The controversy over the flag-raising ceremony at Twin Oaks Estate in Washington on New Year’s Day cast doubt on whether Taiwan-US relations are really as cordial as President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has claimed they are as a result of his “flexible diplomacy” policy, and debunks the myth that putting the nation at the disposal of great powers can deliver Taiwan the Earth.
As China continues its rise as a global power, the US, under its pivot toward Asia strategy, has gone to great lengths to bolster its cooperation with countries in the region to contain China’s ambition, which has been characterized by assertiveness.
What the US sees as Taiwan’s role in the changing dynamics has been shrouded in uncertainty. Not only is the neglect of Taiwan in its implementation of the pivot plain to see, growing concern over China’s rising power sometimes reaches the point where arguments are made that the US should abandon Taiwan.
The only certainty is that the maintenance of stable relations with China is what the US expects from Taiwan, even if that comes at a high price to the nation’s sovereignty. Since the Ma administration also places a high priority on developing cross-strait relations, it has been able to live up to the US’ expectations.
In some cases, the Ma administration even went further than expected in compromising sovereignty. A notable example was the name under which Taiwan participated in the 38th International Civil Aviation Organization Assembly (ICAO) in September 2013, which the nation’s delegation attended as a “guest.”
Since more than a year before the event, the US had pushed for Taiwan to be granted “observer status” at the ICAO, which culminated in a July 2013 law under which the US mission to the ICAO was required to officially petition for Taiwan’s participation at the assembly and in other activities. The development offered the most promising hope for the nation’s participation at the ICAO, but Ma decided to accept the “guest” formula suggested by China, resulting in Taiwan’s sovereignty being undermined.
The flag-raising ceremony was hosted by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), with Representative to the US Shen Lyu-shun (沈呂巡) taking the chance to confer Order of Loyalty and Diligence medals on four officials from the Ministry of Defense’s mission in the US.
Although the events might be politically sensitive neither move was supposed to be important enough to provoke such a fierce response.
To begin with, there were precedents. The flag was flown at Twin Oaks Estate when Shen hosted a reception to mark the 103rd National Day reception on Oct. 8 last year — although there was no flag-raising ceremony on that occasion — and a medal ceremony was held on Armed Forces Day on Sept. 3 last year. The US did not raise objections to either event at the time.
TECRO, including its property and personnel, was determined by the US Department of State as a “foreign mission” on March 14 last year, as shown in Vol 79, No. 56 of the US Federal Register Notices, under which, according to Shen, unfurling the flag at TECRO and its subsidiary offices is one of Taiwan’s rights.
If sovereignty were not the issue that the Ma administration seems to care the least about, would the US have had such a harsh negative reaction? In addition to appeasing China, could it be that the US might use the incident to get the upper hand in negotiations over trade irritants in relations with Taiwan?
Whatever the incentives were for the US to respond in a way that some commentators have termed an “overreaction,” the Ma administration owes the public a statement of support for TECRO. It should also come to the realization that being a non-troublemaker is not enough to sustain a relationship with the US if there is no substantial progress on issues for mutual benefits to be enjoyed.
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