Fri, Jan 09, 2015 - Page 8 News List


Flag-raising raises suspicion

The smoke and mirrors chess game of international diplomacy is notorious for having at least two tiers: the actual strategy relations between nations and the visible ones played out in the media.

If the Wikileaks diplomatic documents revealed any constant, it is that what governments say in public and what they are trying to achieve in private are often two completely different — and sometimes diametrically opposite — things. It has therefore been both entertaining and educational to watch the latest “incident” involving the New Year’s Day raising of the Republic of China (ROC) flag at the Twin Oaks Estate — the historic residence of Taiwan’s representative in Washington — play out in local and international media.

Ever since the US cynically abandoned its recognition of Taiwan 36 years ago, there has allegedly been no such public ceremonial flag-raising at the estate, while Taiwanese representatives and officials in the US have been subject to tight restrictions on what they can and cannot do in their semi-official capacity as national envoys, including publicly displaying the ROC flag.

Any attempts to make relations between the nations more substantive or symbolic than “cultural ties” have always been quickly “neutralized” by the “US Department of State Door God,” otherwise known as the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

For its part, the Taiwanese government has long sought to bypass the Door God with varying degrees of failure, often depending upon how inclined the US State Department and current US administration are to poke back at China as part of their long-running Game of Hegemonies in the West Pacific region.

Whatever the New Year’s Day flag-raising ‘incident’ was, it certainly was not spontaneous, nor unapproved. In this regard, I am more inclined to believe the account of Representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡), who said that US President Barack Obama’s administration granted permission to raise the flag as long as it was not widely publicized or videoed.

Shen is not a maverick representative known for stepping out of line and it is deeply implausible that he would sanction this ceremony without the green light from Taipei and Washington.

Predictably, State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki — a public relations master who has the Sisyphean task of spinning the US’ literally tortuously hypocritical and cynically exploitative foreign “policy” to the media — quickly decried the ceremony as “not consistent with US policy” and stated that the Obama administration had not been aware of it until after it had happened.

As she made the remarks to reporters, the press room was filled with the bittersweet odor of strategic ambiguity and plausible deniability. Analysts were left scratching their heads wondering how a 36-year moratorium had suddenly and very publicly been breached without unofficial US complicity.

Beijing has played its part, responding with its usual platitudes and stern admonishments about Washington maintaining its “one China policy.”

Back in Taiwan, Shen has reiterated his account of events and President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has publicly backed him, seeking to make political capital from this seeming symbolic “breakthrough” in international diplomatic space for the ROC — and that is what I suspect this whole “incident” really is: a way for the US to give Ma some much needed face after his and the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) crushing loss of political capital in the local elections on Nov. 29 last year.

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