One of the greatest external challenges to president-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) incoming administration is the extent to which it can strike a balance between improving cross-strait relations and maintaining a healthy and constructive foreign policy.
During the campaign, Ma pledged to replace the so-called “confrontation diplomacy” of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government with his notion of modus vivendi — a concept that aims at exploring pragmatic and flexible strategies toward Taiwan’s external relations.
The idea is based largely on the assumption that a rapprochement of cross-strait relations would automatically lead to a possible “diplomatic truce” between Taipei and Beijing. Ma has also suggested that both sides sign a peace agreement in exchange for China giving Taiwan more room to participate in international activities.
With regard to the appropriate name for Taiwan’s bids to join international organizations, Ma prefers “Chinese Taipei.” Regarding the relationship between Taiwan and its diplomatic allies, Ma said his government would renounce the use of so-called “money diplomacy.”
For years, there has been a debate on whether cross-strait policy or foreign policy should be more important for Taiwan and the issue remains unsettled. Upholding Taiwan’s de facto independent sovereignty, the DPP government tried to improve its relations with Beijing while at the same time enlarging Taiwan’s international visibility.
In theory, foreign policy should be bipartisan. Even when there is an alternation of political parties, continuity and consistency constitute two essential elements to a country’s external relations.
In 2000, President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) administration inherited the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) foreign legacy and immediately said that it would continue assistance projects set up by its predecessor. The DPP government incrementally reoriented foreign aid programs away from blanket “loans” to the leader of allied nations toward case-by-case assistance for grassroots projects, low-cost housing, agricultural assistance, disease prevention and computer literacy.
After Ma won the presidential election, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs arranged for him to meet Taipei’s diplomatic corps. Ma promised to execute the programs initiated by the DPP government with Taiwan’s allies.
What has been missing in Ma’s conversations with the diplomatic corps is whether his administration would stress cross-strait policy over foreign policy. Will his government’s foreign policy be sidelined in order to forge a more open policy toward Beijing?
Can the People’s Republic of China adopt the same reconciliatory approach toward Taiwan’s international participation? More importantly, who could guarantee it?
If Ma’s government prioritizes the improvement of cross-strait relations, Ma and his foreign policy advisors must come up with clearer guidelines for Taiwan’s career diplomats to deal with their Chinese counterparts in the international arena. Otherwise, they would not know what and whom they should stand up for and fight for.
For example, how should the front-line diplomats defend Taiwan in the face of Beijing’s continued buy-out of Taiwanese allies? Should Taiwan accept the principle of “dual recognition” if any ally wants to establish official ties with Beijing?