People often mistakenly think that cooperation between the three nations is aimed at containing China. However, that ignores the value of Taiwan. Even more importantly, it overemphasizes the China factor and puts cooperation between the US, Japan and Taiwan on an unstable foundation because there is no way to predict how each player might react to China or how each side will maintain its own interests.
Therefore, instead of cooperation between the three parties that is controlled by an external factor — China — it would be better to identify a common interest that binds the US, Japan and Taiwan. This is the only way to develop a basis for sustainable strategies.
The people involved in the four rounds of the strategic dialogues between 2002 and 2004 tried to persuade their governments to accept the new ideas. However, their proposals were met with strong resistance. Political appointees may have agreed in principle, but they did not know which policy tools to use to implement the strategies. Senior officials who could have formulated policies from the ideas were mostly resistant to the ideas.
Strangely enough, it was a few Japanese mid-level government officials who were most receptive to the ideas in private. A decade later, those receptive officials have moved up the ranks in Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and some have become key security consultants to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
In the US, it was Washington’s “pan-Asian faction” — which believed that US-Asian policy should be based on alliances — that was more receptive, while US diplomats who handled everyday foreign affairs were more reserved. The US’ proposed pivot toward Asia has made the ideas initiated by the pan-Asian faction more easily accepted.
Oddly enough, Taiwan is now the one resisting. Hopefully, this will change soon. A mistaken policy will not survive forever just because Beijing supports it. Consider all the promises that Ma made about how opening up to China would bring wealth and prosperity. How many people still believe that?
Stanton’s speech proves the old adage that it takes at least a decade of hard work to achieve anything worthwhile. If that is so, perhaps it will not be too long before a successful outcome emerges from the dialogues.
Lai I-chung is a member of the Taiwan Thinktank executive committee.
Translated by Drew Cameron