Thu, Oct 24, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Taiwan, embrace resurfacing ideas

By Lai I-chung 賴怡忠

The way in which cross-strait relations develop will influence Taiwan, Asia and perhaps the whole world, Former American Institute in Taiwan director William Stanton said recently at a talk about the strategic importance of Taiwan.

However, he said that if Taiwan becomes part of China, the US will no longer give it assistance. Stanton deserves credit for speaking so frankly.

Something worth celebrating about the lecture — titled the “Strategic Significance of Taiwan” — was that Stanton said it was based on a paper written by former Japanese diplomat Hisahiko Okazaki entitled The Strategic Value of Taiwan.

Stanton mentioned that this paper was delivered at the Tokyo Round of the Taiwan-US-Japan Trilateral Strategic Dialogue in 2003. That dialogue was the second of four forums that the Taiwan Thinktank started working on from Aug. 2002. Before he delivered the paper, Okazaki first gave it to the Taiwan Thinktank to make sure that the three countries all agreed with its contents.

Many ideas were presented during the forums. A lot of them changed the way strategists thought about cross-strait issues and allowed participants to gain a clearer understanding of the internal contradictions of Taiwanese who say there is only “one China,” as well as of the democratic developments that were taking place in Taiwan.

However, the benefits from these dialogues were not as good as originally expected, mainly because of variables and problems that cropped up and had not been foreseen by the participants. These hitches prevented all the hard work that had been put into preparing for the talks from being put to good use at the time.

Nobody would have guessed that the ideas presented at these talks would resurface a decade later, forming the basis for a talk by a senior US diplomat who was not even present for them.

This proves that Okazaki was right when he said that clear, correct strategic ideas stand the test of time, while trashy ideas that result from slavishly repeating what everyone else says and flattering those in power will be naturally eliminated over time.

One of the reasons Okazaki said this was because the ideas at the dialogues were not in the mainstream ideas in their proponents’ respective countries. The participants were engaged in battles with their peers at home on strategic issues. The cooperation between Taiwan, the US and Japan is not something to be taken for granted. Back then, thinking about Taiwan’s relations with Japan and the US was limited to the Taiwan-US-China and Taiwan-Japan-China frameworks.

President Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) government still adheres to this thinking and it was under such a framework that Ma came up with his idea that cross-strait relations are more important than international relations.

Given that the triangular structure was a mainstream idea in US and Japanese thinking, when the idea of including Taiwan in the US-Japan alliance was brought up, China experts in the US and Japan two nations opposed it.

While US experts on Japan and Japanese experts on the US had an open attitude, they were not sure how including Taiwan would affect them. The forums helped show that Taiwan is important and why the US and Japan need to cooperate with Taipei, instead of seeing Taiwan as a function of US-Japan or US-China relations. The forums gave Taipei food for thought in terms of strategies.

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