Tue, Jun 16, 2009 - Page 8 News List

A constructivist take on the Strait

By Yu Tsung-chi 余宗基

In the 2007 article “Why We Fight over Foreign Policy” in the Hoover Institution journal Policy Review, Henry Nau writes: “Why do we disagree so stridently about foreign policy? An easy answer is because leaders lie about events aboard.”

But Nau reminds us that we should not exclude another possibility: “What if we disagree not because leaders are wicked and lie but because they, like we, see the world differently and assemble and emphasize different facts that lead to different conclusions?”

In Taiwan’s political arena, there are diametrically opposite perspectives on how the island should deal with cross-strait politics and economics.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration spares no effort arguing that China’s formidable rise — with its powerful trade and economy, political clout and military might — means that the best way to ensure Taiwan’s prosperity and security is to reassure and engage China.

For Taiwanese who follow this line of thinking, China is suddenly moving from posing a military threat to being a provider of economic salvation.

Thus, the concept of China’s “peaceful rise,” or “peaceful development,” seeks to assure China’s neighbors that Beijing poses no threat but is in fact a source of opportunity. This has created a bandwagoning effect instead of exerting a balancing impact in Taiwan.

Opponents dismiss reliance on China’s economic salvation as equivalent to “asking a tiger for its skin” because its “attractive economic power” could easily morph into a political liability for Taiwan if trading powers are used coercively.

That is to say, China’s goodwill gestures toward Taiwan are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This point is vindicated by Beijing seeking to lure and constrain Taiwan with ever-tighter economic integration measures even as it refuses to compromise on missile deployment.

Meanwhile, in the article “Open letter to Taiwan’s president” in the Taipei Times (May 21, page 8), a group of prestigious international scholars wrote: “Transparency and true dialogue have been lacking in the process. Decisions and agreements [on cross-strait policy] are arrived at in secrecy and then simply announced to the public. The Legislative Yuan seems to have been sidelined, having little input in the form or content of the agreements, such as the proposed economic cooperation framework agreement (ECFA).”

The massive demonstrations that were held in Taipei and Kaohsiung on May 17 delivered a message of deep concern about Taipei’s closed-door dealings with Beijing. The lack of transparency in cross-strait policymaking has raised the specters of leaders “lying” and “selling out Taiwan.”

To untie this Gordian knot, Taiwan needs a new, brainstorming approach that can reach a consensus on rapprochement with China.

On June 6, former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) publicly said: “The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) should behave like a responsible opposition party and have a more open attitude toward cross-strait exchanges.”

Now is about the right time to think differently and theoretically about cross-strait interaction, because “bad” theory often means “bad” policy: If you can’t think or speak in the right way then your intentions are unclear; if your intentions are unclear then the right action cannot be taken; and if the right action cannot be taken then the intentions will never be realized.

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