Although a small group of decision-makers in President Chen Shui-bian’s (陳水扁) government must take responsibility for the Papua New Guinea scandal, it is also a result of China’s policy to win over all of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies.
Taiwan needs to maintain allies to demonstrate the de jure existence of the Republic of China (ROC). But the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) is reluctant to discuss the shrinking of Taiwan’s international space caused by the contradiction between the ROC and the “one China” consensus. It argues that cross-strait issues come before diplomacy, making the recurrence of such incidents during president-elect Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) term all the more likely.
Ma believes stable cross-strait relations will help Taiwan avoid being called a “troublemaker,” and may even keep China from blocking Taiwan’s diplomatic activities, hence the privileging of cross-strait relations over diplomacy. Putting aside the naivete and ignorance that underlies this position, the strategy of prioritizing cross-strait relations has four serious problems.
If cross-strait relations were to determine diplomatic policy, Taiwan’s ability to take the initiative would depend on China. This could result in damaging relations with other countries.
For example, the US might worry that Taiwan would adopt a passive attitude toward Taiwan-US military cooperation because of China’s attitude. Japan might also worry that Taiwan would back China on issues where there is conflict with Japan.
Second, Taiwan would be telling its diplomatic allies that its commitment to diplomatic ties is weak, implying that they should not place too much importance on the relationship. If another wave of allies severed ties with Taiwan, it would not be because China was undermining Taiwan’s diplomatic position but because Taiwan was sending the message that it did not value diplomatic relations.
If that happened, embezzlers claiming to know how to pave diplomatic relations with Papua New Guinea or other countries would change their tune: They would claim to know how to prevent relations from being severed.
Third, for non-diplomatic allies, prioritizing cross-strait relations may cause them to see relations with China as more important than those with Taiwan. This would not only be an obstacle to bilateral relations with these countries, but would also run counter to Taiwan’s attempts to convince them to maintain parallel ties.
Former US officials such as Randall Schriver and Dan Blumenthal attended a seminar of the American Enterprise Institute’s Taiwan Policy Working Group in late February, where they urged Washington not to place Taiwan relations below China relations. When Ma proposed that cross-strait relations take priority over relations with the US and Japan, he hurt attempts to reform the US’ China policy and Taiwan’s past strategy of parallel relations. This will have a severe impact on Taiwan’s diplomatic policy.
Last, according to an opinion poll by the Mainland Affairs Council following the presidential election, 35.7 percent of respondents said it was more important for Taiwan to develop relations with countries other than China, while more than 30 percent said it was more important to develop ties with China. But 75.1 percent said that Taiwan should expand diplomatic relations even at the cost of cross-strait tension, indicating that Ma’s policy is not built on a domestic consensus.