Fri, Jul 08, 2011 - Page 8 News List

New government, new neutrality

By Lo Chih-cheng 羅致政

It shows a complete lack of backbone and Ma himself just sits back and takes it, allowing the spittle to dry on his cheek.

When the DPP was in power, the foreign ministry updated its official Web site on a quarterly basis with the latest news and statistics about how China had frustrated Taiwan’s efforts on the international scene.

The intention behind this was to remind the public that at no point in time does Beijing relent on obstructing Taiwan’s participation in international events.

However, this all stopped in 2008 when the foreign ministry ceased to update the figures or publish any more examples. By doing this, it may have thrown away one of its most important weapons in the struggle against the authorities in Beijing and their attempts to suppress Taiwan.

The Ma administration not only relaxed its stance toward China, but also allowed any alertness Taiwan had in the face of an outside threat to wither away into nothing.

Ministry officials are becoming progressively more reluctant to stand up to others’ attempts to suppress Taiwan on the international scene, to the extent that these officials sometimes seem content to just batten down the hatches and weather the storm.

This is essentially because they are obliged to comply with the Ma administration’s directive that China policy is to take precedence over foreign relations policy.

They are worried that taking a high-profile stance on foreign relations and sovereignty, or on relations with the Chinese Communist Party, they might interfere with — or even wreck — the atmosphere conducive to cross-strait peace that the government has been so keen to foster.

Those officials are afraid that if they set a foot wrong, the government will lay the blame at their feet.

One of the working principles behind the “diplomatic truce” policy is to keep things simple. Of course, this works on the implicit understanding that the fewer complications there are, the better.

After all, if diplomatic incidents are kept to a minimum, there is less need for political intervention on foreign matters, and officials’ diplomatic skills can be focused on domestic politics. If they excel at this, it might just do their careers a world of good.

Diplomats are trained to be eloquent, judicious, discrete and tactful, but the past three years have thrown up quite a few uncomfortable moments, whether it be senior ministry officials locking horns with members of the opposition in the legislature or ministry spokespeople acerbically criticizing the opposition party. Would that these same diplomats applied such heights of eloquence and diplomatic tact in dealing with China’s suppression of Taiwan on the international stage.

This internal political pressure is indeed by no means limited to the foreign ministry, and in fact originates among senior officials in the Presidential Office.

Government departments lower down the hierarchy are simply following orders or trying to second guess what their political masters expect of them.

Spokespeople for the Presidential Office under Ma over the past three years have tended to be rather uncouth and vitriolic, in a way most unbecoming to matters pertaining to the governance of a nation.

A rotting fish, as they say, starts to stink at the head, so it hardly comes as a surprise that even the Mainland Affairs Council and the foreign ministry, both of which are concerned with national security, have followed suit, learning from those directly above them in the hierarchy.

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