On Jan. 18, four days after being elected to a second term in office, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) attended a banquet laid on by the Ministry of Defense to celebrate the Lunar New Year. In his speech at the banquet, Ma said that Taiwan’s strategic thinking was no longer focused solely on the military aspect. He said that improving relations across the Taiwan Strait, including trade, investment and educational and cultural exchanges, were all implicit kinds of national defense that helped safeguard the nation’s security.
He said that his government would continue working to make the nation’s armed forces smaller, but also proficient, strong and skillful, and that it would also set up different kinds of defense lines in the Taiwan Strait involving different sectors, so that China, would not consider using non-peaceful means to resolve cross-strait disputes. Ma said that this approach was in keeping with one of the core ideas of Sun Zi’s (孫子) classic text The Art of War (孫子兵法), which is that “the highest form of generalship is to thwart the enemy’s plans; the next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces; the next after that is to attack the enemy’s army in the field and the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.”
Ma’s idea that trade, investment, education, culture and other kinds of exchange are all substantial forms of national defense is very surprising, and also rather worrying.
After he took office as president in May 2008, Ma worked toward a cross-strait Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), which was signed in June 2010. One of the ideas behind the ECFA was that trade in itself tends to uphold peace. This theory of peace through trade includes four main ideas, which are as follows:
First, intense economic and trade activity make a country more prosperous and this in turn reduces or restrains its rulers’ motivation for launching wars.
Second, economic and trade interactions promote mutual understanding between countries and thus make it less likely that misunderstandings will arise and lead to war.
Third, economic and trade factors can change a country’s internal power structure by building up the influence of groups that benefit from peaceful trade relations.
Fourth, intense economic and trade activity creates a spillover effect by strengthening the political relations between trade partners, and it promotes political cooperation between countries.
There is nothing much wrong with the concepts of this theory of peace through trade, and it is likely to have the desired effects during the initial period. However, historical examples of this theory at work are mostly drawn from Europe, in situations where two countries or groups of countries were equal or not very different in terms of their political, economic and military power.
However, in the case of Taiwan and China, there is considerable political, economic and military inequality between the two, with Taiwan being the weaker partner in all three aspects. In view of this, the spillover effect of intense economic and trade activity across the Taiwan Strait as time goes by is likely to be a high degree of dependence from which it will become increasingly difficult for Taiwan to free itself.
Besides, the flipside aspect of this theory of peace through trade is the idea that the military no longer serves any purpose. On Jan. 17 the Washington Times reported comments regarding Ma’s re-election by Patrick Cronin, who is senior director of the Asia-Pacific security program at the Washington-based think tank the Center for a New American Security. Cronin said that while Ma had in the course of his campaign expressed an interest in buying F-16C/D jets and eight diesel-electric submarines from the US, he had done so to appease voters critical of his closeness with China.