Wed, May 26, 2010 - Page 8 News List

It’s actually not just the economy, stupid

By J. Michael Cole 寇謐將

As the saying goes, you stand where you sit. Not long ago, when Paul Wolfowitz was closer to defense than the corporatism he now embodies, he was instrumental in the drafting of alarming reports about the rise of the Chinese military and the threat that this represented to US security and, by extension, Taiwan.

Now that he is chairman of the US-Taiwan Business Council, however, Wolfowitz sings a different tune. This does not mean that his views on the Chinese military threat have softened, but his new role forces him to look at the same object from a different perspective. By doing so, he appears to have lost sight of the fact that China remains a threat, especially in the proximate environment of Taiwan.

Wolfowitz, like many others who look at Taiwan from a purely economic angle, appears to have divorced a conundrum that can only be fully understood if all the components are taken into consideration. In other words, despite what President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) administration has repeatedly said, the question of cross-strait economics simply cannot be addressed without also taking into account matters of politics and security.

However, this is exactly what the hitherto hawkish Wolfowitz appeared to be arguing when he told the American Enterprise Institute in Washington that “I really hope that somehow the two political parties find a way to come together in a truly bipartisan spirit, because getting an ECFA [economic cooperation framework agreement] and getting it right — which means it will be sustainable even if there is a change in administrations in Taipei — is not only important to Taiwan’s economy, it is important to Taiwan’s national security.”

If, as it is becoming increasingly clear, an ECFA and cross-strait economic integration are non-traditional means to achieve the same objective — that is, unification — how can such agreements be “important to Taiwan’s national security”?

What is national security, anyway? Is it simply the absence of war, or is it, more crucially, the assurance that a nation will be allowed to express itself without fear, intimidation and in a manner that reflects the majority of its constituents?

The US has long insisted that the Taiwan question should be resolved by both sides of the Taiwan Strait in a peaceful way. Peaceful, however, does not only apply to military force; negotiations behind closed doors by elite groups that are neither elected nor representative of the public, in which one party does not recognize the legal existence of the other, bears all the hallmarks of hostility. It is subtler and, on the surface, non-threatening, but if the desired result is the subjugation of 23 million people and the eventual curtailment of their identity and freedoms, it is not peaceful. An ECFA is an instrument to create economic hyper-dependence on China that will give Beijing additional means to coerce Taipei politically.

Far too often, the conservative Blue Team in Washington has looked at China from a purely security angle, an influence that at times has undermined relations between Beijing and Washington. Equally misleading is the other end of the spectrum, led by stock investors and business council chairs, which fails to add politics and security to the cross-strait equation and looks at the matter as if it involved two equal entities.

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