President-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has expressed grave concern over the impact of the Papua New Guinea (PNG) diplomatic scandal on Taiwan's reputation. He pledged to adopt a pragmatic and open approach to developing diplomatic ties.
To avoid the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government’s mistake of using brokers to lure PNG into establishing relations, Ma said his administration would prioritize negotiations with China on economic and cultural exchanges, a peace agreement and protection of Taiwan’s international space as part of efforts to develop international relations.
He said that “Diplomacy is the art of the possible ... The possibility of advancing Taiwan’s diplomatic relations is limited, but we may be able to break new ground by combining diplomacy with cross-strait relations.”
The PNG diplomatic setback serves as a cruel lesson for both the outgoing DPP and the incoming Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on whether Taiwan should or could renounce the use of dollar diplomacy.
Before the DPP came to power in 2000, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) supported an overhaul of the KMT’s longstanding strategy of dollar diplomacy. He also suggested that the importance of the number of diplomatic allies was overstated.
Nevertheless, foreign policy has its own consistency and continuity. Chen’s administration continued the KMT’s practices with only minor adjustments. Using “brokers” to expand Taiwan’s limited international presence was one of these.
Now the Ma administration seems about to reverse this trend and place all bets on the improvement of cross-strait relations as the key to a diplomatic truce.
Is this goal achievable, and at what cost? Will China recognize the need for a diplomatic ceasefire? Ma would be indulging in wishful thinking if he thought so.
Rather, Ma needs to come up with a new foreign policy agenda in the South Pacific to rebuild Taiwan’s image in the region and redirect its aid programs.
Taiwan has six allies in the region. Diplomatic competition in the region appears to be evenly balanced, and this causes tremendous concern in countries such as Australia and New Zealand.
In a region of strategic significance and complicated geography, Beijing has reached out and exerted increasing influence through more frequent state visits and larger aid programs.
Because China is constantly trying to steal allies, it is imperative that Taiwan engage in diplomatic efforts to consolidate its diplomatic relations. Countering Beijing’s initiatives to broaden international influence and expand the “one China” principle will require frequent trips to the region by Taiwan’s president.
The next government should develop strategies extending its diplomatic influence in the South Pacific through provision of humanitarian aid, inculcation of good governance, regular consultation with regional powers and, most importantly, transforming its diplomatic methods.
It is a shame to see the DPP government failing to overcome the dollar diplomacy that it inherited from the KMT.
If the Ma administration is determined to reshape foreign policy, it needs clearer guidelines from the top to frontline diplomats on how to deal with their rivals.
Local media have reported that Ma has decided to make his first state visit to the nation’s diplomatic allies in Central America on Aug. 12, with stopovers in New York and Washington.