China’s recent declarations on the East China Sea and South China Sea should prompt the West to re-examine the “bigger picture” of China’s relations with the international community.
Back in 2005, then-US assistant secretary of state Robert Zoellick, who served in then-US president George W. Bush’s administration, coined the phrase “responsible stakeholder” to denote the idea that a rising China should become a constructive force in the international community, and play a positive role in achieving peace and stability in the world.
There is no argument that the democratic West (and East) should “engage” China and attempt to help bring about a fundamental change in the mindset of its leaders, trying to get them to change course and work toward political liberalization inside China and a more peaceful approach to resolving differences with its neighbors. So, the question is: Is China indeed becoming a “responsible stakeholder”?
Evaluating China’s role in the political “hot spots” leads to the sad conclusion that it has not lived up to the expectations. Just a few examples: In Africa, it has single-mindedly pursued its own interests and supported repressive regimes, such as in Sudan and Zimbabwe, which happen to have major oil and mineral resources.
In the Middle East, a tragedy unfolds in Syria, and the main reason is that China (and Russia) have been supportive of the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has unleashed terror on his own people, resulting in the death of more than 120,000.
Closer to home, China has been protective of the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which is considered one of the most repressive dictatorships in the world. In the so-called “six-party-talks” in which the US attempts to move matters in the right direction, China has not played a very constructive role.
Elsewhere in the region, China is causing tension and instability with its aggressive moves in the East China Sea and South China Sea, prompting the neighboring countries, such as the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea, to push back in the defense of their territories and fishing grounds.
And in China itself, the Chinese Communist Party has become extremely adept at silencing dissent, putting major figures like Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波) and others who advocate democracy in jail, while in Tibet and East Turkestan [Xinjiang], repression goes on unabated.
If China is so aggressively contravening the most basic principles of freedom, democracy, fairness and justice, is it wise for Taiwan to move closer to China? Would it not be more prudent to remain at a healthy distance and strengthen relations with democratic friends and allies?
The main problem is of course that Beijing remains determined to coerce Taiwan into its “one China” framework, and does not accept Taiwan as a friendly neighbor. And if and when — either peacefully, or through coercion or military force — China gains control over Taiwan, then it will slowly, but surely squeeze freedom out of the nation’s vibrant democracy. Just look at Tibet, East Turkestan and Hong Kong.
Therefore, Taiwan needs to beware of Beijing’s overtures, especially in the area of “political talks.” If it wants to retain its freedom and democracy, Taiwan needs to emphasize time and again that it is a free and democratic nation, and that its “core interests” are its sovereignty, its hard-won freedom and democracy, and its right to be a full member in the international community.
And if China indeed wants to become a “responsible stakeholder,” it will respect Taiwan’s sovereignty, democracy and freedom.
Gerrit van der Wees is editor of Taiwan Communique, a publication based in Washington.
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