Sun, Jun 29, 2014 - Page 8 News List

Irony and the US view of Taiwan

By Ian Inkster 音雅恩

Perhaps we should not take Former US secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton too seriously at the moment. If her recent public statements are in general designed as run-up declarations for the 2016 presidential election, then perhaps they should be taken with a pinch of salt.

She declared in an interview in Los Angeles on June 19 that closer economic ties with China have made Taiwan more vulnerable, as growing economic dependence leads inevitably to closer political dependency.

In the view of Clinton, in the long term it is inevitable that “the demands from China will grow, because [China] is growing so much.” If she becomes the next president this view could be of importance to Taiwanese. However, the huge irony should be noted, and so must all the faults of such a generalization.

The irony first: It was the administration of US President Barack Obama, which Clinton served so well, that came out in support of President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) and the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) in the most recent Taiwanese presidential election, in 2012. Indeed, the timing was perfect, serving to bolster a wilting KMT campaign, just days before voting took place.

Ironic also, because the main grounds of US support were openly declared to be the KMT’s better control of the cross-strait relationship. Finally, ironic because those US statements of support pretty much hit the same chord as statements in support of the KMT coming from China during the same period.

The combined Chinese and US support for the KMT served to obscure other domestic issues that might have swung things even at that late stage, toward the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Many of the students who supported the recent Sunflower movement were almost certainly first-time voters in 2012, who had voted for Ma and now must live with their decision.

However, the faults are worthy of more consideration. First, it is since the 2008 global economic downturn, when all the weaknesses of the US economy have been so starkly exposed, that the China-Taiwan economic relationship has become closer. With major Western economies floundering at low or zero growth and with confusion voiced over and over again on most matters of basic economic policy, no US politician is in a strong position to reflect on the Taiwanese economy.

Hit hard by the beginning of recession, Taiwan began to recover not long after, and since then has posted a higher growth rate than most Western economies. In 2008 as China began to apply policies similar to those of Europe and the IMF, wise commentators voiced fears. However, China by 2009 had already reversed course, moved into spending on infrastructure and provincial development, so was able to post very impressive growth rates by 2010.

Anyone who assigns the relative success of Taiwan to the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) is at best foolish. Those who argue that Taiwan’s outperformance of the West has little to do with Chinese economic growth and closer relations is even more foolish.

Taiwan is highly dependent on the health and growth of its external sector, and any reverse in policy — say closer trading and investment links with the US and a weakening of Chinese commercial links since 2008 — would have been about as stupid a choice at that time as can be imagined.

The relative health of the Taiwanese economy, despite obvious problems of unemployment and a lack of public sector social expenditure, is clearly related to its commercial and investment relationship with China, led in particular with by the myriads of individual Taiwanese businesspeople, investors and traders, who took advantage of high Chinese growth after 2008. Individuals in their thousands made the decisions, not the KMT.

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