RECENT NEWSPAPER ARTICLES reported comments by President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) at a military promotion ceremony that while East Asian countries and the US are increasingly worried about the intensifying problems on the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan’s allies are very impressed that cross-strait relations have remained stable. Based on this, Ma said that his policies have minimized China’s threat toward Taiwan, while at the same time meeting the interests of the US and other countries friendly to Taiwan.
The problem is that Ma’s policies are in fact strategically marginalizing Taiwan rather than minimizing the threat posed by China. The most evident case in point is the North Korean nuclear issue, to which Ma frequently refers.
In 2002, under former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun, Seoul sought unilateral diplomatic reconciliation with North Korea and considered the US to be a source of instability on the Korean Peninsula. Roh’s flexible diplomacy, which kept an equal distance from both the US and China, almost caused the US-South Korea alliance to disintegrate. South Korea did not cooperate with the US on the North Korean nuclear issue and continued to extend a helping hand to North Korea despite Pyongyang’s repeated violations of disarmament agreements, leading North Korea to feel secure in the knowledge that it had strong backing.
However, the ineffective pressure from the six-party disarmament talks led the US to accept the request that it hold one-on-one talks with North Korea to discuss the nuclear issue. As a result, North Korea managed to bypass the South and negotiate with the US. South Korea was thus marginalized on negotiations over North Korean nuclear disarmament — the issue most important to its national security.
An examination of Ma’s policy of appeasement toward China following his accession to power leads one to ask the question: In what way does it differ from Roh’s policy toward North Korea?
Recently, Robert Sutter, who used to work at the US National Intelligence Council, said in a seminar that Ma’s policies have confirmed Beijing’s dominance over cross-strait relations. US Congressional Research Service analyst Shirley Kan (簡淑嫻) also suspects that Ma’s policies toward China could mean a fundamental change in US-Taiwan relations.
If Taipei no longer sees China as a threat, US strategic priorities for Taiwan are certain to change and the US might also give up on its policy of selling weapons to Taiwan aimed at maintaining cross-strait stability. In other words, Ma’s eight months in power have undermined the 60-year-old US-Taiwan strategic foundation — a problem similar to what happened to the US-South Korean alliance under Roh’s presidency.
As Taiwan increasingly leans toward China, the US will confer with Beijing to uphold its best interests in the Taiwan Strait. The reason for this is that Taiwan has abandoned its bargaining chips and this means that Washington no longer has any need to negotiate with Taipei. This is exactly Sutter’s point.
The current situation facing Taiwan is not that the threat from China has been minimized, but that Taiwan has been strategically marginalized. Despite this, Ma was pleased that no reference to Taiwan was made in the recent dialogue between the US and China. The Ma administration’s strategic ignorance has pushed national security to the brink of danger.