolidating Taiwan's current diplomatic support is crucial, given China's attempt to buy off countries and peel them away from Taiwan. This consolidation is not only strategically necessary but also politically urgent.

Finally, for Taiwan's leaders to break through Chinese obstructions and visit countries without diplomatic ties to Taiwan is not sufficient -- although such visits are not without significance. The idea of Taiwan "walking out into the world" is to move beyond the narrow focus on political interests to a focus on creating long-term, stable relationships.

In this regard, Taiwan should utilize its economic power and democratic performance to foster international cooperation. Democracy is what separates Taiwan from China. The peaceful transition of power in 2000 was a milestone for this robust democracy. Chen's successful reelection demonstrated the deepening of democracy. Therefore, the government should play the "democracy card" to distinguish itself from Beijing's authoritarian rule and win worldwide endorsement.

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